When they hit they can seem like an unstoppable force .....no one is immune. In fact, 95% of women and 60% of men experience food cravings.
Have you ever stared at a pile of crumbs, with a belly full of shame, and wondered, 'How did I let this happen?'
We can relate. Because almost everyone can relate.
Besides driving you to eat, cravings can drive you nuts-making you feel like an out of control failure who can't keep from overindulging.
But you aren't powerless against these urges, even if it seems that way.
WHAT IS A CRAVING?
"A strong desire for a particular food, as compared to just hunger - when any type of food will hit the spot".
First of all, understand that cravings are normal, so are giving into them, occasionally. If you find cravings are consistently derailing your progress, this article is designed to help you.
The cravings cycle works like this:
First comes the urge (the craving), followed by the behaviour (finding a food that satisfies that craving). Then, you get the reward (eating the food you wanted). That last part is accompanied by a release of dopamine, giving your brain a "hit" of pleasure.
From there is can snowball: The more often you reward your brain, the more likely it is to stimulate the craving, and the stronger that craving may become.
FIND YOUR TRIGGER
Cravings are often brought on by environmental cues such as sight, smell, taste, location or company. So tracking when and where your cravings occur can help you figure out what triggers them. To make it easy use a cravings journal, jot down what you are craving, where you are, what you are doing and how you are feeling. Do it for a couple of weeks so you can see what patterns emerge.
Once you've identified your triggers, you can disrupt the cycle with these smart behavioural strategies:
TRIGGER - Hunger or habit?
Cravings are rarely associated with hunger; they are more often linked to habit. From an early age we learn to associate certain foods with situations - it's why so many of us can easily fit in dessert, even after a big meal.
Strategy; A change in the environment is the key to breaking the habit. Most people really underestimate what a powerful influence their environment has on food consumption. Understand that a simple change in environment is much more effective than will power. For example, many cravings strike while watching tv. Change the activity, switch off the tv, read, go for a walk. Even a change in the physical location can have a huge influence. Create the awareness then develop an activity to break the habit.
TRIGGER - Stress
Stress is something no one is immune to. Stressful situations can influence food choices profoundly. Arguments, deadlines, the loss of a loved one, are all shown to make people opt for high fat, high sugar snacks, so the response is very real.
Strategy; Research has shown that exercise is the most effective strategy, It doesn't have to be a full-blown workout, even a 7 minute walk is enough to curb stress.
TRIGGER - The evening eater
The reason why 99.9% of people overeat in the evening is because they skip breakfast, grab "something" for lunch then they come home in the evening tired, starving and hungry. Skipping meals disrupts the production of the satiety hormones which control appetite. In particular the appetite stimulation hormone ghrelin increases dramatically in the evening in response to skipping the morning meals. The result is the over consumption of food later in the day.
Strategy; Increasing meal frequency during the day is the single most effective strategy that regulates appetite to prevent overeating in the evening.
TRIGGER - Deprivation
Prohibition is probably the most powerful trigger of desire. Yes, the psychology is very real - just thinking about what you can't have is a powerful trigger to crave.
Disrupting the cycle is key, but it takes time and practice to master it.
Strategy; Satisfy your craving with a healthier substitute. I'm not talking about the "healthy" snack options available at the supermarket, like the "paleo" ice cream and "keto" protein balls. Beware, not all substitutes are created equal. The labels might include things like "organic", "gluten free" or even "low calorie", however, these alternatives are often made with a delicious combination of sugar, fat and salt or other brain-pleasing ingredients. For this reason making a tasty treat at home, which includes whole foods, is a far better option..