Article in association with BBC Good Food
Whether sweet or savoury, discover our nutritionist's top tips to curb your cravings...
If you experience food cravings, the good news is that you're not alone. In fact, in a world with endless food and drink options at our fingertips, it's not uncommon to find yourself desiring specific food items – whether it be out of hunger, boredom or simply because you saw an advertisement that you can’t get out of your head.
While there’s nothing wrong with occasionally indulging your cravings and enjoying some of your favourite foods, the problem comes in when it becomes a habit. In the long run, consuming excess food can really impact your health and fitness goals.
Read below for our nutritionist approved ways to manage your cravings...
While a certain amount of calorie restriction is required for successful weight loss, it’s important not to let your daily calorie intake fall too low. Without enough calories in your system, the hormones that signal your body to eat can go into overdrive, resulting in intense cravings – often for energy rich foods like those high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Fuelling your body with enough calories will let your system know that it has enough energy to sustain itself and will help to minimise intense cravings for excess food.
As much as calories matter, so too do nutrients. Your body wants to know that 1. It has enough food and 2. It has the right nutrients it requires to carry out all of the functions that keep you healthy such as building muscle, feeding your brain, producing your hormones and supporting your immune system.
When your body is low in a certain nutrient, it's quite common to get a craving for foods which contain that nutrient in an effort to boost your levels. For example, if you're very low on protein, you might find yourself craving tofu or a steak, while if you’re low on magnesium, you might find yourself desiring chocolate.
Do your best to minimise unnecessary cravings by maintaining balance and variety in your daily meal choices.
It might seem simple, but the speed at which you eat can really affect portion control and cravings. The reason being is that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that it is full, so if you wolf down your food, you might find yourself reaching for an extra helping, mistakenly thinking that you’re still hungry.
Many modern-day foods go through harmless processing such as blending nuts to make butter, pre-cooking beans and grains for ease or even pre-chopping vegetables for a healthy side in an instant. These aren’t the processed foods that we’re referring too.
Rather, it’s the highly palatable, ultra-processed foods such as packaged cakes, biscuits, crisps and certain ready meals that we recommend avoiding. Research suggests that ultra-processed foods can drive cravings as our brain develops a strong desire for the fats, sugar and salt in these items, making it harder to resist overtime. On the flipside, if you satisfy your craving with a healthier snack, you’re more likely to feel satisfied and crave less in the long run.
This might seem like an odd point when discussing cravings, but did you know that a lack of adequate sleep can drive your desire to snack? The reason being is that when you’re low on energy, your body will naturally crave sugary, carb-filled foods in an effort to achieve a quick energy boost to get you through the day.
Instead, ensure that you’re getting between 7-9 hours sleep per night and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your cravings reduce.
Night time eating has been linked to a host of issues, namely excess calorie intake which can lead to weight gain and poor health. However, going to bed with a full stomach can also impact your sleep quality, leading to fatigue the next day which as discussed above can drive food cravings. For optimal sleep, try to allow at least 2-3 hours between your last meal and your bedtime. If you do decide to eat closer to your bedtime, choose lighter foods which are easier to digest such as soups and stews.
Yes, you heard that right. While a certain amount of discipline is required to meet any new goal, when trying to eat a healthier diet, it’s important not to overly restrict yourself. Allowing room for occasional treats, be it enjoying a slice of cake at a party, making that delicious lasagne you’ve been craving or getting a takeaway is all part of the journey to eating in a more balanced and healthy way. By including some of the things that you love in your weekly plans, you're less likely to go overboard when that craving hits.
Did you know that low or fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause increased cravings, especially for sugar and carb rich foods? This is because low blood sugar signals to the brain that it needs energy imminently - and what is the most easily available source of energy to the body? Sugar. To avoid blood sugar fluctuations working against you, make sure you’re eating enough at every meal and not going too long between eating if this is something that affects you. On top of this, focusing on protein and fibre-rich foods, rather than those with refined carbs will reduce the likelihood of experiencing severe blood sugar spikes.
Stress is something we don’t often discuss enough as it relates to weight and nutrition, when in fact, stress has a strong association with increased food cravings. In acute situations, consider trying some popular stress-relieving activities such as exercise, deep breathing or chatting to a friend. If you’re struggling with regular or chronic stress, speak to your GP about what options might be available to you.
If boredom is a big driver behind your food cravings, then it's important to have a plan for when those moments strike and you find your mind preoccupied with thoughts of food. Make things easier by taking yourself out of an environment where you can indulge your cravings. That means going for a walk or a bath, talking with a friend or trying a new hobby (ideally something that uses your hands).
As powerful as the brain is, it’s also easily trained so by regularly redirecting your attention to a fun task rather than letting yourself ruminate about a certain food, you’ll soon find that your desire for that craving lessons.
Article provided by BBC Good Food