It’s post-dinner. You’re jammied-up and cozy in your favorite chair watching the last season of Mad Men (because somehow you never saw it), when Joan appears on screen with a box of doughnuts for a client meeting. Your highly satisfying and healthy dinner (Farm to Fit’s Blackened Rockfish with Green Bean Casserole) suddenly begs a sugar companion. Your mind quickly goes to the pantry: “dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter; homemade brownie bites; that pop-tart your friend left one time…” and then to the freezer: “ICE CREAM.” Suddenly your body no longer wants that dessert it NEEDS it. Your internal dialogue continues with the usual pros and cons of Just Going For It or holding strong to the commitment you made to curb your cravings and stick to healthy eating. In the midst of all the turmoil you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and by the end, feel entitled to that chocolate bar. (This may or may not be based on a true story, by the way…) We’ve all been there though right? Cravings are intense and powerful because they exist at a chemical level. When you take a bite of that doughnut, your brain releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine, which the body seeks over and over again. Willpower is only half of the equation. What can we do to break this cycle and curb our cravings?
- Ask Yourself: Am I Eating Enough?
Intense cravings sometimes happen when we restrict calories, or an entire food group (like carbs). According to research from the University of Toronto, restrained eaters are more likely to experience cravings and to overeat the “forbidden” food when given the chance. Making certain foods off limits can lead to obsessing and binging. Instead of ‘cutting out’ certain foods, try allowing foods, in moderation. For some people, subbing a lower-calorie snack in place of that food your body is really craving, is the answer. For others this just doesn’t work, as your brain’s memory is pretty darn good. That yogurt just isn’t gonna cut it when the brain wants ice cream. You may even take in more calories than what your body would have ingested if you had just stuck with ice cream to begin with. In this case try sharing a slice of cake after dinner with friends, or having a slice of pizza on your lunch break instead of a whole pie for dinner.
- Identify The Source
Try this fill-in-the-blank exercise “I am feeling _______because of ______”. Once you identify the emotions behind the craving, you can take better steps to satisfy it without food.
- Make It Harder
Clean out your pantry. Having no chocolate to reach for makes it much easier to ……. (see below)
- Wait It Out
Sometimes it feels like there is no end to your need for nachos. But, in reality, a craving will build and fall, just give it time.
- Distract Yourself
Researchers have found that distracting your brain really does work. The next time you find yourself daydreaming about a mound of oreos, shift your focus to something completely non-food related, like making a phone call or washing the dishes.
- Stop And Say
Bob Maurer, PhD, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life, tells clients to say “STOP” when they start craving, and replace the food thought with a healthy image (say, you fit and lean). Hey, it’s worth a try.
What are your tips to curb cravings?