Anyone who is trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight will know the challenges of dealing with cravings.
So is there any way we can prevent these strong and longing desires for specific types of food?
Although science has not got all the answers yet, when it comes to understanding what causes cravings, or how to control them, it is interesting to note that the most recent research confirms a simple fact:
“Cravings are rarely triggered by a physiological need and are almost always psychological”
It is all in your head
For a long time, there have been seducing theories about the idea that cravings are a way to signal nutrient deficiencies in the body. For example, a craving for chocolate would indicate a possible deficiency in magnesium, a craving for salty food would reveal a deficiency in sodium, or a craving for cheese would highlight a deficiency in essential fatty acids like EPA, DHA, ALA, and GLA .
While I will confess that I like the idea, studies on the topic so far indicate that, with the exception of Pica or some sodium deficiencies, this is very rarely the case. The cravings either could not be linked consistently to a nutrient deficiency, or the increased intake of the “deficient” nutrient did not reduce the frequency of cravings.
And when it comes to chocolate and (potentially) refilling our magnesium stores, it is also important to remember that high magnesium levels are:
- Only found in dark chocolate of at least 85% cacao
- Found in many other foods like raw leaf greens, almonds, black beans, or avocados. Yet I have not yet come across anyone with cravings of such foods.
I hear a sigh of disappointment from chocolate lovers!…
So, if they are not an answer to a nutrient deficiency, why do we have them?
Cravings and hunger are not the same thing
Most people would equate cravings with hunger. However they use different “circuits”.
Hunger is our body’s natural reaction to needing nourishment. Hunger does not go away with the passage of time but will usually be quenched by pretty much any (palatable) food.
On the other hand, according to Drewnowski, a well-known researcher on taste and food preferences, cravings tend to arise to satisfy emotional needs, such as calming stress and reducing anxiety.
Because cravings are typically psychological and not physiological (unlike hunger), they tend to be satisfied by a feeling or sensation that is gained from eating certain foods, typically high-fat and high-sugar (or high-refined carb) foods.
Researchers from University of California at San Francisco put rats in a high-stress environment and discovered two key points: the stressed-out rats preferred to eat sugar and fat, and when the rats ate fat and sugar, their brains produced less of the stress-related hormones (the ones that trigger the fight-or-flight response).
6 Ways to Stop Cravings?
Resisting the urge for food can be difficult. Here are a few things to consider to reduce their occurrence so that you don’t have to fight them.
1 – Reduce stress
Most of us would be able to relate to the fact that cravings seem to be more prominent when we are stressed or anxious. So if you find yourself turning to comfort food every time it is available, this may be a red flag that you need time to bring calm back into your life.
Here a few things to consider :
- Take 20 minutes a day to do something just for yourself
- Do regular exercise, even if it is simply going out for a 30 min walk every day
- Practice self-hypnosis
- Listen to relaxing music
- Engage in a creative activity like drawing, or painting, or cooking…
2 – Get good quality sleep
The lack of sleep impacts us in so many negative ways. When we are tired, lacking energy or focus, it is easy to turn to food for a boost. Unfortunately, we do not necessarily make the best choices.
A University of California, Berkeley, study showed that poor sleeping habits can make people crave unhealthy foods. Using functional MRI scanning, they discovered that people ate unhealthy food when they were deprived of sleep, and, conversely, consumed healthy food after sleeping to their heart’s content.
Tips on improving the quality of your sleep can be found here
3 – Avoid dehydration
The brain cannot easily distinguish hunger from thirst. So, to avoid getting mixed messages from your brain, make sure you remain well hydrated throughout the day, and opt for clear water as much as possible instead of any other drinks.
If you suddenly feel the urge to eat something, start by drinking a glass of water. If the feeling persists after 10 minutes, have a healthy snack such as a fruit or nuts.
If, like many of my clients, you do not like plain water, add some fruit such as slices of lemon, or herbs such as mint, to your bottle or jug.
4 – Don’t starve yourself
People who embark on restrictive diets often don’t realize that by reducing their calories intake too much and/or too abruptly they can actually make food cravings worse. If the body is very hungry it may crave more calorie dense foods. For successful long-term weight-loss it is important to keep a regular meal pattern to avoid sudden hunger pangs.
5 – Eat enough proteins
Additionally, a healthy diet should contain sufficient amounts of lean sources of protein, as research shows that this helps you fill full longer. Animal products are not the only source of proteins. If you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you include plenty of plant-based proteins in your diet such as pulses, beans, or quinoa.
6 – Change your habits
This may come as a surprise for some of you, but many cravings are no more than habits.
Research shows that cravings are easily triggered by visual and olfactory cues. Marketing experts use this to their advantage by making sure that foods, or images of foods, are easily visible all around us. In some countries, shopping malls layouts will often make sure that food outlets are located near escalators where smells will easily travel upwards to passersby.
But cravings are not just about the food itself. It is also about the things you have associated with these foods like a location, or an activity, or an object. If you have biscuits every time you have a coffee or sit down to watch TV in the evening, you will want them every time you perform this activity. And if you always have coffee in the same cup, simply seeing the cup may trigger the craving too.
Keeping a diary of your cravings, by entering a few notes of where you were and what was going on when you had the craving, is a good way to become more aware of your craving triggers and the habits around them.
If you have tried every passing fad and each celebrity-endorsed diet and discovered they did not work, hypnotherapy can help!
The use of hypnosis over a four-week consultation program can change your mindset – habits and behaviours – around food that that have been acquired over a lifetime.
To find out more, you can simply call me on 07790 339 574 or send me an email here.