Can’t Stick To Your Diet? Here Are 14 Effective Ways to Combat Cravings
Cravings are the intense urge for specific foods during a diet. Here are 14 ways to curb your cravings effectively.
Cravings are defined as an intense urge for specific foods and are a huge reason why most diets derail.
They undermine healthy diets and so our health too. And let's face it, most people often give up their good intentions - of losing weight and getting fit - simply because they can’t seem to rein in that uncontrollable urge to eat something specific at a specific time of the day (for some it may be anytime of the day).
And let’s not kid ourselves, our cravings influence our body weight directly too. It is undoubtedly an important piece of the weight-loss puzzle.
But are cravings really such an impossible devil to tame? No, not at all.
You just need to understand why they happen first - there can be multiple reasons - and then tackle them accordingly to ensure that they go away. Yes, they can go away. There’s hope.
To counter the cravings effectively you need a two pronged attack: on the physiological level as well as emotional.
Follow this doable checklist.
Don't skip meals
First, and most importantly, counter the cravings by eating all meals and opting for slow-energy releasing foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Skipping meals is a sure fire way to trigger unmanageable cravings.
Eat a super healthy breakfast
This can include a protein (egg, dairy, lean meat, sprouts), a fruit, some good fats (seeds, nuts) and a complex carb (whole grain) to take care of your cravings till lunch.
This is important because an insufficient breakfast (either in quantity or quality) can send a distress signal to your brain that may trigger cravings.
Strict diets are counterproductive for cravings – they give birth to uncontrollable urges. Portion control steps like nibbling on a cookie or two rather than the whole pack, or opting for replacements (a cup of hot cocoa instead) will always work better at countering the craving menace.
Look closely at the foods you are plating
Foods like fat, sugars, salt (also caffeine and alcohol) lead to release of opioids into our bloodstream, which give us a feeling of temporary gratification but also create a chemical imbalance of sorts which in turn fuels more cravings, making it thus a vicious - cravings = bad food = more cravings.
To combat this, eat more natural foods like fruits, grains, vegetables; they help set the balance right.
If a craving strikes on the clock at specific times of the day, every day, then it signals towards addiction (for example wine after work, or that terribly unhealthy namkeen when watching Netflix after dinner). Staying prepared (keeping green tea and some walnuts handy, or a glass of cold milk, maybe) is the way to go.
Learn to distinguish between cravings and physiological hunger
Are you low on energy, and need ‘food’ or just wish/want to eat something? Answer this question honestly and take action accordingly.
Hormonal imbalance, low blood sugar or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin, which sends a signal to the brain that it needs a pick-me-up food to boost the compound.
Carb cravings usually are a result of this as these supply tryptophan, which helps secrete serotonin (happiness chemical). So if cravings are persistent, check with a doctor.
Sometimes (but not always) cravings could be due to a nutritional deficiency.
For example, magnesium or B complex deficiencies often show up as chocolate cravings. Eat more almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds (all super rich in magnesium), and pump up the leafy greens in your diet for the B’s and see if that helps.
Low calcium diets, or those that are low in potassium or iron deficient, can lead to salt cravings. Similarly, if the body is lacking chromium, carbon or phosphorus, an unusual affinity to sweets can occur.
A fruit dessert or a small piece of jaggery or a couple of dates might work as well or maybe even better than a barfi in this case. Mental associations often trigger cravings.
For example, if you have always had dessert after dinner while growing up, you’ll continue to crave for one all your life till you consciously work towards breaking the habit.
Or better still, get smart and eat a healthier option instead.
A fruit dessert or a small piece of jaggery or a couple of dates might work as well or maybe even better than a barfi in this case.
Exercise and Meditate
Mindfulness meditation can help to address, prevent or interrupt cravings for food, by occupying short term memory, according to research. Worth a try for sure.
Learn to wait
Simply postpone reaching the cookie tin for 15 minutes or so. By then unless you are really hungry, the desire will dissipate. Trust me, if you can learn to ignore the urge, cravings typically last just ten minutes.
Divert your mind
Pick up that phone to chat with a friend, put on your favourite CD, open your laptop to add finishing touches to your presentation, meditate or just step outside for a walk. And no, don’t switch that TV on – it’s a friend of food, not a foe.
Finally, sometimes only taking a complete break from the foods you crave excessively works instead of trying to eat smaller helpings of it.
Three weeks of abstinence may do the deed and resolve the problem.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico), Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa) and Fix it with foods.)
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