How eating plant-based can help you conquer cravings
(Plus other top tips!)
Cravings are something all of us struggle with at times, so you’re not alone if this is something you’re dealing with.
Cravings can be triggered by many things including; sights, sounds, aromas, environment, stress and more. A perfect example of this is a typical trip to the supermarket with the smell of freshly-baked bread wafting through the shop or popping to a coffee shop and the cakes and muffins are all neatly on display, right in front of you when you’re in the queue! Another example common for a lot of people is stress – stress of a deadline, stress when faced with something you dislike (checking your bank statement or sorting out your house insurance. Sound familiar?) Another is boredom.
Since our appetite and our eating habits do not exist in a bubble, things that are part of our daily lives can trigger cravings.
The better we understand our cravings though, the more equipped we are to deal with them constructively.
It’s not realistic to think you will never have sugar, but the reality is that most people are consuming far too much added sugar. Sugar is in so many of the foods we eat, and we usually aren’t even aware of it (bread, crackers, sauces, soups - you name it) and it can be quite addictive.
Here I’m going to go through EIGHT ways to deal with your SUGAR CRAVINGS (or other junk food habits)! You’ll also begin to understand why your cravings are not always your fault.
We are inundated every day with foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients. Fast food, packaged food and junk food are quick and easy, but we’re paying the price with our health and our waistlines. When we consume these processed, nutrient-void foods, our body knows it’s not getting what it needs, so it craves more…. more nutrients… but a lot of the time we are just giving our body more food… empty calories, lacking in nutrients.
You may be thinking you don’t eat that much because you really don’t eat that many sweets. But most of the sugar we consume is hidden in processed and fast foods, cereals, snacks, white flour products - it’s even in salad dressings, sauces, and drinks. Even products labelled “healthy” are often loaded with sugars.
Sugar makes us feel happy, energetic and it can even make us feel calm sometimes.
Sugar releases brain chemicals that make us feel good emotionally, but temporarily. Following the initial rush of flavour, excitement and comfort, comes the crash! And, just when you were feeling “up,” you are likely to feel worse than you did before you had that sugar, so you want and need even more. It can be a hard cycle to break.
Here’s why your cravings are partially not your fault. Did you know that food companies hire food scientists to create foods with tastes and textures that are hard to resist? It’s their job to find that perfect ‘pleasure point’ or ‘bliss point’ of the food being “manufactured.” They know there are certain substances that people will want more of. Yes, there’s a science to it! An example of this is salted caramel mocha – that flavour doesn’t exist in nature!
Like sugar, MSG (also known as E621) is highly addictive and this is why some of our food cravings are not our fault. This isn’t to say that we don’t have control over what we eat, because we do. We make our own choices. But it helps to understand why some of our choices may not be so healthy. When food or food-like substances are PURPOSELY DESIGNED to create addiction, we need to remember that it’s in the food industries best interest to create food that would have us over eat. The more we eat, the more money they make!
Of course, there are many possible causes for cravings including, but not limited to, stress, nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalance and fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Keeping a food journal so you can become more in tune with what you’re craving, what you’re eating and what you may be missing in your diet is a good idea. You may also learn more about the triggers, which are often signals that the change you need to make may need to happen somewhere off your plate.
Ways To Reduce Cravings
So what can we do to reduce cravings? By adopting the following eight practices, you can reduce your cravings for sugar or other unhealthy foods and drinks.
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1. Don’t skip meals.
This is really important when it comes to eliminating cravings. When we skip meals, we may think we're reducing our calories for the day. The problem with this is that by mid-afternoon, hunger hits with a vengeance, we give in to the temptation and then we get mad at ourselves for failing. This often leads to eating even MORE empty calories, more sugar, more processed food, because we feel we’re starving again and we’re stressed from failing. It’s easy to just start to shovel in the closest food you can find when you’re “starving.” I know, I’ve been there, I used to make this mistake a lot when I wanted to lose weight.
When you can spread out your meals as evenly as possible throughout the day, ensure that your meals are based on whole plant foods. Add a healthy snack when needed to help stabilise your blood sugar levels. This is so you don’t get the energy crashes which result in a craving for sugar to get your energy level back up.
Often, sugar cravings are our body’s response to needing energy. By eating balanced meals throughout the day, our energy levels stay up, thereby reducing cravings.
2. Don’t bring temptation home
This sounds simple, but it’s so true!
If you want to make good choices, only keep good choices in the house. If you have children keep the veggies and fruit at eye level and up front. When children see healthier choices first, they go for what’s within easy reach. Keeping washed, pre-cut veggies with a pre-made dip like houmous means healthy snacks are all ready to eat.
Plus, if the junk food, sugary cereals, cookies, cakes, ice cream, chips, etc., are not there, you can’t eat any. Stock your kitchen with whole plant foods that fill you up, satisfy your hunger and give your body the nutrients it needs. This greatly aids in the reduction of cravings, because you don’t feel so hungry.
3. Eat enough protein and healthy fat
The low-fat diet craze caused people to fear all sources of dietary fat, including the healthy fats that our bodies desperately need to function properly. Healthy fat is crucial to providing essential fatty acids, the absorption of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals and are a source of energising fuel. To make up for the lack of fat and taste in their products, the food companies added more SUGAR! Low fat foods are not very satiating, which leaves us hungry again a short time later. This leads to consuming more calories, which is not good if your goal is weight loss.
By eating more whole plant foods that are packed with the nutrients our bodies need, the less junk food we crave. Our bodies need real food – whole food in its natural state - to thrive. Providing our body with what it needs can reduce addictive cravings.
