Whether you are trying to lose weight or just want to eat healthily, it is not uncommon to crave different foods, and there is nothing bad about them.
However, if you gave in to every craving you experienced, you might find yourself constantly overeating, gaining weight, and compromising your physique goals.
In this article, I will show you the tools and tricks for breaking the cycle and taking control over your cravings.
READ MORE | How To Really Control Your Cravings
What is a craving?
Food cravings are a strong desire to eat particular foods, preferably, as soon as possible. While the process of how and why we get this feeling is quite complex, one thing is clear: dieting is one of the most common causes.
When dieting, we usually restrict our food choices, the amount of food we consume, or both. As a result, we often want that “forbidden“ food. The good news is that you are not at fault!
Cravings are influenced by a physiological response to nutritional deprivation or dieting. It is ironic that a psychological reaction to your thoughts about not eating something can trigger cravings.
For example, the more you think about how you can’t eat that cookie because you have to stick to your diet plan, the more you might crave it.
Beyond that, you might experience more cravings at specific times of the day, or due to your emotional state and even your environment.
Understanding that craving sweets or other foods is normal is the first step of breaking the cycle and taking control over your diet.
Stop following strict diets
As I mentioned above, food restriction is the leading cause of cravings. The more restrictions you impose on yourself, the harder it is to stick to the diet because you constantly want to eat what you are not allowed to.
That’s also why strict diets do not work in the long term. You can follow a strict diet only for a limited time, but eventually, whether you want it or not, you will fall off track and eat all you can.
In strict diets, you usually have a rigid meal plan to follow or a short list of foods you are allowed to eat. Foods are typically labelled as “bad“ or “good“, and many of them are “forbidden“ or “unhealthy“.
Not only does this make your diet bland and less nutritious, but it may also make you feel guilty and stress you out when you can’t stick perfectly to the plan.
Instead of following strict rules and seeing food as either good and bad, adopt a flexible structure in your diet. There are more nutritious foods such as whole and unprocessed foods like meats, grains, and vegetables and less nutritious yet calorie-dense foods like pizza or fries.
The foundation of your diet should consist of whole foods. Yet, you can still have other foods you like. And, yes, that includes your favourite cookie, chocolate, pizza, or whatever you like. You can even have it every day and still reach your goals, but only as long as you have a solid foundation and plan accordingly.
Interestingly, research shows that the less high-carb and high-fat foods we eat (like cookies, pizza, fries), the less we crave them over time. That’s why you should always cover your foundation first and consume enough protein- and fibre-rich foods.
READ MORE | 10 Signs You Have A Bad Relationship With Food
Clean up your kitchen
Did you know that our digestion starts in the brain? Every time you smell or see food, your brain sends signals to your body, saying: “There is food, be prepared!“
Even though you might have just eaten, you suddenly start producing more saliva and might feel hungry again. You might even think that you didn’t eat enough… but you’ve just eaten. It doesn’t make sense, right?
Well, that’s a normal physiological response. It might not make sense logically, but it absolutely makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
That’s why it is recommended to clean up your shopping cart, your fridge, and your kitchen from the foods you want to eat less and fill them with the foods you should eat more often.
Whatever food you have available at home, you or someone from your household most likely will eat it because of the reasons mentioned above.
So make sure you have plenty of healthier foods available, particularly whole, natural foods, and limit the high-carb and high-fat snacks and foods in your kitchen.
And make more better-for-you food swaps, like a diet soda instead of regular soda, or homemade baked fries rather deep-fried French fries, as examples.
READ MORE | Pantry Make-Over Smart Swaps
Understand your emotions
When we feel hungry, it’s not necessarily because our body needs sustenance. Our psychological and emotional state can also cause cravings.
Did you ever wonder why in situations where you are sad or bored, you might snack more? Well, that’s the reason.
There is a great technique that can help you recognise your emotions and give you more control over your actions. The method is called “HALT“, which stands for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely (or bored), Tired“.
The next time you feel hungry, ask yourself these questions:
Am I really Hungry? If you last ate a couple of hours ago or longer, chances are that you are indeed hungry. The solution here is simple, go and eat.
However, if you ate not that long time ago, dig deeper:
- Am I Angry because of something or mad at someone?
- Do I feel Lonely right now?
- Did I sleep too little last night, and am I Tired now, am I bored?
If you answered ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions, realise that the feeling of hunger is likely caused by an emotion, not because your body needs energy or nutrients. If that is the case, sit with the feeling and try to tolerate the discomfort for at least 5 minutes. Then reassess how you feel.
You might want to still go and have a snack, and that is okay. However, applying this technique regularly, understanding your emotions, and learning how to tolerate this discomfort will help you to control your response to cravings in the long term.
Talk to your loved ones
If you struggle with your diet, you can always talk about it to your friends, family, and peers. For example, if you live with a partner who does not support your lifestyle or sabotages your goals by offering you foods that you are trying to limit, talk to them about your feelings.
It may be challenging, but it is essential that you ask them to support you. Explain why this is important to you, and make sure they understand that your decision to limit some foods doesn’t mean they should as well. If they genuinely care about you, they will respect your decision and encourage you to stick to your diet choices.
Also, when you feel bored or lonely, call a friend, spend some quality time together, or just talk. Not only will you forget about the craving, but you will also feel happier and might get some extra movement.
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Remember your why
Following a diet or a training plan consistently is often hard. Some people prefer to rely on motivation, but motivation comes and goes. So, what do you do when you are not motivated at all, and you saw that moist chocolate cake? That’s when thinking about your “why“ will help.
Why did you start this diet or your training program in the first place? And I don’t mean the abstract goals you might have like losing weight, having abs, or a physique you like. Dig deeper and find out your real “why“. When you have a strong “why” it becomes easier to say “no“ to temptations.
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Find the balance
Regardless of the diet you follow or the foods you prefer to eat, finding and maintaining a balance is vitally important for your long-term goals.
Creating balance means:
- instead of following a strict diet, allow some flexibility in food choices.
- instead of eating a whole pizza or not eating it at all, you take a small piece.
- instead of not going out with your friends because you need to follow a plan, you go out and enjoy the time while ordering healthier meals.
- instead of beating yourself up when you give in to a craving, you ask yourself “how can I do better next time?“
Understanding yourself, your emotions, your environment, how to keep a healthy balance, and do not beat yourself up when you don’t follow your diet perfectly. Taking these steps will ultimately help you take control over your cravings. Nobody is perfect and that is fine. What everyone can do, though, is aim to do just a little bit better every day.
By Elena Biedert
This contribution was created in partnership with FITposium
About the author: Elena Biedert is a certified fitness trainer, nutritionist, postpartum training specialist, bikini athlete, and book author, which she juggles while working in the tech industry and being a mom. She is a founder of Mama Fitness Coaching. Her mission is to help moms get fit, lose the baby weight, and have the energy to keep up with their kids. Connect with her on Instagram @mamafitnesscoaching and @elenabiedert
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.