This is part one of a two part article on cravings and how to handle them.
Its important you know that you are not powerless to your cravings, but they can be major deterrents to reaching your goals. You need to learn how to manage your craving, from both a mental and physical standpoint. Keep in mind what works of one person may not work for you. Also, what works for one craving may not work for all of them.
Before we start talking about controlling your cravings, first we need to talk about why you might be having these craving. If you would describe your cravings as “out of control” or “very intense”, then it is possible your cravings are not just run of the mill cravings that can be handled with some lifestyle changes. If your cravings are off the charts they might being caused by your food intake being too restrictive, one of your macronutrients (carbs, fat, or protein) being too low or your stress levels being too high. You can try the tips below but if your cravings are beyond the “I would really like to eat this” feeling, then they may not work for you and your will need to balance whatever the issue causing the intense cravings first. You can do all the hacks and tips in the world, but until you get those things in balance, you will not be able to manage your cravings for the long term. (If you would like help in seeing if your diet is causing your cravings, contact me here, and we can go over your diet together.)
When handling our cravings, we need to handle them from a physical perspective and a mental perspective. In this article we will go over to types of food we commonly crave and how to handle them from a physical perspective. In the second part of the article we will discuss how to mentally manage your cravings.
There are two categories for foods people commonly crave. The first one, commonly referred to as buffer or barrier foods are ones that we can eat in moderation and they help us from over indulging. The other category, commonly called trigger foods, are the foods we cannot control ourselves around and lead to over eating.
Buffer foods are foods that we can have a small amount and we feel satisfied after eating them. It can help to eat these in moderation throughout the week. Maybe that means having a tiny square of dark chocolate after dinner every night. (Notice I said tiny square and not the whole bar.) Or maybe it is half a glass of wine a couple times a week. The problem with these foods is when we label them as bad or unclean and ban them completely from our diet. This is a major reason why super strict diets tend to fail. Buffer food help take the intensity out of our cravings, allowing us to feel content eating a healthier diet and helping us stay motivated for making changes.
It can help to pre measure these foods into single size portions (when you can). When you get home from the grocery store, grab your measuring cups or scale and some small Ziplocs. Open that bag of chips/popcorn/crackers and measure out individual portion sizes. Now, when you do indulge in the craving, you are not sitting down with the entire bag, but just one portion.
The other type of food we crave is referred as a “trigger” food. Trigger foods are foods we struggle to eat mindfully. For me, nuts and tortilla chips are the top of the list. When I start to eat them I struggle to realize when I have had enough. With trigger foods you may find that you are not overly hungry, but after a few bites, you feel hungry and want more. Commonly, these foods will either be combinations of starch and salt or starch and fat. (Chips? Desserts?). You may notice after certain meals that are high in starch and salt or fat, you never find yourself feeling full or satisfied or are hungry again with in an hour.
If you are dealing with trigger foods, then having these foods in the house may not be a good idea for you. For example, tortilla chips are a trigger for me. If the bag is here I will eat it, all of it. So, instead of buying a bag of chips, I keep fresh corn tortillas in my fridge. When I need tortilla chips for a recipe or to have some guacamole with, I can make up just one size serving. Now that big bag of chips isn’t hanging in my pantry tempting me every time I walk by.
Another way to physically deal with these cravings is to try and find the healthiest options. Maybe chocolate cookies are your thing. You can try replacing them with a dark chocolate square, cocoa drink or try something like my chocolate brownie bites. If you love chips, you can try swapping them for air popped popcorn. Or switch from ice cream to a higher protein frozen yogurt (love the Stonyfield one, btw!). Don’t ban the less healthy food, however, just don’t eat it every night. That is where your healthier alternative comes in.
Remember, your cravings are neither good nor bad they are just there. A mistake many make is labeling their craving food as bad and banning it. Some attempt to ban it forever, while other might ban it for every day except one predetermined cheat day. The problem with this, is when we label food we give it power. There is no good or bad food, some food is just more nutritionally dense then others. The problem occurs when we deny ourselves, all week long. Telling ourselves we have these items on a predetermined day. Then that day comes, and we have the scarcity mindset, (scarcity mindset is the fear that there will never be enough). And so we binge, we over indulge. The cheat meal turns into a cheat day, which turns into a cheat weekend.
Cravings can be a sign of stress. Maybe your life is crazy right now. They can also be a sign your diet is too restrictive. Reevaluate you diet. Are you eating enough? Are you getting enough protein/fat/carbs? Are you doing too much hard core exercise? Once you have a dressed those things, then you can address handling the cravings.
If you fear your cravings might be due to your diet being too restrictive or one of your macronutrients being too low, drop me a line and let’s chat. I would love to help you manage your cravings by first addressing your diet.