Cravings are something so many people struggle with, I used to have terrible cravings every single day – in fact I felt like my entire life was spent battling cravings and hunger! It can be worse when we’re stressed or feeling vulnerable emotionally.
It’s easy to be pushed ‘off the healthy wagon’ when cravings kick in, it really isn’t about willpower, in fact I really don’t like that term. It suggests that we’re not strong enough to just say no, but it’s NOT as simple as that.
Battling cravings can take up valuable brain space and energy when we’re trying to resist them.
It doesn’t have to be that way, cravings do not need to take over your life nor should they! All you need is a little understanding about how cravings work and some solutions for how to overcome them, read on to learn more.
CRAVINGS CULPRIT #1:Constant Sugar Highs & Lows in your Bloodstream
When I was in my 20’s my cravings were pretty much insane, and I gave in every single day. I would devour an entire pack of Maryland cookies all to myself, in minutes. I thought this was all down to willpower, and that I clearly just didn’t have any.
Here’s how a typical day looked for me back then:
- Breakfast: Corn Flakes, Special K, or a croissant
- Lunch: Jacket potato (quite a big one) with cheese and beans
- Snack: 3pm – by now I was climbing the walls looking for chocolate or a muffin for the Starbucks across the road from my office, so off I went.
- Dinner: pasta with tomato sauce and cheese
- Evening snacks: chocolate/crisps/cheesecake
On a diet like this it’s no wonder I was having such intense cravings all the time. Between breakfast and lunch I craved but didn’t give in, between lunch and dinner I craved and DID give in, between dinner and bed I craved and DID give in.
Basically I was eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates that spiked my blood sugar levels initially, and then this was followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar (energy) once the hormone insulin had moved all of the excess sugar out of the blood stream to protect me (and stored it as fat..thanks insulin!) Those sharp drops in blood sugar left me feeling hungry, craving, low mood, lacking concentration, a bit fuzzy – no naturally my biochemistry started craving something to raise my blood sugar again and give me some energy. At this point the last thing you will crave is a plate of chicken and salad or a lovely soup. So you see it’s NOT a case of willpower, it’s your biochemistry. You are not weak and you don’t lack willpower! Refined carbohydrates and sugar are addictive foods, for the reasons I just explained.
Is this resonating with you?
I hope you can now see what I am trying to show you – that cravings can be controlled (eliminated) through the food choices you make all day everyday.
When I first embarked on a diet and lifestyle (permanent) change one of the first things I did was switch all the refined carbs over to their whole grain alternative. That meant replacing regular cereal with porridge, jacket potatoes with big salads, regular pasta with brown pasta (and less of it).
The first thing I noticed was that between breakfast and lunch I had no cravings or hunger and I didn’t even think about food at all until someone mentioned lunchtime was approaching – now this was a first!!
Then I noticed that after lunch at about 3pm when I would usually be craving like mad for some chocolate or a cake, I was a bit hungry but not craven, and I just wanted something healthy and opted for hummus, oatcakes and carrot sticks – WOW again!
I also started to lose the evening cravings for chocolate or crisps.
The problem up until this point had been major imbalanced blood sugar levels due to the sugar rushes I was having from the refined carb foods, so I was riding the blood sugar roller coaster all day, trying to manage my cravings and hunger all day everyday.
Not only do refined carbs cause us to ride the blood sugar roller coaster but so does our serious lack of protein. Most women are just not eating enough at all. Protein is KEY for keeping our blood sugar stable and hunger and cravings at bay. If you look at my diet breakdown above there is near to no protein at all. No wonder I was in such a craven mess every day!
The solution? The key to freeing yourself from cravings is to nourish your body with protein at every single meal and snack, plus good fats, use good quality non-refined carbs, plenty of nourishing vegetables and nuts and seeds that provide the essential minerals we need to help us balance our blood sugar, and plenty of healthy fats throughout the day.
You will enjoy your food (and life!) a lot more eating foods like this and you can create some really mouth-watering meals and snacks.
My life transformed once I discovered the right way to eat for my body. I couldn’t believe the clarity I had every day, the clear head, more balanced emotions and moods, and complete lack of cravings.
If I every skipped out on my healthy breakfast (porridge with nuts and seeds at the time) I really did feel it later on. Before lunch those sugar cravings would kick in again and no matter how I ate all day the hunger just wouldn’t go away. It was always a good reminder to stay with my newly created healthy habits.
CRAVINGS CULPRIT #2: Stress
When we’re stressed, our bodies use up more glucose from the foods we eat and more of the minerals needed to keep our blood sugar balanced. So stress can cause us to crave, even if we are eating a healthy balanced diet as mentioned above. So its important to recognize when we might be overly stressed and give our bodies more nourishment to manage the issue.
On super stressed days I know I will need more of the good stuff so I allow for that. I have healthy fat and protein based snacks at hand to have in between meals when on easier going days I might not have needed them.
Stress also increases the hormone cortisol, which sends sugar into our blood stream (because it thinks we need to run away from a tiger), this then signals the release of insulin and so we get the sharp drop in energy that we’d get from eating refined carbs and sugar. So its just more important when stressed to ensure the protein is there and the healthy fats too. Healthy fat helps to keep us balanced as well.
The solution? When you’re stressed make a consistent effort to eat better, stay hydrated and get more sleep and do things that help to bring calm to body and so can reduce the impact of the stress on our hormones (cortisol and insulin), this way we automatically dial down our cravings.
Some things you can do to reduce the impact of stress are:
- This short breathing exercise: Find a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it. Exhale through your mouth. Again, deep breath in through your nose and hold it. And exhale through your mouth. One more time, take a long, deep breath in through your nose. Hold it. Exhale through your mouth.
- Read good fiction or self development books in the evenings instead of watching TV, scrolling on your phone or tablet, or working on your laptop.
- Get some yoga into your week whether once or 3 times, anything will help. There are some great online subscriptions out there so you can do it from your own home, if you cant get to a class outside like yogaglo.com.
- Cuddles with your pets, friend, partner, kids!
- Relaxing in a bath with some lavender essential oil and Epsom salts, dim the lights and just lay there. I like to play a meditation whilst I’m in the bath and just feel myself calm and switch off for 20 minutes.
- Go for a walk in nature/green spaces. Listen to some of your favourite uplifting music – a powerful mood changer!
CRAVINGS CULPRIT #3: Boredom
Cravings can also be down to sheer boredom, so think on this for a minute. Perhaps you’re so bored in your job every day that you simply want something to spice things up a bit and get you through a draggy afternoon?
If that’s the case should you start thinking about switching to a job you find more interesting?!
If you’re boredom eating at weekends or in the evenings what could you do instead to fill your time? Find a hobby. Could you join a creative group, or a dance class or other fun fitness group? Read something that really gets your attention.
Maybe you could study something you’re passionate in your spare time. I have a friend who was pretty bored and she sat and thought about what she was truly passionate about. She realized that was make-up so she started spending her evenings watching make up tutorials on YouTube and practicing on herself or her housemate. That soon took her away from her cookie jar! Now she’s started a professional course and is planning a total career change!
CRAVINGS CULPRIT #4: True Hunger vs. Emotional Eating
There is a difference between true hunger and when we are highly emotional and want to fill our emotions with food. It can be hard to know the difference if you don’t take some time to think about it before diving in to that packet of cookies. Emotional eating can create a never-ending cycle of cravings.
The solution? Awareness is always the first step. By simply making the connection, and following the trail back to the trigger, we become mindful about the underlying feelings behind our food choices so we can regain control.