Almost all of us get cravings for particular types of food. But with Christmas around the corner it’s even harder than usual to avoid the little voice in your tummy asking for more. Today Nikki looks at ways to curb and control the cravings so you don’t let festive overindulgence take over.
You’ve had a big meal and you are sat on your sofa, with your feet up, all ready to watch a Christmas movie.
Two minutes later you’re thinking about the chocolate in the fridge, the ice cream in the freezer, the crisps in the cupboard, the sweets in the tin.
You are not hungry. Not in the slightest. And yet it’s almost inevitable that you are going to wolf down that treat and then feel sick and guilty.
What is a food craving?
A classic food craving is a strong urge or desire for a particular food.
Unfortunately these foods are usually high energy, high calorie and high fat.
After all, people do not tend to dream of broccoli, Brussels sprouts or gherkins (pregnant women aside).
Food cravings can cause a headache for people who are trying to manage their diet.
So what can we do about them?
Well understanding what causes you to want certain foods is key to keeping the urges under control.
Firstly, a craving is not hunger. The desire doesn’t come from your stomach but from your brain – which is much more complex.
Mood and energy levels
You have cravings for all sorts of psychological reasons but most cravings are brought on because your brain says you need an energy boost or your mood is affecting your desire.
As far as energy is concerned, people crave high calorie foods, high in carbohydrate, fat and sugar because it gives them a fast burst of energy.
Even though it would be much better for them to have a foodstuff with a better nutritional value and without empty calories.
As far as mood is concerned, certain emotions, including stress, sadness and boredom, can promote cravings.
So too can feelings of happiness – many people “celebrate” with the reward of their favourite snack.
Occasionally people have an underlying medical condition like Type 2 diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can make them crave things like carbs and sugar.
The gender divide
Research suggests men are more likely to crave salty, savoury foods or stodgy foods like pizza and pasta.
In contrast, women crave sweet snacks, like chocolate, biscuits and ice cream.
So how can you control cravings?
Here are my top tips for managing the desire to overindulge:
- Be prepared. Keep your fruit bowl well stocked and always have healthy snacks in the fridge. If you feel your craving creeping up, just grab a banana and a big glass of water or maybe even have a teaspoon of honey or a handful of raisins to satisfy your need for sweet stuff.
- Do something unrelated to food. You can feel the craving creeping up so distract yourself immediately. Have a bath, leave the house, go for a walk, phone a friend.
- Distraction. Many therapists use distraction techniques to help a person act on their cravings. Finger tapping is a common one and can be used to get you out of a food craving frame of mind.
- A little of what you fancy. Just have a small square of chocolate rather than a whole bar. Although this is easier said than done. You will need a serious amount of willpower.
- Don’t buy it. If, like me, you don’t have the willpower for number 4, then don’t buy it at all. Make sure your cupboards at home do not contain any of the things you usually reach for when you hit a sugar low.
- Keep a food diary. Keep track of your food cravings. You might notice you crave certain things t certain times of the month or when you haven’t eaten well the rest of the day. Doing this will help you monitor what you are eating and when you are most likely to feel cravings.
- Chew gum. This is an excellent way to trick your body into thinking it’s eating when it’s not. It might also stave off craving pangs.
- Brush your teeth. When a craving hits, reach for your toothbrush. After a swill of minty fresh mouthwash, you will be far less likely to want to eat anything.
- Don’t skip meals. When you’re hungry, you’re much more likely to want sugary foods. That’s because the longer you go without food, the lower your blood sugar gets. Sugary foods quickly enter the blood stream to raise blood sugar levels. To best regulate your blood sugar, eat every three to five hours.
- Focus on protein. If you’re constantly having food cravings, not having enough protein at your meals could be the problem. Protein foods don’t raise insulin levels to the degree that carbohydrate foods do. Having sufficient protein at meals can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Cure a sweet tooth and a get a protein fix in one by having one of our protein shakes.