So much has been said about them. Those little demons that appear all of a sudden when you think you got it all under control. I am guilty of them, specially when I am under pressure of any kind. Sometimes it’s the body itself that releases hormones (females mainly), or the moon’s influence, or… call it x. But they are there. I have written a little bit about them here. But I thought it would be worth to write a bit more about the subject.
Don’t think about them as such.
They are the most likely cause of failure with any diet because they make you cheat and snack (and snacking reduces the amount of fat your body can burn between meals). Giving in to cravings traps you in a vicious cycle, leading to more cravings (specially if they are carbs or fats). The very fact of calling them “cravings” carries a certain frequency that makes me associate them with that sudden music turn in a horror film “crrraa…vings” 🙂 So instead of seeing them as ‘cravings’, just don’t.
Hunger vs. Satiety
Our body has a clever way of letting us know when we are hungry and when we are full. Both ‘feelings’ are controlled by two of our good friends the hormones: ghrelin (‘I’m hungry’ messenger) and leptin (‘I’m full’ messenger). The function of these two is determined by a number of things, not only dietary changes, but emotional, physical and metabolic changes. By learning what makes these two swing, we can learn how to influence their direction in favour of satiety so that we switch off our hunger for longer periods.
It’s not straight forward, though. Our brain is hardwired to be hungry (result of our primitive days when food was scarce and man had to hunt all the time). Going on a diet that involves fasting or calorie deprivation, immediately enhances that drive, causing the hunger centre to respond quickly to falling blood sugar by stimulating our desire to seek out food, particularly sweet snacks that rapidly return our blood sugar to normal. Unfortunately, as soon as we eat the sugary treat our body releases large amounts of insulin, which sweeps the sugar out of our bloodstream and stores it as fat (specially if we don’t burn it exercising). Then blood sugar drops again and the food cravings return. By stabilizing blood sugar we eliminate one of the key causes of cravings.
Stress, Emotions, etc.
Also, stress makes you hungry (stress deserves a separate article, so I won’t go deep here) and on top of that it makes you unhappy, it’s a vicious cycle. The stress hormone, cortisol, raises our blood sugar in the same way a biscuit would (I’d rather eat that biscuit than being stressed, ha!), and the subsequent insulin release leads to cravings, aside from cortisol increasing addictive behaviours, causing you to seek out more and more snacks.
Feeling low or depressed is one of the commonest triggers for cravings. The main culprit here is our happy hormone, serotonin (I wrote something about hormones here a while ago), which, at low levels, make us feel sad and apathetic. But when we eat chocolate, sweets or fast release carbs, serotonin is released so we feel relaxed and elated. This is why we crave sweets / carbs when we are low, and also why women crave these foods during their periods (read here).
What to do?
- Eat fibre or a little ‘good’ fat before your meal
- Drink a couple of glasses of water before your meal
- Eat your salad or vegetables first
- Eating out: ask for vegetable sticks instead of bread/chips
- Use smaller plates
- Never eat from a container directly, serve it on a plate
- Make or order only what you are going to eat
- Buy your food every day, don’t store large quantities at home
- Avoid distractions while eating. Sit down when you eat and avoid busy places or stressful activities such as watching tv or eating on the train.
- Learn to say ‘no’
- Keep a diary of ‘cravings’. When you feel a craving, write it down, then write how was your day, what are your emotions and what are you going to do to change that state.
- Get enough sleep.
- Have sex.
I hope that helped a bit 🙂
Links of interest: