No one is immune to food cravings. It happens to each of us at some point, no matter how hard we try to avoid those late-night munchies. Maybe it’s the temptation of cookies in the cupboard or the salivating response to the fast-food commercials we see on TV. Whatever it may be, food cravings hit hard and often lead us straight to the fridge.
With some helpful tools, you can control your food cravings and steer clear of comfort eating. This article is all about understanding your food cravings and learning how to kick them to the curb.
Catch Some Zzz’s
Have you found yourself craving late-night snacks? You’re not alone. It’s easy to reach for that pack of Oreos while binge-watching your favorite Amazon Prime series. But the next time you catch yourself with your hand in the cookie jar (literally), try hitting the hay instead.
A new study revealed the link between sleep deprivation and the consumption of high-calorie junk food, particularly in women. Women who report a lack of sleep typically consume more foods high in sugars, saturated fats and caffeine—ingredients linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The primetime hours for cravings are between 8:00 pm and midnight. By getting a good night’s sleep (8 hours is recommended), you’ll save yourself from consuming an additional 500 to 800 calories.
How sweet it is! It’s hard to resist that tempting candy bar, tub of Ben & Jerry’s or melt in your mouth donuts. And no wonder some junk food is as addictive as doing a line of coke—really!
Researchers suggest sugar produces similar effects to that of cocaine but can be even more addictive. And once you’re hooked, it’s hard to come down. Humans experience withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine addicts after quitting.
Here’s the deal—sugar generates dopamine, a neurotransmitter that delivers messages to the “rewards center” of your brain. Dopamine tricks your brain into thinking it needs more and more sugar.
But the effects are short-lived. You start eating more and more sugar to get the same pleasurable effects you had before. No wonder it’s so hard to stop drinking soda or quit heading for the dessert tray after a meal. Your brain is pre-programmed to desire more!
Don’t despair. Here are seven proven ways to detox from sugar for good!
It’s not just sugar, saturated fat and caffeine we’re dealing with here. Processed foods are equally addictive. There’s a reason why the foods we “can’t live without” rings true. They usually contain ingredients that produce an opiate-like effect. MSG, high-fructose corn syrup and aspartame are just a few of the sinister ingredients found in processed food. Not only are these ingredients addictive, they’re harmful to your body. And by design, they’ll make you crave more and more.
The best way to stop your chemical food cravings is to raid your cupboards and fridge and donate all your processed food products to a shelter or soup kitchen. Then, start stocking your pantry with natural foods. Remember: if it grows, flies, swims or runs, it’s natural.
Start reading the ingredients list on all food labels. If you spot sugar, saturated fat, enriched flour or words you can’t pronounce, you should think twice.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Cravings
A growing number of studies suggest when the body is deficient in a specific nutrient, it naturally craves foods rich in said nutrient. For example, chocolate cravings have been linked to low magnesium levels, whereas meat and cheese cravings could be a sign of low calcium or iron levels.
While fulfilling your craving is believed to correct your nutrient deficiency, most of the time, we yearn for empty-calorie foods like ice cream, Doritos, fried food or donuts.
The solution: eat a well-balanced diet. When you eat a well-balanced diet, your body won’t be lacking the essential nutrients it needs. Your cravings will subside when your nutrient needs are met.
Start off your day with mineral- and nutrient-rich foods, like homemade smoothies, chia pudding or steel-cut oatmeal with berries. Make sure to add plenty of leafy green vegetables on your plate and stay hydrated. Sometimes we think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. So, before reaching for that slice of pie, drink 8 oz. of water and see if your cravings diminish.
Watch any rom-com and nine times out of 10, the lead (usually a female character), devours some comfort food following an on-screen break-up. Cut to the next scene and she’s madly in love with someone else and back to eating skimpy salads—”hold the dressing, please.”
And while these Hollywood movie plots are often unrealistic, there is some truth when it comes to emotional eating. Break-ups, dissatisfaction in relationships, lacking purpose or feeling unfulfilled at work can all lead to emotional eating. This temporary absence of joy creates emotional pain. During these periods, it’s easy to turn to food as a means to numb your feelings.
It’s important to remember that these periods are temporary and you’ll eventually feel better. While you may not feel like it, head to the gym or try a Gymondo workout—the extra endorphins after a good sweat will make your cravings subside. If you’re not up for a workout, go for a walk and talk it out with friends. And when you’re about to reach for that donut, consider if you’re really hungry or if you’re trying to fill a void. Instead, make yourself a hot cup of tea, light some candles and wrap yourself in a warm blanket to decompress.
When you’re eating nutrient-dense food, staying physically strong and getting enough rest, you’re well-equipped to handle your food cravings. But when you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, bored or feeling joyless, life’s little hiccups could lead you straight to the fridge. Exercise, sleep and developing healthy habits will help get you through even your most difficult times.
Here are our top 3 takeaways:
- Prioritize exercise. Working out increases your mood and energy levels, while decreasing stress. It only takes 18 days to form a habit, so prioritizing fitness is easier than you may think.
- Get 8 hours of sleep each night. When you aren’t well-rested, your body starts craving sugary foods for that quick boost of energy. Getting plenty of rest will curb your appetite and reduce your cravings.
- Replace your cravings. If you’re craving salty snacks, like potato chips, try replacing them with salty alternatives—cashews, walnuts, almonds or popcorn. To ward off those chocolate cravings, opt for the dark, milk-free variety. And when it comes to sugar, keep dried fruits on hand. These tasty treats are much healthier than sugary sweets. For some of us, it’s hard to give up soda. Instead, try sparkling water with freshly squeezed oranges or lemons.