I like cravings. I like liking certain foods. And I like NOT feeling like crap after I eat certain foods. So how can I have the best of both worlds? Truth be told, I really don't make a habit about eating poorly, but I'm not 100% virtuous either. I like dark chocolate, red wine and probably more than anything...custard from this little custard shop near my house called Scooters. They re-opened on March 1st (after going on hiatus through the winter months). Since Chicago was just loaded with snow, I'm not exactly dying for the flavor of the day, but I'll be there soon enough.
Regardless of what you enjoy eating, there is usually a tipping point. You go overboard when you tell yourself you won't. Or you splurge when you just don't need to. So how do you get around it, but still enjoy the foods you like? I have a degree in psychology, and I never took a class called "Psychology of Food Cravings." But if I did...and I were the instructor for the course...this is what the intro course for "Psych of Food Cravings " would look like. Cravings have SO much to do with what's going on in our heads - both physiologically and psychologically.
1) Eat every 3 to 4 hours. If you mess this one up, especially if you're just starting to watch your weight, you significantly increase the likelihood you'll go overboard later in the day. Often times we're too busy to notice that we haven't eaten in six or seven hours. We labor on, prioritize over food because it's just not a convenient time to eat. If you've got a crazy schedule, take the time to plan. You don't need to reinvent the wheel every day, or even every week, but know which foods are easy and healthy go-to foods. When you go too long in between meals, blood sugar levels usually get thrown off. I had a conversation with a client this morning about this very topic. We train together a couple times a week and she's really been improving. I asked a couple questions about her nutrition and she still doesn't take the time to plan properly in between breakfast and dinner. She ends up snacking on food while she's making dinner, eating and extra 500 to 600 calories...in addition to what she's eating for dinner. Our liver doesn't need that much action, so what ends up happening is excess calories get stored as fat. End of story. Eat smart. Eat regularly.
2) Don't try to "save" your calories for a craving you think you won't go overboard on later in the day. "Well, if I don't eat half my lunch, I can eat a cup of ice cream after dinner...and that won't be so bad." This will usually only happen in your mind - not in reality. When you cut calories from a reasonably-sized meal (particularly for no other reason than to eat junk later in the day), again, you will throw off your blood sugar levels and somehow justify eating more ice cream than you initially thought you would. I'm not saying that a ice cream after dinner every now and then is a bad thing...not at all, but allowing yourself to eat it after you've eaten healthy all day (without cutting any calories) will help you feel fulfilled instead of ravenous. You deserve your lunch (provided it's healthy). Enjoy it. Eat your ice cream later, but don't have it every day. If I were you, I'd aim for one day a week.
3) Know Your Weaknesses. I just gave an example using ice cream in point 2. Here's the deal...for many of us, sugar is addictive as hell. Be careful with what you choose to indulge in. If you have to have something sweet after every meal, something is off. Sugar can actually perpetuate cravings, leading to a vicious cycle of needing to have more of something either incredibly refined (like chips) or incredibly sweet (like soda or jelly beans). Curbing cravings for sugar, in particular, usually means cutting back on sugar. There is no easy way to say it, but that's the truth. A lot of people then turn to almost worse crap like diet sodas or "sugar free" pudding packs. That's where I draw the line. Most foods labeled as calorie-free or sugar free are loaded with artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, ace K). Numerous studies have now shown that eating these types of food don't decrease waistlines, and have no real effect on curbing cravings. You have to do the work. Step down from sugar! My advice would be to a) go cold turkey, b) buy a big DARK chocolate bar and break it up into 6 (or so) squares. Have a square when you normally want to go for something else that's sweet.
4) Know Your Triggers. Work stress, financial problems, a bad break up, the baby crying...you name it, emotional triggers can force your hand when it comes to cravings. I'm hardly suggesting that you suddenly go stoic or even zen-like, but recognizing that you're reaching for a bag of chips because you had to fork over $60 to have a boot taken off your car wheel - and not because you were hungry - is invaluable. We encounter stressors all the time. This can result in a pity party of mindless eating. We justify the bag of chips because we're "stressed."
5) Eat Cleaner Foods. Processed foods contain additives, like flavor enhancers. I watched a 60 Minutes episode a while ago that covered the science behind flavors - and the crafty food scientists who make a big chunk of change concocting formulas that go into foods like orange juice, yogurt, cookies, candy, chips and loads of other packaged foods, making us want more...and more and more. So you might think Colonel Sanders chicken is finger lickin' good because you naturally like the taste, but let me tell you that there are petri dishes stacked a mile high in labs across the world that tell another story. Our taste buds have been shamelessly manipulated. Read your labels. Fewer ingredients that you recognize are always better than simple sounding ingredients immediately followed by a set of parentheses encasing several overly-complicated words.
6) Eat Good Protein & Fats. This can definitely get filed under "common sense," but it's well worth reiterating. I'm still kind of shocked to hear so many people give a certain food a higher value just because it's fat free. That would be like choosing jelly beans over dark chocolate...and that's just not right. Seriously. your body needs both fat and protein. Not too much and not too little. When we eat fat free or very low fat foods (especially packaged foods), it's almost always high in carbohydrates. Carbs aren't bad, but, for instance, a breakfast that's mostly sugar, like a fat free cereal + fat free milk, or fat free yogurt + fruit is a fast trip to blood sugar hell. You'll definitely have cravings later in the day - and at a time when you think they couldn't possibly be associated with your fat free breakfast (they are). If you're like me, you'll probably be
insanely cranky a little upset - thinking of literally nothing other that what your snack is going to be.
That's all I've got for now. If you'd like my two cents or a little help, check out my services. <---And YES! That's a picture of me on Dr. Oz last month. I talked about a couple things you can watch here. I actually love to talk to large groups, so if your company needs some shaping up, contact me!
Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.