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Why do I have food cravings? Overcome food cravings in 7 steps

Why do I have food cravings? Overcome food cravings in 7 steps
Food cravings are super common, with nearly all of us experiencing them at some point. Unfortunately the most common foods to crave are those that are high in sugar, salt or fat which are typically no good for your health or your weight.

Why do we experience food cravings?

There are a few reasons you might experience cravings. For example, hormonal changes are a common cause – cravings among pregnant women are well known, of course. They can also be experienced in women whose hormones fluctuate excessively due to their monthly cycle. Plus, as we age, our appetite hormones can become impaired, leading to increased hunger and overeating. This is a common factor at play for women in peri and menopause that experience weight gain.

Another aspect when it comes to food cravings is our emotions, which ties into comfort eating. The problem with using food to suppress or soothe negative feelings, is that it doesn’t fix the emotional problems. Later, you can feel regret from overeating piled on top of your original difficulties.

Should I listen to my cravings?

If your cravings are for salty, fatty and sugary foods, the answer is probably not. Those foods tend to offer no nutritional value so, you need to try to over-ride them.

Something to think about is that true food cravings are often the body’s way of crying out for more nutrients, not necessarily more food! When we eat all of the wrong foods, our body may be filled but our need for nutrients is not satiated. Unfortunately this can happen when we eat a lot of processed foods. Food manufacturers are renowned for exploiting our tastebuds with artificial flavours and additives that make us want more.

Once you start eating the right, healthy foods in the right quantities to properly nourish your body, you will be genuinely surprised that your food cravings will diminish and eventually disappear altogether. Happy days!

How to break the cravings habit

Breaking the habit, or resisting the urge to give in to comfort eating or hormonal cravings is hard. To overcome food cravings, the patterns of behaviour to focus on are firstly, to remove food as an emotional crutch when you’re feeling down or things don’t go to plan. Secondly take food off the table as a reward system - stop thinking you deserve a food treat for getting through a challenging experience or a tiring day.

Thankfully, it is possible to replace those habits with new ones that are healthier. But before you attempt this, arm yourself with the tools and information you need to make it a success. Here are our top tips to stopping food cravings:

  1. Remove the temptation – if your home is stocked with a truckload of ice cream, salty snacks and chocolate bars, it often becomes too hard to resist. Remove those foods - don’t just hide them from yourself, get rid of them altogether. Those foods are not making you healthy or happy so say bye-bye.
  2. Prepare yourself with alternative healthy foods – say hello to a range of good quality foods that will fuel and heal your body and make you feel genuinely good, healthy, boosting your sleep and your skin… Ship in lots of fruit that you love like berries, mango and pineapple. Fresh salad leaves, colourful veges, lean cuts of meat and fish, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. Good snack choices are vege sticks with hummus, Greek yoghurt or nut butter to dip them in if you don’t like them plain. Washing and cutting up fruit and vegetables in advance means you’re ready when a craving hits. Nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate are also good in small quantities.
  3. Drink plenty of water - the body can misinterpret thirst for hunger, and drinking water may help to curb food cravings. It can also replace sugary, caffeinated drinks or alcohol that you are trying to limit.
  4. Avoid hunger in the first place – as when we’re feeling famished we often reach for something quick and not necessarily something good. That’s why planning ahead and being prepared can make such a difference to healthy eating.
  5. Eat more protein – protein is a hunger-buster. That’s because it takes a while for your body to process the protein you eat and it releases energy into the bloodstream slowly, so it will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Make sure you eat high protein meals and this will lead to less between meal snacking and cravings.
  6. Distract yourself – there’s many ways to distract yourself from eating unhealthy food. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to exercise. It’s the polar opposite of poor health and when you can achieve that physical energy expenditure, not only will you not be eating in that moment, but studies show that you’re more likely to eat well afterwards too. Yes, people who exercise, eat better! If you’re not the physical type, try mental games such as crosswords or Sudoku; chatting on the phone with a friend; tending to your garden or pet; or chewing on sugarless gum.
  7. Reduce your stress – stress is linked with poor eating habits. It’s also associated with poor sleep, which is in turn linked with poor eating habits. It can get you one way or the other! Stress is not good for your body and yet it’s quite difficult to do away with it. Alleviating some stress is your first step so aim to incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine. This could be starting the day with 10 minutes of deep breathing or meditation. Taking a walk outside in your lunchbreak. Yoga or workout at the gym or sitting at the beach and watching the waves roll in. See what works for you. Learn what your busy threshold is and say no more often.

When you next want to give in to those longings for French fries or Mars Bars, instead, try to reach for foods that will nourish your body and elevate your mood. A treat could be fresh prawns, caviar, or a punnet of raspberries. Or skip eating altogether and enjoy a bath or massage. The more often you make the right choices, the less likely you are to experience cravings. Your body will positively adjust to the healthy food you feed it and you will feel incredible.

Related articles you might enjoy:

How to beat the afternoon slump – Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Food swaps – Don’t be afraid to make the trade!