Updated: Jan 21, 2019
For most of my childhood, adolescence and early twenties, I would always say I'd rather eat dessert than a meal. There was just an uncontrollable need to indulge in whatever sweet treat I could get my hands on (preferably ice cream). If this urge wasn't satisfied, it literally felt like the world was ending. When I became a Nutritionist I asked myself, why do cravings occur, what is their cause and how can I make them stop?
Cravings have a host of causes some of which include ...
Hormonal changes especially during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and stress
Times of emotional stress
Addiction to a food item such as sugar or dairy
Lack of nutrients the body requires for optimal functioning
Increase in physical activity
The most common cravings include ...
Combinations of the above such as chocolate, ice cream, pastry, chips, popcorn etc which are combos of fat and sugar/carbs
Okay, so you already know all this information right? Then lets get to the curbing strategies! Below I have outlined 10 strategies that will help you not only deter cravings but also recognize why they're occurring and how to prevent them in the future.
Yes, I know simple right? Many times thirst is mistaken for hunger. Our body's are intelligent, but not fault proof. Before reaching for that cookie or bag of chips, drink 10-12 ounces of water and wait 5-10 minutes. Rule of thumb, drink half your body weight in ounces. For example, a 130 lb woman should drink a minimum of 65 ounces of water daily.
2. Reduce stress
Stress can increase food cravings by causing fluctuations in insulin and decreasing serotonin levels. Stress can also cause weight gain without giving into those cravings because it hinders your body's ability to burn fat! Try using techniques such as meditation 5-10 minutes daily, take a yoga class, exercising for 30 minutes 3-4 times per week and/or journaling. All these activities can also deviate your attention away from your craving!
3. Eat more protein
Protein is the most satiating (filling) macronutrient, compared to fat and carbohydrate. If you are not getting enough protein, this could lead to blood sugar fluctuations leading you to reach for that granola bar or handful of candy from the jar sitting on the receptionists desk at work. You want to ensure you are consuming protein at each meal. Set a goal to consume at least 15-25 grams of protein per meal. The more active you are, the higher your protein needs.
4. Getting proper sleep
I say "proper" sleep for a reason. Just because you're laying in bed between 10 pm - 6 am doesn't mean you've had quality sleep. If you're tossing and turning all night or don't fall asleep for an hour or two after laying down, that is a problem. You want to ensure you are staying asleep and only waking in the morning. Poor sleep increases cravings due to increases in your stress hormone, cortisol and a decrease in your fullness hormone, leptin. It can also decrease your body's ability to repair and recover leading to poor immune function as well.
Exercise helps the body produce endorphins, which are chemical messengers in the brain that boost your mood. It is also a great way to distract yourself in a healthy manner and utilize nutrients better when you do eat. It is also a great method to balance out blood sugar further leading to a decrease in cravings.
6. Keep the junk out of your pantry
Knowing you have to venture out to get the food you're craving is a great deterrent. This could help you realize how much you actually DON'T want the food you're craving.
7. Healthy snack alternatives
So you've had great sleep, you're drinking water and exercising but you suddenly get a craving. It happens to the best of us. What you can do at this point is grab a snack that will satisfy the craving, but also offer some health benefit. A smoothie packed with protein using a powder or a homemade trail mix with nuts, coconut, dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds are both great options. If you're in a rush, you can always grab a protein bar. I recommend Square bars, Garden of Life Performance and Sunwarrior Sol bars as great options (I spread some almond butter on mine!).
8. If there was only celery around?
Let's say you have a sudden craving for chocolate, but all that was around was some celery and carrot sticks. If you do not reach for those veggies because they're not chocolate, then you're really not hungry. Being mindful regarding why you're having a craving is more important than whether you give into it or not. Listen to your body to determine if the craving is something you need vs want.
9. Avoid carbs in the morning
Whether male or female, the human body is not as receptive to carbs in the morning as it is later in the day (those damn hormones). Start your day off with healthy fats and a bit of protein to ensure you have stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and avoid cravings. A great example would be two whole eggs over easy with one medium avocado.
10. Create a food journal
Whether its a journal you physically write things down in or an app on your phone, food logging is a great strategy to track patterns and help determine why you might be having those 3 pm chocolate and/or chip cravings. This strategy also helps keep you accountable to yourself and your goals.