Have you ever been on a healthy eating plan only to be derailed by a craving for a specific food or food type? This is usually sweet foods like chocolate, biscuits or soft drinks but can also be fatty and salty foods like chips and takeaways or even bread.
In order to deal with these cravings and stop them from tripping you up constantly or setting you back from dealing with your health goal it’s important to try and figure out what is driving them.
Are the cravings physical, emotional and psychological? Maybe they are a combination of all of these.
Here are my top tips for overcoming food cravings.
Make sure that your blood sugar levels are stable
Spiking and crashing blood sugar levels are a sure fire way to keep you in the vicious cycle of cravings (particularly for sugar and breads). Making sure your meals are balanced with sufficient protein (think fish, eggs, meats, good quality yogurt and cheese), fibre (foods high in fibre include vegetables, fruits,seeds, beans and pulses) and essential fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, trout,sardines, avocado, chia and flaxseed, walnuts and almonds) will help ensure your blood sugar in on track. Some people find that a very high carbohydrate meal (those who load on the potatoes,pasta, rice, cereals and breads) can push up blood sugar too high resulting in a dip which can lead to fatigue, listlessness and cravings.
Also,eating sugar will make you want sugar!
A food journal can work really well here, write down what you are eating and how you feel afterwards. Craving sweets? Bloated and uncomfortable? Fatigued? These are all signs that you may need to tweak your diet.
Know your triggers
Alcohol can certainly promote a ‘want’ for salty or fatty foods. Lack of sleep is a big trigger for carbohydrate, caffeine and sugar cravings. Are you a big tea drinker and need to have something sweet with your cuppa? Do you skip meals frequently and end up mindlessly eating biscuits, toast or bars?
For me personally, I find that alcohol makes me crave carbohydrates and salt. I used to deal with this by eating crisps when I was having a drink. Nowadays I have olives, cheese, sundried tomatoes and maybe even popcorn all of which area better choice than processed junk food.
Write them down, really tune in to your cravings and you will see a pattern emerging as to what your triggers are.
Make sure that you are hydrated
A basic one I know, but good hydration can slip particularly when we are out of routine. Gauge your water intake, aim for the 2 litres. Herbal teas count, try a chai or vanilla chai tea from Pukka as these are naturally sweet with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. A nice water infusion with mint, lime, ginger or berries can help for anyone who struggles with plain water. I find sparkling water with a little apple cider vinegar really refreshing.
Look after your gut
Gut dysbiosis or an imbalance in your gut microbiome has been shown to be associated with cravings for unhealthy foods and your gut health has a huge influence over your eating behaviour in general so address any underlying digestive issues and consider including fermented foods in your regime. I like to make my own kefir, other fermented foods that could be considered are kombucha, sauerkraut, water kefir and kimchi.
Psychological and Emotional Cravings
Is it a genuine physical craving or is your brain or body trying to tell you something? Sometimes we associate a huge range of emotions with the need to eat. Stress and boredom can lead to mindless eating (it's amazing how much we can actually consume when we eat mindlessly!) We eat to be distracted from our emotions.Remember, you cannot feed an emotion.
The next time you experience a craving, listen to your body. Maybe it really needs to move, get some fresh air, a glass of water, a rest, a walk around, a chat with someone.....
Don’t put temptation in your path
Ok, so we all know the 'if you don’t want to eat it then don’t buy it' line, it's true, of course it is but it's not always as easy as that. Partners, kids and friends put the food in your eyeline and then there's the office biscuits and the family members wanting a takeaway. It's not about never giving in to a craving, it's about managing it.
There are always healthier options for sweet treats though some people do better with avoiding sugar altogether. I find that if I make a healthier sweet treats it's difficult to moderate my intake. For example, one or two low sugar brownies are ok whereas 5 or 6 are not!! On the sugar front, abstaining rather than moderating works better for me. Or freeze in portion sizes to avoid scoffing the lot!