Woman picking up piece of bread

How to manage your food cravings

Food cravings are inevitable. Here are a few ways you can deal with them in a healthy way. 

If you occasionally have what feels like an uncontrollable desire for a specific food, even if you aren’t hungry, you are not alone. In fact, a reported 90% of people experience food cravings when feeling anxious, depressed, or even bored.

But what is the root cause of food cravings? And more importantly, what is the best way to cope with them? This article examines the difference between hunger and cravings and how you can manage food cravings so you don’t sabotage your weight loss journey.

Hunger vs. cravings

There’s a fine line between hunger and cravings. Generally speaking, physical hunger is gradual and tied to the last time you ate. Meanwhile, cravings, or emotional hunger, can be triggered by stress, worry, fatigue, habit, or even boredom.

When you’re hungry, your body sends your brain signals that it needs fuel. You may experience stomach growling and feelings of emptiness. You need to eat. And once you do, hunger symptoms will disappear and won’t return for several hours.

Cravings, on the other hand, are your body’s way of telling you that it wants comfort or something soothing, provoking you to eat even when your body doesn’t need more fuel. A craving is usually directed to a specific food, taste, or texture, resulting in more radical behavior.

What makes cravings especially difficult when it comes to weight loss is that the foods you crave can be described as “hyper-palatable,” offering a tantalizing combination of fat, sugar, salt, and carbohydrates. This type of food is calorie-dense, nutritionally poor, and can interfere with brain signals so that you keep craving them even when you’re full.

What causes cravings?

illustration of brain with brainwaves

When people succumb to a food craving, they likely blame themselves for having a lack of self-control or not enough willpower. But cravings are much more complex than that.

Cravings involve a few different factors, including brain messages, behaviors that become habits over time, and easy access to food.

As far as your brain is concerned, eating certain foods causes the neurons in the reward region of your brain to become very active, creating highly positive feelings of pleasure so that you want to keep seeking these foods regularly.

External factors also influence food cravings, such as stress, sleep, exercise, and food industry advertising. In fact, increased exposure to food advertising is associated with a higher calorie intake and increased preference for hyper-palatable foods from those ads.

How to manage food cravings in a healthy way.

Before you try to manage your cravings, it’s important to realize that food cravings are normal and inevitable. It’s best to accept that you have a craving rather than try to ignore or suppress it. Acknowledging your craving and then determining how to deal with it is the best course of action.

‘Interview’ your hunger and decide.

The first thing you should do when you experience a craving is to “interview” your feeling of hunger and give yourself five minutes to think before acting on it. Ask yourself: what do I want to eat, and why do I want it right now? Am I actually hungry or just stressed, tired, or bored?

When you take your ‘hunger thoughts’ seriously and figure out what’s going on before eating, you should be able to decide if you need to eat because of true hunger or if you’re feeling emotional hunger.

Think about your last meal. Did you eat enough? Was the meal balanced with protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and a healthy fat? If your meal was too small or not balanced, then you might be feeling real hunger.

If it was a complete meal, take a look at what you ate. Some foods might not satiate you as long as others. Analyzing what you ate and how you felt after eating will help you determine what foods work best for you and your weight loss journey.

Eat mindfully and move on.

If you determine that you are not really hungry but still decide to succumb to a food craving, eat mindfully. When you eat something you are craving, have a small portion and pay attention to see if you are satisfied. Then ask yourself, ‘Do I need more?’

It’s important not to be hard on yourself if you succumb to a craving. Accept that it happened and move on. Doing this could benefit your overall emotional state and help you avoid emotional eating when you experience another craving.

Tips to reduce food cravings.

While it may be impossible to eliminate food cravings altogether, there are some things you can do to help reduce food cravings and make healthy food choices.

Eat nutritionally balanced meals.

Following the GOLO for Life® Plan and eating three complete meals a day can keep you fuller longer and reduce the chances of having a food craving before your next meal. Foods high in protein and fiber are particularly good at sustaining fullness.