If eliminating junk food from your cupboards is a challenge for you because your children or spouse have snacks they “have to have,” try replacing one type of snack at a time. For example: Maybe instead of highly flavoured Doritos, which can contain various obscure ingredients, (Disodium 5'-Ribonucleotide anyone?) and MSG, transition to something like organic tortilla chips. Be sure you have a great fresh salsa or guacamole for the dip and serve with a plate of fresh cut veggies too! Starting with small changes and transitioning little by little can avoid a major mutiny. You don’t have to do a major overhaul all at once. This can take some time. It’s good to introduce new foods and see what everyone likes. You never know what may become a new favourite.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep each night? And do you get quality sleep? In the UK our average hours of sleep continue to decline.
What does sleep have to do with healthy eating and achieving your ideal weight range? A lot!
Think about the difference in how your day goes when you wake up tired vs. how you feel and how your day goes after you get a full night’s rest. It’s typical that we make different food and activity choices throughout the day when we are rested and feel energetic, compared to days when we are feeling tired.
Tiredness, stress and exhaustion all trigger food binges, especially for sugary foods. When we’re tired, we get stressed more easily. Our appetites can increase when we’re tired, which makes sense. Studies show how signals from the brain, which control appetite regulation, are impacted by sleep restriction. Our body craves more energy and we get more energy from food, so we end up eating more, and usually end up making less healthy choices.
5. Be a food label detective
Eating as much whole plant foods as you can mean you don’t need to check quite so many labels, but when you are buying packaged food spend a bit of time checking the ingredients, and not just focus on the calories and fat content. It’s shocking what our food is made up of these days. When we consume sugar, we CRAVE more sugar, so it’s important to know where it’s lurking.
To eat healthy food, you need to know what’s in it! That means you have to read the label! Sugar is often disguised under different names as well as being listed more than once under the different names.
Here are just a few of the names sugar goes by: glucose, glucose syrup, invert sugar, maltodextrin, sucrose, dextrose and maltose.
Before you put something in your shopping trolley, know what it is that are buying to eat. The front of the package is designed to be an advert to “sell” you the product and the food manufacturers know how to trick us! They know the buzz words that fool us. Words like “healthy,” “natural,” “baked,” “whole grain”, full of fibre etc. These promotional words and phrases wither don’t mean anything or they’re distracting you from the fact that the product is high in salt or sugar, for example.
Even loaves of BREAD can contain added sugar. With one brand of wholemeal bread I’ve spotted sugar is the third ingredient after wheat and water. So, take a look at the list of ingredients and if it sounds like a science experiment full of names you can’t identify, put it back on the shelf!
6. First eat something healthy
Don’t tell yourself you can’t have something you feel you’re craving!
Instead, tell yourself, “I can have it, but first I’m going give my body something nutritious, such as a banana and a few nuts or a fresh salad with some nuts and beans.” This way, by the time you’re done with the healthier choice, you are a lot less likely to be craving the sugar and will skip it. Try it and see what happens. Some of my clients that try this are sceptical at first, but are pleasantly surprised to see how well it works.
7. Satisfy your sugar cravings with healthy sweets
Sometimes we reach for a sugary snack out of habit. Approximately 40% of what we do each day is purely the result of habit. If we had to think about every single thing we did, it would be completely overwhelming, wouldn’t it? Some of our eating patterns are purely habit and we do it without much thought.
Look at what some of your habits are and the food choices that go along with them. Do you pour yourself a cup of coffee and automatically reach for the biscuits? Do you grab a large packet of crisps before dinner to “hold you over” and then not feel so hungry when you sit down with your family? Does dessert automatically mean ice cream or cake?
Healthy sweets are packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that actually HELP us become healthier and feel better. Find the fruits that you and your family like and keep them on hand.
8. Are you hungry for food or are you really craving something else?
What do you crave that’s not food?
Sometimes cravings are caused by things we feel are missing from our lives and food fills the void for us. We may be conscious of the void, or not. Stress, feeling bored or being lonely can do this as well. When you feel cravings coming on be real with yourself about whether it’s the food or something else. Get in touch with what you’re craving that’s not food and learn ways to nourish yourself without food.
Ask yourself if you’re REALLY hungry…or is it something else? If you just ate a meal an hour ago and felt satiated, maybe you aren’t really hungry. See if doing something else takes your mind off of mindless snacking as a distraction. Boredom can be a big trigger for cravings.
What are some things you can do instead of focusing on food?
Create your own list:
• Take a walk
• Do a quick workout
• Enjoy a hot shower or relaxing bath
• Spend time with friends
• Practice yoga
• Learn something new
• Read a book
• Watch a film
• Spend time doing something you love that has meaning for you
These are just a few ideas. Try different things to see what works for you and focus on doing something you enjoy. Remember, sometimes we crave food when we’re bored because eating gives us something to do. So, check in with yourself to determine if you’re actually hungry.
And don’t forget to stay hydrated! Most people don’t consume enough water and dehydration leads to cravings. So, the next time you have a craving, drink a glass of water, wait 10 minutes and see if you still have the craving.
When you understand the connection between WHAT you eat, WHY you eat, and HOW you feel, you will feel more in control and be able to make better choices.
Try to determine if some of your cravings are based more on habit or what you may be keeping in the house and look at how to best address that to make changes.
We don’t need to feel guilty about food. We just need to understand our cravings better so we figure out what we really need and do our best to make choices that support our health and our goals.
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