What are Cravings?
Cravings are strong yearnings for specific foods, usually those with high sugar or high fat content. Unlike the normal hunger that we experience between meals on a daily basis, cravings are triggered by emotions, situations, or pleasant associations. They are linked to our mind’s reward system and many times these associations stem back to childhood, holidays or other past experiences (ex: your mom rewarded you with vanilla ice cream and a handful of animal crackers if you did all of your chores when you were little).
Did you know that your senses are powerful enough to trigger a full on craving episode? When you eat a food you long for, your brain releases dopamine (a natural chemical linked to pleasure) making this mind-body connection an inevitable reality to deal with. In fact many soothe their feelings of stress, depression or boredom through “emotional eating” which provides them with a sense of comfort that they associate from eating specific foods. If not identified or controlled, this pattern can lead to binge eating or other eating disorders. Understanding the power of cravings and your relationship with food is the first step towards combating this problem.
Understanding Your Cravings
Although many cravings are linked with emotional or psychological triggers, when our bodies are deficient in specific vitamins or minerals, we begin to crave things that are spicy, salty, sweet or sour. According to the Diet Channel, if you crave salt, you may be lacking iodine or potassium in your diet. According to Chinese Medicine, sour cravings can mean a weakness in the immune system/ liver and spicy cravings may be an indication of weakness in the lungs or an irregularity in your blood sugar levels. If your cravings are for something sweet, you may have an overgrowth of yeast in your intestines, therefore you should try eating more vegetables to control your sugar cravings. You may also be lacking minerals in your diet so it is suggested to try taking trace mineral supplements.
Food Flavors & Textures
Surprisingly, many times it is not a specific flavor that we crave, but the texture of the food that long for : Taco Bell had it down to a science when they came up with the “Cheesy Gordita Crunch”- they advertised it as “Crunchy, Cheesy, Chewy & Melty” in order to satisfy any and every late night cravings all at once! (Too bad that “4th meal” will end up costing you 560 calories (297 calories from fat). The best way to begin understanding and controlling your cravings is to explore your personal relationship with food. Begin by making a list of your most “craved” foods. Next, try to determine what categories they fall into so that you can seek an alternative when you get a snack attack. There are plenty of healthy recipes out there to satisfy cravings: all Crunchy, Cheesy, Chewy, Melty, Spicy, Salty, Sweet and Sour of them (almost sounds like the 8 Dwarves of a Fast Food fairy tale ;)
Compromise with Your Cravings
Your body is an amazing machine. It knows exactly what it needs and asks you for certain foods for reasons described above so it’s important to listen to your body’s signals within reason. Sometimes a lower fat substitute will do just the trick. For example, If you can't stop thinking about that slice of pecan pie, try baking a sweet potato, blending in some dry oatmeal, pecans, a touch of cinnamon and brown sugar. Viola! A healthy version of a piece of “pecan pie” with all the nutrient benefits and none of the sugar! A little creativity in the kitchen can help you cancel out your cravings and help you get the best of both worlds!
CHEESY & MELTY:
Instead of: Cheese Pizza (over 500 calories)
TRY: Whole Wheat Thomas English Muffin with 1 Tablespoon of Tomato/Pizza Sauce and Low-fat shredded cheese. Preheat oven to 350 and pop in for 5 minutes and save yourself a couple hundred calories!
Instead of: KFC Chicken (over 500 calories)
TRY: “HFC”- Healthy “Fried” Chicken:
Healthy Southern “Fried” Chicken
- 1 lb chicken tenders
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup chopped chives
- butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray
- 1 cup buttermilk
- ½ small onion cut into wedges
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
Combine all of the marinade ingredient in a blender until smooth. Place chicken in a glass baking dish and pour marinade on it and cover and store in refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Combine the breadcrumbs, chives and parmesan in a shallow baking dish and coat the chicken with the mixture. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place chicken on a non-stick pan and bake for 20 minutes on 350 degrees. Enjoy this crispy “fried chicken” with a side of homemade sweet potato wedges and string beans!
Instead of: Chocolate Mousse Pie (250 calories)
TRY: Low fat Chocolate Jell-O Pudding with a dollop of Cool Whip (130 calories)
Instead of: Large Wendy’s Chili (330 calories)
TRY: Homemade Spicy Turkey Chili (Under 200 calories)
Instead of: Sour Patch Kids Candy (140 calories)
TRY: Dill Pickle (only 17 calories)
Instead of: Movie Theater Popcorn (300 calories w/o added butter)
TRY: Air-popped popcorn with sea salt (1 cup has only 31 calories)
Instead of: Subway Chocolate Chip Cookies
TRY: Quaker Granola Bar- Chocolate Chip (only 100 calories & NO Trans fat)
Foods to Avoid to Combat Cravings
The effects of sugar do not live up to its sweet-sounding name. Did you know that the average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week? Highly refined sugars in the forms of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are processed into food and will only lead to food cravings; it is a vicious cycle. The first step in breaking a sugar addiction is educating yourself on what you are consuming. You will know something is high in sugar if it contains one or any of these names appears first or second in the ingredients listed on the food label:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit-juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Pre-packaged, processed or “instant” foods
Although they may be convenient, processed foods contain chemicals that will only make you more dependent on them.
- Canned foods (contains a lot of sodium)
- White breads & pastas made with refined white flour (opt for wheat)
- Packaged high-calorie snack foods (chips, etc)
- High-fat convenience foods
- Frozen dinners
- Packaged cakes and cookies
- Boxed meal mixes
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Processed meats
Hitting the drive-through once in awhile isn't such a big deal — the problem is that if you do it one time, you're much more likely to swing by again. Fast food has chemicals and hormones that make it addictive and those who frequent fast food restaurants are more likely to pack on the pounds and also lead to an increased risk of Diabetes and other diseases.
Behaviors to Avoid to Combat Cravings:
Going to the Grocery Store Hungry
You will overspend and most importantly buy things you don't want and don't need! I don’t care how strong your willpower is, you will just setting yourself up for self-sabotage if you do this so make sure to snack before you shop! Be smart and implement a food shopping strategy. Designate one day a week as your shopping and food preparation day. By developing this ritual, you become more organized and disciplined. I like to do my grocery shopping on Sunday evenings- I feel like I have the whole store to myself!
Your mom was right when she said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Always make sure to eat within the first hour after rising in order to jumpstart your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day. People think that they are saving calories when they skip breakfast but it’s really quite the opposite. Make sure to have your “Breakfast of Champions” and that you have a balance of protein and complex carbs Ex: egg whites and oatmeal.
Keeping Unhealthy Food Choices Around You
Why sabotage yourself? It is the common law of nature- once something is in your sight you want it! How many times has this happened to you? How many times have you triggered your own food craving by keeping that candy bar in your desk drawer or that batch of cookies in your kitchen? It’s only natural to want a bite when you see it. As the saying goes- out of sight, out of mind! Keep that snack food out of your surroundings!
Other Ways to Reduce Your Cravings:
By eating 4-5 small meals per day you will keep your metabolism & blood sugar levels in check and keep your cravings at ease.
Any kind of exercise will helps you release endorphins, improve your mood and help you combat your cravings, especially if you can schedule your workout at the specific times that your cravings occur.
Media and marketing has programmed people to turn to food as their outlet whenever they become stressed. By discovering alternative ways to relieve your stress, you will soon be able to channel your stressors into something positive. Try taking a brisk ten minute walk the next time that your nerves get rattled! You may also want to try incorporating yoga or mediation into your routine at least once a week.