Food Cravings and How to Counteract Them
Have you ever felt that you could kill for a doughnut? Or do whatever you’re told for a steak? We all have them. Food cravings are a hard to resist urge to eat one kind of food or another. Sometimes it’s tastes we crave, but sometimes the cravings are much more vague, like “something sweet”. I, for one, often find myself craving for some hot dogs with mustard and bread – things I’ve eliminated from my diet a long time ago – they are heavily processed, after all, which makes them far from being the ideal snack or meal.
What are food cravings?
Sometimes called “moreishness”, food cravings are defined as the sudden and intense desire to consume a specific food. It is still under debate whether it is or is not related to “specific hunger”, one of the ways our bodies tell us that it needs a specific nutrient.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that chocolate is on the top of the list of foods people usually crave for. Sometimes this craving is nutrient-related – it contains phenylethylamine, an amino acid that helps regulate endorphin release, and large quantities of iron, depleted in women during their menstrual cycle.
If I don’t give in, will the craving go away?
Probably not. Food cravings are different from hunger, and are triggered by different parts of the brain – those responsible for memories, emotions and learning, for example. Cravings can be triggered by emotions, memories and stress. And they are not likely to go away unless you give in to them – at least to some extent.
Giving in to food cravings – but in a healthier way
Sometimes the best way to work off an itch is to scratch it.
Completely eliminating certain foods from your diet is not just hard, but unhealthy as well. It might work for a time, but the cravings always return – and sometimes they hit heavy right when you are the weakest. Instead of completely eliminating foods – even unhealthy ones – you crave, you can simply incorporate them into your daily diet to a certain extent.
If chocolate is your weakness, you can simply enjoy a small piece or two every day. If it’s alcohol, treat yourself with a glass every other day. It might not be what the doctor – or your nutritionist – ordered, but it can really improve on your quality of life.
Another way to give in to food cravings without ruining your diet – and without the inherent guilt – is to choose healthier alternatives to what you crave. If you feel you need a cookie, choose one with plenty of fiber and low on sugar (like this one). If you feel like crunching on some chips, go with this oven-baked veggie version instead. Even if you crave for something sweet you can choose a fruit instead of candy (it always works for me).
Sugar cravings are perhaps the most dangerous for your waistline. And sugar is not your friend – it’s a highly addictive ingredient, unfortunately used in everything from bread to barbecue sauce (over 70% of all foods we eat). And consuming sugar will only make you crave for more.
Sugar is the nutrient that offers our bodies the easiest to digest calories. The sugars in cakes and sweets are simple, easy to break down, and cause a spike in our blood sugar levels when consumed. Higher blood sugar means higher insulin release, a hormone that helps our bodies turn glucose into glycogen, the substance used by our liver and muscles. And when the muscles and liver are fed up, the remaining glycogen is stored for later in the form of fat.
But our blood sugar levels drop quickly after such a sugar rush, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, raising our heart rate and causing our bodies to want more. Sugar, of course.
So, how do I get rid of food cravings?
First of all, see if you indeed crave something or you’re simply hungry. If you are, consume a full meal and see if the craving persists. If you know you’re not hungry, it can help you curb your cravings.
Listen to your cravings and understand what they mean. Craving for certain foods could mean that you are low on nutrients – like iron, vitamins or even sugar.
Keep your mind off the object of your desire. Keep yourself distracted from what you crave. Sometimes simply chewing on a piece of gum (sugar-free, of course) or a walk will do the trick. Sometimes you might need something more radical – like having a cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep.