You’ve been doing well on your diet, sticking to your plan and making healthy changes. Then, BAM! You can’t stop thinking about chocolate. Or salty potato chips. Is it hunger, or is it a craving? Sadly, many of us have lost the ability to tell the difference.
Hunger is the body’s way of telling you it needs more sustenance. However, it is rare for people in industrialized nations to crave foods due to a real nutritional deficiency. If you crave fat, salt, or sugar, you can bet you’re not feeling true hunger. The modern Western diet is high in all of those things.
Most cravings stem from feelings of deprivation, poor blood sugar control, or an unmet emotional need. Sometimes cravings are stimulated by the flavor-enhancing chemicals in processed foods. Some individuals, especially those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, have cravings for carbohydrates that seem to get stronger as more carbs are consumed. This is due to rapidly rising and falling glucose levels.
Here are some helpful tips for discovering the root cause of your cravings, and stopping them dead in their tracks.
Eat Enough, Often Enough
Can’t stop thinking about food? Chances are good that you might actually be hungry. If you find yourself craving foods that are typically considered healthy, such as meats, fruits, or vegetables, give into your cravings. Your body is telling you it needs more nutrients. To keep cravings away, eat a small, healthy meal (approximately 200 calories) 6 times a day.
Avoid artificial sweeteners. Aspartame, sucralose, and MSGs enhance the flavor of our foods. Unfortunately, these chemicals have also been shown to create a hunger response in some individuals, even after they’ve eaten. Stop your cravings by reducing the amount of chemically-enhanced, processed food you eat. Prepare whole foods instead, and eat a small amount of real sugar on occasion instead of large amounts of artificial sweeteners every day.
Carbs Create Cravings
If you’re diabetic, pre-diabetic, or insulin-resistant, you probably know what it’s like to daydream about carbohydrates. That’s because your body doesn’t use glucose correctly, so it constantly craves sugar (and other carb-rich foods that cause a jump in blood glucose levels). Choose foods that are low in carbohydrates, or whole grain foods with plenty of fiber. These foods don’t stimulate cravings the way processed flour products do.
Discover What You’re Really Hungry For
If you find that you’re hungry most of the time, you should take a moment to sit down and reflect on what you’re hungry for. Food has a strong emotional connection for many of us, and it can be difficult to discern real hunger from boredom or loneliness. Sometimes a hug or a new activity can satisfy our needs much more than extra food can.
Evaluate Your Diet
If your cravings persist after taking the above steps, your diet might not be providing all the nutrition you need. Write down all the foods you eat for a week or two, and then have a doctor or nutritionist evaluate your diet. They can recommend dietary changes or supplements that will reduce your cravings.
Eat What You Want (In Moderation)
Of course, everyone gets stuck in a food rut every now and then. Your cravings could be a signal that you’ve grown bored with your eating plan and need a little something to increase morale. If that’s the case, go ahead and eat what you’re craving, but keep it in moderation. Instead of having a huge slice of pie, have a smaller portion and split it with a friend. Have those cheesy nachos, but increase your exercise to compensate for the extra calories. Almost any food can be an occasional part of a healthy diet.
Cravings are your body’s way of telling you what it wants or needs. Once you get to the root cause of your cravings, you can take steps to send them packing – permanently.