7 Ways To Beat Food Cravings to Lose WeightMarch 23, 2020
For many of us striving to lose or maintain weight, hunger isn’t the biggest threat we face. More often than not, it’s cravings. You can beat food cravings! You don’t have to be hungry to crave certain foods. Unfortunately, undressed carrot sticks or cauliflower don’t inspire that “gotta have it” sensation for most of us.
So, how do we beat food cravings? You can do it by understanding food cravings.
Our cravings almost always lead us to food high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium, and low in nutrition. Just ignoring a craving can feel impossible. There are ways to beat those junk food cravings, maintain a healthy diet, and not feel so deprived that you want to give up.
7 Ways To Beat Food Cravings
1. Manage Your Stress
If you’ve ever found yourself “stress eating,” there’s a good, physiological reason. When you are under stress, your body increases the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol raises your blood sugar and suppresses insulin. This prevents the blood sugars from getting into the cells and makes the cells of the body feel “starved.” The result is increased hunger and craving for high caloric foods. When you eat those foods, you feel better.
When you’re feeling stressed out, sugary, fatty foods are literally a comfort.
To help manage your stress and stop this loop in its track, try exercising. The increased cortisol levels are there because your body is preparing for fight or flight. So you’re primed for a workout when you’re stressed. Better yet, many people find that a regular exercise routine helps them avoid and prevent stress in the first place.
A less sweaty technique is meditation and deep breathing. Centering yourself and focusing on your breathing can do wonders for lowering stress. You can also try devoting some of your days to hobbies that you enjoy. Life can seem overwhelmingly busy, but it’s essential to carve out some time for self-care. You may even find that you’re more productive the rest of the day when you’ve taken your mind off your troubles by engaging in a hobby you enjoy just for the fun of it.
Another excellent option is to see a counselor for help in managing stress. Just sharing your worries with a neutral party can help make them more manageable, and a good counselor can also give you some specific tips and techniques to help you reduce stress.
2. Get Your Sleep
Poor sleep doesn’t just leave you grumpy and tired. It leaves you hungry. Have you ever found yourself hungrier than usual after a night of less-than-great sleep? There’s a reason. Lack of sleep increases the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreases the hunger-diminishing hormone leptin. This combination leaves your body in search of some quick energy. Combine that with the reduced decision-making abilities that lack of sleep also causes, and you’ve got a recipe for some mad junk food binging.
To reduce junk food cravings, work on your sleep habits.
That means avoiding caffeine, alcohol, or large meals before bed. And just as with children, adults benefit from a nighttime routine as well. Avoid screens and ease into relaxation with dim lights and quiet. Once you have a routine established, your body will recognize the cues that it’s bedtime and start getting ready for sleep.
3. Stay On Top of Your Meal Times and Eat Enough
If you go too long without eating, your blood sugar level will dip. That sends a message to your body that you need energy, and you need it now. The quickest energy is sugar, so that’s probably what you’ll find yourself craving if you let your blood sugars dip too low. You eat junk food, your blood sugar spikes causing more insulin to be released, and before you know it, you’re on the blood sugar roller coaster.
The best way to ensure that you’re eating well and regularly is to do meal prep and planning once a week.
That way you aren’t left trying to figure out what’s for dinner when you’re tired and hungry. Choose lean proteins, healthy fats, fiber, and complex carbs.
Just as important as what you eat is not skipping meals. You should eat every 2.5 to 3 hours. That doesn’t mean a full meal, but a healthy snack to keep your blood sugars even and level will do wonders for decreasing your cravings.
4. Avoid the “All or Nothing” Mentality
Avoid putting yourself on a strict “diet” that focuses on what you can’t have. Instead, aim for a healthy lifestyle with better food choices that you can live with over a longer period of time, and don’t deprive yourself of a treat if you truly want one.
All or nothing thinking can set you up for cravings.
No one wants to think they’ll never enjoy a favorite food again. Go ahead and treat yourself, but do it mindfully. Have a single small scoop of ice cream, don’t just grab a carton and a spoon. You’ll enjoy it more, and it won’t come with the waves of regret that accompany inadvertently hitting the bottom of the container.
5. Drink Water
Your body is really smart about a lot of things, but it frequently mistakes thirst for hunger. If you’re drinking water throughout the day, you’re less likely to let your body make that mistake.
Besides the confusion about what your body really needs, dehydration causes fatigue, which causes cravings.
Just as with lack of sleep, dehydration fatigue leaves your body desperate for a quick hit of energy. If you have a craving, drink a glass of water and wait 10 minutes. You may find that the craving disappears.
6. Eat Probiotics
Your cravings aren’t all in your head! Some of them come from your gut. That’s right; the microbiome balance in your gut can increase cravings, especially for sugar. The bacteria that you feed is the bacteria that will flourish in your gut. If you often eat processed, sugary foods, the bacteria that feed on those foods will populate the gut and can contribute to cravings for those high sugar foods.
Keeping things balanced and populating your gut with the “good bacteria” is a big factor in reducing cravings.
You can get a variety of healthy strains of probiotics by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, and even pickles.
If you opt to go for a probiotic supplement, check the strain types and numbers. Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium have been linked to a reduction in cravings. Also, look for a count of over 10 billion viable cells/colony-forming units. Some formulas I recommend to my patients are Iflora, Ultimate Flora, and Floradvantage.
If you are still struggling with junk food cravings, talk to your bariatrician or doctor about medications that can help you break the habit and get into a healthier routine.
Sometimes just that little assist is all you need to make lifelong changes to improve your health!
ABOUT THE AUTHORJackie Crews MS, RDN, CD, CEP is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist at MultiCare Center for Weight Loss & Wellness in Washington State. She received her master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Washington State University, where she also earned minors in Spanish and psychology. She completed rotations at Tacoma General and St. Peter hospitals and a number of outpatient facilities working in clinical nutrition, patient counseling, and cardiac rehabilitation.