It’s 4 pm and a persistent voice at the back of your head is demanding a chocolate cupcake. One minute you’re going about your day, and the next moment you can’t stop imagining the sheer bliss of sinking your teeth into rich chocolate frosting and deliciously soft crumb. You want that cupcake. Now.
Almost everyone gets this sudden urge to pop something delicious – and most likely unhealthy – into their mouth at odd times in the day, so you aren’t alone in craving a snack. The good news is, these cravings aren’t insurmountable. First, try and identify the reason you’re being swept up in this unrelenting desire for food. Then fight fire with fire!
1. Are You Stressed?
There’s a direct relation between stress and eating. Science points out that when you’re stressed out, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which encourages craving for sugary and fatty comfort foods. These foods counteract stress – which is why the brain gets conditioned to this response. So the next time you’re stressed, you’ll seek out the same comfort foods.
So how do you beat this?
Wait it out
Cravings don’t crescendo until you give in. They rise like a wave, then subside and then disappear. All you have to do is stay strong till it does, and voilà! You just beat that craving!
Choose a distraction
Waiting it out is hard, no doubt, but it gets easier if you find something to distract yourself with. Meet friends, rock to some rhythms for a while, clean your desk. Do whatever works best for you.
Change your mood
This may seem easier said than done, but music could be your answer. Make a playlist that rolls out one upbeat number after another, and see if that doesn’t provide a distraction, or an emotional release that diverts you from your food fantasy.
2. Are You Eating Less?
If your body is receiving less than its required daily allowance of calories, or if you, in your enthusiasm to diet, have cut down an entire food group, then what you’re doing is rather counterproductive.
Strict dieting reduces the leptin levels in your body, which sparks off hunger and food cravings. Research has shown that restrained eaters are more predisposed to cravings and eating ‘forbidden’ foods when the opportunity strikes. Deeming certain foods as off limits can lead to obsessing over them and bingeing.
So try this –
Lift the ban
Want pie? Eat pie. But share it or have just a small portion. Don’t gorge on it like it’s the last morsel of food on the planet.
If you want cheesecake, don’t try to fool your brain with a low calorie substitute like carrot sticks. Chances are, you’ll eat those carrot sticks and later indulge in that cheesecake too. So, again, eat a small portion and be done with it.
Consider your body’s nutrient needs
Sometimes, cravings reflect biochemical changes and might indicate that you’re low on a nutrient. For example, a craving for red meat might mean that you’re deficient in iron. So, take note and get tested.
3. Are You a Creature of Habit?
You might not even realise that innocent routines give rise to habits. So, cravings aren’t just about food; they’re about rituals. You might want cookies with tea in the morning, or a rich snack in the afternoon, or something sweet after a meal. Recognising this pattern can help you break loose from its clutches, or at least help you replace it with a healthier option.
Break the habit
If you associate watching TV with munching popcorn, or reading a book while munching on biscuits, try changing something in the equation. Move your TV to a distant corner of your house so you’re not tempted to grab a snack from the kitchen. Or read to music playing in the background. Or substitute watching TV with going out for a walk. Change the habit, and you break the addiction.
Picture the dream ‘you’
Every time a craving hits you, picture yourself the way you want to be – trimmer, fitter, and healthier. After a while, your brain will dismiss the craving, and you’ll be able to circumvent it completely.
All you need to do to stay ahead is discover what’s causing that craving, and squash it with some old-fashioned cleverness and restraint before it plays havoc with your attempts to stay healthy and in shape.