Do you feel overwhelmed by food cravings? If so, you’re not alone—approximately 90% of people experience them.
But what are cravings, exactly? In layman’s terms, a craving is any strong desire for a particular kind of food. While cravings are mental in nature, they can have genetic roots. For example, individuals with hormone imbalances have been found to experience significantly more frequent cravings.
While we don’t have time to get into all the reasons why food cravings happen. The key takeaway is it’s not just a matter of willpower, but of body and brain chemistry.
Thankfully, anything with a scientific cause will have scientific answers! Here’s 10 scientific tactics you can deploy to stave off those crippling cravings.
One of the best tools to help fight food cravings is also one of the simplest: a glass of good ol’ fashioned water. Studies have shown that water can play a major role in weight loss and appetite reduction. If you fill your stomach with water, you’ll feel full with far fewer calories. So when you’re craving a slice of apple pie, drinking a brimming glass of water could subdue the desire.
In many places, exercise has become increasingly difficult due to COVID lockdowns. However, even small amounts of exercise have been shown to help curb your cravings, particularly of sugary foods. In part, this is because the exercise takes your mind off the craving. However, exercise has also been linked to the hormones that make us feel happy, just like our sugary snacks—they serve the same purpose of making us feel good, except that one is better for you.
This is another tip that can be difficult due to the pandemic, but is important nonetheless. Since cravings are often linked to mood and hormones, we tend to bandaid negative feelings with delicious treats. There’s a reason stress-eating and binge-eating are things, after all.
The next time you’re feeling stressed, rather than chowing down on chow mein, try and work through the root issues and see if you can destress. Simply pinpointing the cause of the stress (work, relationship, pandemic-fatigue, or otherwise) will help you mitigate the real issue.
Get Enough Sleep
If you’re prone to cravings, try sleeping on it. Literally. A good night’s rest allows the body to recharge. Studies have shown that if your body doesn’t have this opportunity, it’ll try and recharge in other ways. Namely food.
Rather than reacting to cravings, try a proactive strategy. Planning your meals will help regulate your hunger levels. Over time your body and mind will begin associating certain times as “food times” and reduce hunger the rest of the day.
Dealing with cravings isn’t just about when you eat, but also what you eat. For example, studies have shown foods high in protein can effectively counter cravings. Partially this is because protein takes longer to digest and so high protein food makes us feel more full throughout the day. It’s also been linked to releasing hormones that cut back on appetite.
If some of these strategies to curb your cravings seem like a lot to implement, there’s a few tricks that are a bit easier. One of the most surprising is that chewing gum can actually be a great way to stop cravings. Sometimes all our body needs is the feeling of chewing food, more than actual food itself. The sweetness of gum also makes it a great way to fulfill a sugar craving.
Sugar Cravings? Try Fruit
Speaking of sugar... The next time you’re going coco for chocolate and ice cream try eating fresh or frozen fruit. It’s been shown that fruit, which has its own natural sugars, can be a healthy stand-in to alleviate your sugar cravings.
The idea of fruit helping combat sugar cravings can be expanded into a general strategy of how to stop cravings through substitution. Sometimes the best way to deal with cravings isn’t to fight them but to find a way to accommodate them. If you still feel the need for snacks during the day even as you’ve planned out your meals—that’s okay. Just make sure to go for healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables or lean proteins like turkey sticks and hard boiled eggs. This will let you start to control your cravings while staying healthy.
It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes control is a better goal than elimination. The idea is to try and compartmentalize and minimize your cravings. This can be done through allowing a “cheat day” every week, or eating your craving food in smaller portions, or finding healthier versions (dark chocolate vs. milk).
Find the Foods Best for You
As mentioned, science has shown most cravings are linked to your unique genetic makeup, hormones, and chemistry. But science has also shown there are numerous ways to bypass or overcome these pesky tendencies towards the deep and delicious. By executing the strategies above, you’ll no doubt be able to ignore cravings, eat healthier, feel more energized, and reach your own health & nutrition goals.
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