Did you know that fats are the last to leave the digestive tract? For this reason, they help provide energy and help keep you satiated. This is why GOLO suggests adding a healthy fat serving to every meal.

Avoid long stretches between meals.

Waiting too long between meals could cause you to have stronger cravings for unhealthy food or overeat when you finally sit down to eat.

If you go more than 4-6 hours between meals, it is best to have a healthy snack to avoid this problem. Try raw veggies or a lean protein to hold you over until your next meal. Cucumbers dipped in guacamole, a boiled egg, a serving of nuts, or some cheese cubes are all good suggestions.

Pay attention to your body so that you understand your hunger patterns. When you feel like you’re getting hungry and know enough time has passed between meals, be proactive about it. Eating on a regular schedule and having healthy meals planned and ready to go can help you avoid emotional hunger.

Quick tip: If you go a long time between dinner and bedtime, you may feel hungry again. Snacking late at night can disrupt sleep and is very detrimental to weight loss. Avoid this issue by going to bed earlier or adjusting your dinner to a later time to avoid late-night snacking.

Find healthy alternatives to hyper-palatable foods.

Think about how the unhealthy food you crave tastes and replace it with a healthy, higher-quality food that satisfies the craving.

Try eating fruit at the end of your dinner to satisfy your sweet tooth or a serving of almonds to replace your favorite salty snack. There is a healthier alternative to just about any food you might crave.

Find an activity to deal with how you’re feeling.

If you determine that you are feeling emotionally hungry, think about why. Are you stressed, bored, or upset about something? Next, determine what you can do (besides eating) that will help that feeling go away.

Make a list of things you can do to help during these times. Some good ideas are taking a walk, calling a friend, doing a small home improvement or organization project, making crafts, painting your nails, or even taking a hot bath.

Quick tip: Try drinking a cup of hot herbal tea the next time you feel a craving. As your body compensates for the temperature of the liquid, it brings down your internal temperature and can activate your metabolism, which can make you feel less hungry.

Limit environmental cues to eat.

Scrolling through social media posts about food or watching cooking shows may cause you to think you're hungry when you're actually not. The same goes for watching TV at night. If you find that the commercials make you hungry, turn off the television and read a book or do something else.

Drink more water.

Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. When you start to crave unhealthy foods, drink a glass of water, wait 15 minutes, and see how you feel. You can even try infused water to satisfy a craving for sweets.

Get enough sleep.

Consistently getting a good night’s sleep has many health benefits. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may have less energy and feel hungrier throughout the day, which could cause you to cave to food cravings.

Put foods you crave out of sight so they will be out of mind.

If you still have unhealthy snacks in your house, keeping them out of reach or at least out of sight may help you avoid them when a craving comes around. 

How GOLO can help with cravings

GOLO is a lifestyle, not a diet. We say this a lot, but what does it really mean? It is a concept that helps our customers be successful, including people who have not achieved their goals on lots of other diets.

With GOLO, nothing is completely "off limits". There are foods that you should try to avoid and others that you may want to have only occasionally. This mindset is much different than other programs that make you feel deprived or isolated. Many plans can make hunger and cravings worse because you feel as if you have “failed” if you eat something that is not allowed.

We feel that cutting yourself off completely from certain foods may end up doing more harm than good. Remember, if you do succumb to a food craving or enjoy a nice treat for a special occasion, don’t fret. We want you to live life and enjoy it to the fullest. Just get back on track at the next meal and don’t let that meal turn into a run of bad choices, and you will do just fine. 

 

 

GOLO is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any illness or disease. This blog provides general information and discussion about health and wellness related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. GOLO encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. All opinions and articles linked to and from this page are those of the individuals concerned and do not necessarily represent those of GOLO, LLC or its employees. No responsibility can be accepted for any action you take or refrain from taking as a result of viewing this page. GOLO will not be liable for any errors, losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions are subject to change without notice. 

 

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