How to overcome your cravings: Build habits that help you win the cravings game
Sure, we’ve all been there, it’s a late Monday night and you’re winding from your long day from work and suddenly you feel a sudden urge to munch on some crispy, salty (delicious-I can’t get enough-please give me more) potato chips. You think to yourself, “I’m watching my favourite show, maybe I’ll just have a handful” and before you know it, the bag is empty and you feel nothing but shame and regret.
Cravings win almost every time because we are bombarded by advertisements, TV shows and social interactions that drive us to want junk food. If it isn’t hard enough, the food itself is purposely made to make us want more and signal off our dopamine receptors leaving us feeling satisfied and excited while we snack. Once everything is over, we feel powerless and remorseful of our actions, so how do we win?
It’s not about restriction because that will only leave us unhappy, it’s not about strong willpower either because this usually ends with a bingeing episode and will only perpetuate the cycle.
The best way to overcome your cravings is by understanding why, where and when they occur, this is a strategy to help you conquer the cravings game and plan ahead of time.
The first step is to find the root of your cravings by finding the trigger. We feel it way too often, there’s a sudden urge which is the craving, followed by wanting to fulfill said craving, then we reward ourselves by eating the food we wanted. Usually the “urge” is stimulated by a trigger, whether that’s the smell of a freshly baked cookie or just by seeing an image of a mouth-watering cheeseburger. Cravings are greatly influenced by external cues such as the smell, taste, place, and even the company you keep. A good practice is to find the trends to your cravings and a good way to do that is by asking these following questions:
What are you craving? Where are you? What is your emotional state? What is your physical state? (Are you lethargic, anxious, nauseous?) Who are you with? What are you doing?
This is an on-going practice, similar to a food journal and once you have it written down you’ll start to see a pattern, then can you find an action plan to prevent yourself from falling back in.
1. Approach your craving with curiosity
The first question, I’d ask myself is, “am I actually hungry?”, or am I just trying to find something to do? Does any food sound good to me right now? Or was I triggered by the cupcakes Susan from two desks down brought in to work?
Once you notice the snack urge, rather than giving in to it immediate, wait a while before “giving in”. This isn’t like willpower, this is an exercise to give yourself some time to let your body know that you are in control, you can then make a sound decision rather than making a quick irrational one.
It’s easy to feel like a failure if you decide “yes, I’m hungry and want a cupcake” but that doesn’t mean you’ve completely lost. Healthy habits, just like any habits, take time so we have to be patient with ourselves. Again, I don’t believe in deprivation and restriction, but I also don’t believe in overindulging, there is a happy medium and with these strategies, you can get there.
2. Keep yourself busy
A lot of times when we feel a craving, we submit to it immediately, but what would happen if we did something else for a little while before deciding on that craving? By removing ourselves from the mindset of “I need French fries right now” and perhaps doing another activity such as a five minute stretch, calling a friend or going for a walk, we start replacing one behaviour for a better one.
What we don’t realize is that our cravings are more often in our mind and not necessarily physical, we won’t die if we don’t have ice cream.
There are plenty of situations where we’ve kept ourselves so busy that we forget to eat, whether we’re having a lot of fun at an event or even working away at our desks, we’ve been there!
We want to keep our mind busy and avoid our triggers, so sitting down and watching a TV show, is probably not the best practice, however, doing something that keeps us busy and distracted will keep us from submitting to our cravings.
3. Stay nourished throughout the day
Without even knowing it, we might be depriving ourselves of necessary nutrients that help us conquer our cravings. Yes, everyone is different and have their own individual needs of course, but if we continue to nourish our body with the appropriate macro and micro nutrients, we may be able to win the cravings game because our bodies are feeling satisfied and fulfilled to begin with.
Through my practice, I’m hearing more often that my clients overindulge in to their guilt foods at night and a lot of times feel worse because their attempts to be healthy during the day was ruined by snacking. Just like with anything, consistency always wins, and if we try to eat well most of the time, and build a strong foundation throughout the day, we are less likely to falter in to eating poorly at night. Most people are not getting enough fibre in their diet which is not only important for gut health but also helps fills us up. Fibre is found vegetables and grains and is an important part of any diet. Making small adjustments to our diets such as including good quality protein and tons of nutritious fruits and vegetables will leave us feeling nourished and less likely to fall off track.
4. Don’t fight it
Okay so, you really need to have a treat? That’s fine, like mentioned above, I don’t endorse calorie restriction and believe that restriction is a form of stress. If you decide to indulge, make sure you’re getting good quality snack. Practice good food hygiene by eating slowly, enjoying the food, being in a comfortable space and most importantly, savouring it. You can even decide instead of buying these snacks, you can make them from scratch, and most people discover, that it’s not worth the time or effort.
A lot of times, if we start eating well and including more plant foods in to our diet, the “bad stuff” actually starts to taste bad. We’ll know what we feel when we’re eating well and we’ll know what we feel when we’re eating poorly, and sometimes, that is enough for our body to say “no”.
If you’re really struggling, a good way to start is finding a coach or a nutritionist that be your cheerleader and help guide you to making better decisions. It can be confusing to navigate diets, nutrients needs and recipes but with the help of a coach, you feel empowered to make good decisions for yourself.
Nina Ballares HN