How do you deal with cravings? Those late night raid the pantry and eat a whole box of oreo kind of cravings?
First of let’s look at why we have cravings in the first place. What is the biological process involved in our gut sending a signal to our brains that we want something sweet or salty and we need it now?
There are a few reasons why we have cravings.
When we give in to our cravings we get the same kind of chemical reaction in our brains as a drug user gets when they get their fix. It also works the same in the way that we become numb to small amounts of the food, our brains tell us more, more, more. Your brain needs more sugar or salty foods to get the chemical release that it needs to feel satisfied. This is the most common reason we get cravings.
2. Nutrient Deficiencies
We are deficient in certain nutrients. This one doesn’t hold much water though if you looked at the typical North American and had to guess what they were nutritionally deficient in you probably wouldn’t guess salt or sugar. You would probably say kale or broccoli. But studies have shown that sodium and potassium deficiencies lead to increased cravings in a lot of people.
3. Memories, experiences, or smells
They can all trigger cravings for certain foods. If you are used to eating sweets every night your brain recognizes that every night it gets the dopamine rush of sugar and it starts to become a habit. It all comes back to habits. Cravings are not hunger. They are a neurological response in your brain.
4.Your Mental State
Our emotional and psychological environment. Stress, anxiety and food associations can all cause cravings. Some people are stress eaters, others eat when they get anxious. A symbolic association with food such as “baking a pie makes me happy” is another way our cravings are tied back to our feelings and thoughts.
Not eating enough food throughout the day. When we restrict ourselves from eating the proper amount and types of foods our body needs we develop hunger cravings. Not eating enough overall is the #1 reason for binge eating. Especially if you chronically undereat. When you are chronically underfed your gut sends signals to your brain(again) that you need to eat and eat a lot of food. When you start eating it takes about 20 minutes for your gut to send the full signal to your brain to tell you to stop eating.
So if you are gorging on a large pizza at night, because you didn’t eat enough during the day you will probably be full after 3 pieces, but if you ate those pieces very fast you don’t give your body time to run its natural course. So instead of stopping when you were full, you crushed 3 more pieces of pizza by the time your fullness cues hit.
Eating too much food throughout the day. Yes, this can lead to cravings as well. When you eat when you aren’t hungry you’re body never gets satisfied because you are eating when your body isn’t sending the signals for food. When you do this consistently your body remembers each time you eat and you will need more and more food to feel satisfied. Your brain works largely on habits. If you do something regularly your brain remembers it.
Now we know why we get cravings, Here is how we beat the cravings.
Flip the switch. One way to beat your cravings is to fight them at their own game. Cravings use the part of your brain that is responsible for sights and sounds. To shut off a craving try visualizing a brilliant picture, a landscape, or a sunrise. Think of exciting memories from your past, or activities that you enjoy. Since both your cravings and your visual memory come from the same parts of your brain, you are able to flip the switch on your cravings and think about something else.
Scents. Another way to stop cravings in their tracks is with smells. Certain smells can trigger a craving. If you can replace that smell with something else you can stop the craving in its tracks. Aromatherapy scents like peppermint and jasmine are known to curb hunger.
Move your body. This is a simple one, whenever you feel intense cravings do something physical to flip the switch and refocus your mind. Go for a walk, do some yoga, workout, even just a short 5-minute circuit can flip the switch in your brain and take your thoughts to a different place. Even something as simple as some jumping jacks or a set of push-ups can refocus your brain.
Give in to your cravings once in a while. Constantly restricting yourself from “bad” foods, or just being on a very restrictive diet will cause cravings, the longer you restrict yourself the worse the cravings usually get. Don’t let them get that bad. It is totally ok to enjoy yourself once in a while. Life is too short to never have dessert. The key is to just enjoy a normal sized portion and not go totally off the rails and eat an entire tub of ice cream or a box of cookies. Take the time to enjoy every bite, savor the flavor of whatever it is you are consuming. This is how desserts were meant to be eaten. They are a treat, treat them that way.
The last tip I have for you is the one that I implement myself the most.
Make your treats count. Don’t eat something just because it is there. Make your desserts count, make your cheat meals count. Have something amazing when you are going to treat yourself or at least make it something you really crave. Plan it into your weekly schedule, this works great for most people who meal prep/plan. Set aside one evening where you can have whatever it is you enjoy.
When that night comes to have zero guilt about your “cheat” foods, enjoy yourself and then get back to your regularly scheduled nutrition plan. This method works awesome for most people. When you know that on Friday afternoon you can go eat one of your favorite meals, have dessert or a beer or two you have a way easier time staying on track during the week.
Do you struggle with cravings similar to this?
I did and sometimes still do get cravings that are hard to control. If you can figure out what is triggering your cravings you can manage them and not give in to them all the time. Consistency, accountability, and understanding your habits are the keys to success nutritionally.
If this post helped you I would love to hear from you. You can drop me a line on any of the social media platforms or shoot me an email here.
If you haven’t gotten my free nutrition guide yet you should get on it right now! You can pick up your guide here.