5 things you can do today to reduce your food cravings
Regardless of the body size, I'm pretty sure that anyone reading this (including myself) has had hundreds of food cravings and has overeaten occasionally (or a lot). Pizza, chocolate, fries, pretzels, cookies, cakes, sodas, alcohol top the list of the most craved foods. And for a good reason. Today, unlike for the other 99.5% of human history when we had to exert a significant amount of work to get food, we are surrounded by highly palatable foods that require zero effort to get.
Studies show that the same brain regions light up when people are presented with highly palatable foods as when addicts are given cocaine. Yes, you read that right. Based on years of studies, and multiple books published on the topic* researchers now are sure that certain foods are as addictive as drugs. They stimulate our dopamine receptors SO much that it makes our brain go bananas.
Ok, so food is addictive - I'm sure that's not surprising for you to hear. You may be sitting reading this right now thinking about that cookie platter somebody brought to work. But what can we do when those cravings arrive?
Here are 5 strategies you can incorporate today to reduce your food cravings:
1. Have well-balanced meals 3 times per day.
The main causes of food cravings are: 1) blood sugar disregulation, 2) nutrient deficiencies and 3) microbiome mayhem.
Having 3 balanced, minimally processed meals a day that combine all essential macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein) and a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) optimizes blood sugar levels, ensures nutritional needs are meet, offers prolonged satiety, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Why 3 times a day is optimal? Studies show that the more times we eat during the day, the more we think about food. Also, constant snacking or grazing keeps our blood sugar elevated and small portions never fully fill our stomach to notify the brain that it's time to stop eating. So we are left with elevated hunger hormones and suppressed fullness hormones.
If you are already doing that but still have cravings, you may not be eating enough at meals (start by increasing the amount of produce at meals).
So what would an optimal meal day look like?
2-3 eggs, lots of vegetables and a piece of fruit for breakfast
Large salad with mixed greens and grilled chicken for lunch
Salmon with sweet potatoes and lots of vegetables for dinner
Of course depending on your work and schedule, activity levels and wake up time, you may need a 4th meal which would somewhat look like the meals above, with each meal being slightly smaller.
2. Never shop hungry.
I could have called this point "Clean out your pantry" but in the end of the day foods in the pantry get there somehow so hear me out here. When we shop hungry, our brains are literally screaming for energy, and for the most exciting kind, i.e. processed foods loaded with sugar, fat and salt. Don't believe me? Have you ever came home with too much broccoli?
We are also A LOT more likely to act irrationally and buy multiple items not on our shopping list. And that's not even the problem because you may say buying and eating are two different things, however, anybody knows that it's a lot easier NOT to eat something if it's not in the house.
So to sum up: shopping while full = sticking to the grocery list = less junk in the house = less temptations/cravings.
3. Plan all your meals for the week.
I know you may think this sounds crazy, but planning all foods ahead of time is an extremely powerful strategy for anybody who struggles with food cravings, has obsessive thoughts about food or overeats on regular basis. And again, you don't have to be overweight to struggle with those issues.
Planning your week removes any doubt and anxiety. It gives you clear guidelines on what you are buying and eating. If you fill your plan with foods mentioned in point 1. your blood sugar will be balanced, your hunger under control and your brain free to think about your next vacation or business venture, rather than your next meal. It may take a little while to get a hang of but in a few weeks it will become automatic.
4. Minimize exposure to cravings-inducing media.
Thinking about food, talking about food, reading about food and watching food can make us hungry and craving all sorts of things. I realize that by choosing the pizza picture as my featured image I may have caused you to want some right now.
If you want to reduce your cravings, unsubscribe from, or unfollow any people, pages, video streams, stores, organizations that promote tempting foods or drinks. Pages like Buzzfeed's TASTY with millions of followers even feature categories like "cheat day" as if we need more help getting access to non-nutritious foods.
Stop listening to the radio with commercials - our local radio 98Q drives me nuts with constant commercials for Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's and new restaurants opening in the area. I'm drooling just listening to them.
Same goes for watching TV. Minimize exposure to commercials and food channels and your cravings will get better.
Additionally, delete apps on your phone that may keep your brain thinking about tempting foods or drinks, for example, apps that offer any kinds of coupons, special offers, or rewards.
For me, my obsession-fueling app was the Starbucks app. I used to be addicted to their frappucinos, and I couldn't wait to get my free drink of choice, or a discount coupon for the next sugar-loaded coffee. Get rid of anything like that.
5. Develop your own coping strategies.
Having a plan for when the next urge arrives is very important. Whether you decide to re-direct your thoughts, distract yourself, etc. work on having a specific list of ready to go moves when next temptation arrives.
Here's an article on some of the best techniques you can start incorporating today.
* Books I highly recommend you look into if you want to understand more about how we get addicted to food and what to do about it:
Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf
The Hungry Brain. Outsmarting the instincts that make us overeat by Stephan J. Guyenet, Ph.D.
The end of overeating. Taking control of the insatiable American appetite by David Kessler, MD.
Brain-powered weight loss by Eliza Kingsford
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph. D.
Do you have any questions? Need help with your nutritional intake? Want to improve your health and wellness? Do not hesitate to shoot me an e-mail.