Do you find that you suffer from regular cravings? Research shows that as many as 97% of women and 68% of men experience food cravings, with females between the ages of 18 and 35 being the most susceptible. Cravings are defined as a “strong desire for a particular food” which differs from general hunger when any food will satisfy.
I am sure we have all experienced the seemingly all controlling force of a craving. While there is no one answer as to why we experience them, certain physiological and hormonal factors have been shown to play a role. Psychological and environmental aspects should also be considered.
Here are a few of the main contributors and how you can overcome them:
1. Habit, not Hunger
We often learn to associate certain foods with certain situations. For example, how many of us have eaten popcorn or lollies at the movies despite being full? Or crackers and cheese before dinner because it is what we usually do?
To break the habit it is helpful to start recognizing the trigger. Is it hunger or a habit? Keeping a food diary and noting where you were and how you were feeling will help you identify the culprits. Once you have done this, you can start to alter the activity to avoid the craving.
So, you are on a diet? Often we crave what we cannot have. Also, if you have reduced your calorie intake dramatically it can make you feel exhausted, and unfortunately you reach for something high in sugar and/or fat to boost your energy levels (which undermines your diet).
To overcome this problem, allow yourself a small amount of your favourite thing within your diet. For example, having one small piece of dark chocolate per day will help you still to your plan in the long term. Perhaps buy individually wrapped mini lindt to avoid eating the whole block! Also, ensure your diet has adequate protein, low GI carbs, fibre and water to give your energy and keep you feeling full.
When we are under stress our bodies burn through B complex vitamins at a greater rate. These vitamins usually help give you energy. So really stress is a double-edged sword. We deplete energy producing and stress reducing vitamins at the same time as we probably decrease our amount of sleep. This usually results in us turning to high sugar/ high fat foods to help boost our energy levels. Also, researchers have found that people with low mood tend to eat 36% more than their happy counterparts.
To help with this issue, find other ways to deal with your stress. For example, 20min walk is enough to reduce your craving. It will also stimulate endorphins to naturally make you feel better. Other ideas are to make a quick call to a friend or to listen to your favourite song on your ipod.
4. Blood sugar
Foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) will cause your blood sugar levels to rise sharply, with the unfortunate equally sharp drop in in blood sugar levels. This is the reason why when we have eaten a lot of sugary food we feel “buzzy” for a little while and then fall in a heap about ½ hr later – usually leading us back to the lolly jar for another “sugar hit”. In reality, high GI foods can form a type of addiction.
To correct this, aim to eat low-GI foods that provide a much slower release of sugar and sustain energy levels for longer. The other positive is that they make you feel fuller for longer also. Try swapping a chocolate bar for a hot chocolate made with half milk half water, or plain popcorn instead of chips, or sliced fruit instead of processed lollies.
** another great research finding is that we are highly influenced by our sense of smell. To distract your mind next time you have a craving, sniff some vanilla essential oil….no kidding, it works.
Article Written By:
Ali Dear – Women’s’ health expert, nutritionist, yoga teacher and lover of good food