I know you have been there. You are driving down the road with no food in the car and you can actually taste that double cheeseburger and fries. I mean, the taste is actually on your tongue. How could that be? These are the dreaded cravings, and they can ruin any weight loss program.
For some people, the drug of choice is chocolate. For others, it is sugar in general—anything with sugar. Some crave fat. But for anyone trying to reduce their weight and increase their health, “cravings” are the final nails in the diet coffin. I know this all too well; when the cravings hit in my house you had better back away from the fridge or you might get hurt!
Cravings are fueled by chemicals in your brain that are released when you eat certain foods. These foods create a rush of euphoria, causing you to feel a temporary high or satisfaction. Once your brain and your body discover that certain foods cause such a euphoric response, you begin to seek out those foods. Conventional thought suggests that you just need more willpower to overcome the temptation. But we know this is not true because we all know individuals who are otherwise very self-disciplined people who continue to be caught in a cycle of cravings with the dreaded side effect of weight gain.
So how do you beat the cravings? The answer is found in two key areas of our lives: stress and habits. When you’re under stress, the hormone cortisol is released into your blood which can cause issues with dieting in general. The body starts to crave comfort foods loaded with sugar and fat to combat the stress system by weakening the bond of this hormone.
When it comes to our life habits, many of us have become like Pavlov’s dog. It is classic brain conditioning. The cat scratches you, the boss yells at you or every traffic light is red. So, you decide that the bag of Oreos is history when you get home. If you eat to relieve stress often enough, your brain learns that when cortisol is present you need to resolve it with your “drug” or “food” of choice. The food gets coded as a solution to your stressful life. Seemingly innocent routines, such as eating certain foods while watching TV, also create powerful associations.
So, we agree that cravings happen. We know why they happen. What can you do to help you win the battle?
• Wait it out. One line of wisdom is that the craving will build to a mountainous wave if untreated so you should feed the body a small portion of the craved food. The only problem with that solution is that it takes a large amount of willpower to eat just one square of chocolate. Plus, if you are addicted to that food it could cause the beginning of a long binge session. Food cravings in our body behave much like waves in a pool. They begin small, build up to a peak and then they do disappear. So if you can wait it out you have a better chance of winning the standoff with that dreaded bag of Oreos.
• Choose the best distraction. When you are tempted by a craving, try to figure out why that craving is attacking and then choose the best distraction. If you are bored, find a task that you find enjoyable. If you are sad, play some cheerful music or do something enjoyable. If you are stressed, a good hard workout always helps vent some frustrations. I took up gardening a few years ago because killing the weeds with a hoe was very therapeutic.
• Eliminate sensory cues. Smells, sights and sounds all act as triggers. So meeting a friend at a bakery or a restaurant when you are trying to start a diet is a really bad idea. For me, watching a cooking show can make my mouth start watering. So, be aware that smells and sights can trigger that Pavlov’s dog effect. My advice is to avoid the landmines by knowing what foods make you crave and avoid places where you might see or smell that tempting aroma.
• Change your palate. Many people can become addicted to refined carbohydrates, which include white flour, white sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The more refined the menu choices, the more you will crave it. Eliminate refined ingredients from your diet and your food cravings will grow weaker. I suggest that you go the extra step and change your diet by replacing the refined foods with as many whole grains and fiber options as you can. Eat more nuts, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole-wheat foods.
• Shift your focus. When a craving hits, change your attention to something not related to eating like taking a hot bath, writing a friend, calling a loved one or just doing laundry. Indulge yourself in something enjoyable as long as it has nothing to do with food. Remember, you are trying to surf through the craving without downing a bag of chips.
• Be prepared. Keep your fruit bowl well stocked and always have healthy snacks in the fridge. If you feel your craving creeping up, beat the cravings back into submission by grabbing a banana and a big glass of water. Clean out the cabinets at work and home of anything that is tempting to eat, so that when that Oreo commercial comes on the TV, you can’t go to the pantry and down a bag.
• Cellular nutrition. Finally, I suggest that you use a regimen of high-quality supplements. There are many vitamins, minerals and herbs that help with cravings and stress: B vitamins, biotin, stevia, ginseng and fenugreek are some. Since most of our food supply does not have enough nutritional value due to the over-production of our crops, be sure to supplement your nutritional intake. Healthy people do not have the cravings that less-healthy people do. Take care of your cells, and they will take care of you!
For more information to help you win the cravings war, check out my favorite site, mygreat28system.com/information. Also, be sure to look for next month’s article on food addiction and what you can do to overcome the addiction.