Experiencing food cravings, that feel almost uncontrollable, is something that I hear so often as an issue with my clients. A powerful desire for food, or feeling like you just can’t get over your cravings is very common. It can feel stressful and overwhelming and you may feel these cravings dictate many of your food choices, or that that they are preventing you from working on a certain health goal.
Cravings can be very normal, and I think it is super important to enjoy your food and eat what you crave. However, I think it is also important to think about your relationship with those cravings. Do they feel like an everyday occurrence? Do you feel you have to exert willpower all throughout the day? Does food, or your cravings, take up a lot of mental energy and space? If this is the case, there may be something else going on, and these tips may be helpful for you!
The #1 reason we crave foods is because we are hungry! If you are hungry you are way more likely to experience cravings, and eat whatever food you are craving. This is often baked goods, fries or chips. Whenever you are experiencing a craving, first think about when the last time you ate was and just ask yourself if you are simply hungry. You can also take note of when you generally experience cravings and see if it corresponds with general lulls in meal times.
If you are experiencing cravings but know that you are just hungry, my tip is to eat a meal first before eating the food that you are craving. No food is off limit at all, but making food choices from a more cognizant place and with intention, as opposed to pure starvation mode is likely going to be more in line with your health goals and help you feel better.
Another big tip for these types of cravings is to prevent hunger. A little bit of planning goes a long way when we are trying to prevent hunger. Bringing protein-rich snacks with you throughout the day can be super helpful for this!
Along with being hungry, cravings can come from being too thirsty. If you are not hungry, and know you ate recently, think about whether or not you are thirsty.
Hydrating our bodies adequately throughout the day is vital and sometimes we can feel hungry when we are really thirsty. Before eating whatever it is you are craving, drink a big glass of water and see if that helps.
A Balanced Plate
If you frequently find you are craving food, but not hungry or thirsty, the next step would be to look at your plate and ensure it is well balanced. A balanced meal will keep you full but also satiated. There is a difference between fullness and satiation, which I often discuss in my practice. Fullness is a physical feeling of fullness, while satiation is a chemical/hormonal reaction that basically tells your body you ate and you can move on to the next activity. If you ate a meal and feel like you need a little something extra, think about whether or not you satiated from your meal. Here are three components to include at every meal:
Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for promoting optimal health, and to help keep us full and satiated. Fibre allows food to move through our system slowly, and for sugar to be released in our blood stream at a slow pace. This can prevent blood sugar spikes and thus hunger and cravings. High fibre foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans/legumes and seeds.
Proteins are an essential macronutrient, and helps improve fullness, as well as regulating our blood sugar. Healthy protein choices are chicken, meat, fish, nuts, plant seeds, legumes like beans and lentils, eggs, and dairy.
Healthy fat can help you manage your cravings and promote the feeling of fullness and satiety. Many people limit their fat intake when trying to lose weight, which can decrease fullness, satiety and can in itself lead to constant cravings. Healthy fat sources include olive oil, nuts like almonds and walnuts, avocados, seeds, such as hemps seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds, and fish like salmon or mackerel.
The Salty and Sweet Back-And-Forth
Craving something sweet at the end of a meal is also very common. Again, this is A-okay! I often feel like dessert after lunch or dinner and I think it is great if it makes you feel good. However, if you feel overwhelmed by a constant sweet craving after dinner, or in the afternoon, it may be something to look into. Now, enjoying enough fibre, protein and fat throughout the day can be helpful here, excessive salt can also cause sugar cravings. From a taste perspective, the extreme in salt and sweet can cause a craving for the other. Therefore, I think it is important to think about your salt intake, if you experience regular sugar cravings.
If you ate a salty meal, try drinking a glass or water and enjoy tea with a bit of milk/plant milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Sometimes this is enough to curb those post-meal sugar cravings, when you don’t want dessert.
Aerobic exercise, or cardio, is a type of exercise that pumps your heart rate up. Studies have shown that those who engage in 30 minutes of cardio in the morning have higher satiety levels throughout the day. Going for a run, a swim or dancing around your living room can help you feel good, but also help with your cravings throughout the day.
Eating our favourite food is definitely encouraged around here, and can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. However, if we feel out of control, or that you have cravings that take over your life, it may be something to look into further. We experience cravings for many other reasons that I did not talk about in this article, this is simply a starting point. One common reason for women is due to hormonal changes around their period or at different types in their hormonal cycle. Another reason may be out of habit or routine. I hope this post is helpful and I hope that you approach your cravings with curiosity, kindness and patience with yourself. Please let me know if these tips have been helpful, and if you need extra nutrition support or coaching, please do not hesitate to reach out!