Beating Food Cravings
The other day, I gave in to an old food craving. A delicious, cheesy, meaty food craving that grows from a tiny thought in the back of the mind to a full-blown stomach rumbling. The word PIZZA shouting front and center in my brain. For someone with high cholesterol, this is not a healthy craving, especially when you get a strong suggestion from the doctor to start eating better. Yup. My doctor semi-yelled at me, followed by my mothers giving me that Motherly Look. You know the one I am talking about. It doesn’t matter what age you are; they are still your mother.
Food cravings can ruin the best of intentions when it comes to healthy eating. Sometimes, willpower is not enough to resist urges and temptations. Why? Food addiction. While the nay-sayers will say it’s just willpower, beating addiction takes serious effort. Your body goes through a chemical reaction to specific thoughts that trigger food cravings. Changing your eating habits is a natural way to reduce food cravings and build healthy eating habits that can improve your overall health and well-being.
Understanding Food Addictions
We’ve all had those late-night food cravings for something sweet or salty or a combination of the two. One of my all-time favorite go-to treats is a bakery-style chocolate chip muffin with a glass of milk. It’s a nasty, tasty, satisfying, and unhealthy food craving that stems from deep-seated habits that release a large amount of serotonin and dopamine when you eat it.
Eating sugary and fatty foods sends a large burst of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin to the brain. They give you that pleasurable and relaxed feeling when you eat something you crave. Some common behavioral symptoms that point to a food addiction include:
- Craving certain foods, even when full
- When eating a craved snack, you always eat too much
- You feel guilty after giving in to cravings.
- You make excuses to eat craved foods versus healthier foods.
- You hide craved foods from loved ones.
- You are powerless against your cravings, even when you know it is unhealthy.
Consequences of Unhealthy Eating Habits
Food cravings can cause a physical and psychological reaction that is similar to drug and alcohol withdrawals. When you stop eating certain foods, within 4-6 hours, cravings will begin and will only intensify until you give in. Common symptoms include headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Like an addiction to drugs and alcohol, food addiction comes with plenty of unhealthy side effects that can decrease your quality of life and cause serious health complications. An unhealthy diet can lead to:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Type II Diabetes
Food addictions can be overcome with time, dedication, and learning about healthy eating habits. If you want to change your eating habits and struggle to commit to those changes, working with a trained therapist or nutritionist can help you build effective eating habits.
6 Tips for Overcoming Food Cravings
If you are unsure how to know when you are craving a certain food versus just normal hunger, ask yourself how often you feel that craving for that food item. Then, ask how often you give in to that craving. Eating too much of any type of food can be unhealthy. If you don’t eat a well-balanced diet, you miss out on the necessary vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy and active.
Here are six tips for overcoming food cravings:
- Eat more frequently to avoid getting hungry — There are all types of diets and healthy eating plans available, and it can get pretty confusing knowing which one is best for you. One popular option is eating smaller meals six times per day instead of the traditional three. More frequent meals reduce the risk of getting hungry between meals and decrease your chances of triggering food cravings.
- Eat more fiber — Foods that are high in fiber leave you feeling fuller, much longer than most unhealthy snacks and fast foods. Adding fiber to your diet helps decrease cholesterol levels, improves bowel movements, and helps regulate sugar levels. Some tasty and healthy high-fiber foods include avocados, apples, almonds, and raspberries.
- Keep yourself busy — As the saying goes, idle hands are the Devil’s playground. It can be very easy to sit there and mindlessly eat a bag of chips or candy while binge-watching your favorite streaming series. Limit mind-numbing activities like watching TV. Replace it with healthier activities like exercising tending to a garden, learning a new skill, or planning a social day or night with friends.
- Stop buying unhealthy snacks — Out of sight, out of mind is the thinking here. If you have healthy snacks like fruits, low-fat cheese, and nuts near you instead of chips and cookies, you can fix yourself a healthy snack and satisfy those cravings without harming your health or increasing your waistline.
- Know your triggers — This is where a therapist can help. Recognizing your triggers is the first step in overcoming food cravings. Your personal triggers are unique to you. Understanding what they are can help you easily overcome those triggering situations or people. Food craving triggers can include things like going to the movies or watching a favorite TV/streaming series, certain sights and smells, or personal experiences like reaching for a box of cookies to recover from a bad day at work.
- Talking with a therapist — Get into the habit of seeing therapy as a tool to improve your overall mental health. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people get rid of unhealthy behaviors, like giving in to food cravings when upset or watching TV for hours, and replacing them with healthier thoughts and activities. Seeing a therapist is much easier today. There are several mental health sites and apps that offer at-home telehealth services where you can talk with a therapist from the comfort and privacy of your home.
When building a healthy meal plan, be sure to include plenty of variety in the type of meals you prepare. An easy trigger for food cravings is eating the same healthy meals over and over again. Learn new recipes and try adding new spices to your foods to add some flavor and zest to your meals. If you want to expand your cooking and baking skills, find some online cooking shows or local kitchens or restaurants that offer free cooking demos or classes.
Building Healthy Eating Habits for Beating Food Cravings
Eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins, and healthy grains can cut down on cravings for sugary snacks and unhealthy foods. The key to a healthy diet is moderation and variety. Don’t eat too much of any one thing. Strawberries and avocados are healthy unless you eat too many of them. Fix a variety of meals for each day so you don’t get bored with what you eat, which can trigger your cravings and ruin all of your healthy eating plans.
By making a few simple changes to the way you eat, you can learn to beat your food cravings and create a healthy eating lifestyle for yourself and your family.