Managing food cravings

A food craving is an intense desire for a specific food, or type of food, and something we have all likely experienced at some time or another. But how can we best go about managing food cravings?

 

At the time, the desire can seem uncontrollable, with satisfaction difficult to achieve until the food has been consumed. Sugar-containing or sweet foods, starchy carb-containing foods and salty foods are commonly craved, with Easter being a particularly difficult time, as there are so many indulgences around (hot cross buns anyone?). So why do cravings occur? And how to go about managing food cravings?

 

Food cravings are caused by the regions of the brain that are responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward. Hormones and emotions are also often linked to food cravings.

 

For example, craving something sweet after a main meal to ͚finish it off͛, looking for something rich in carbohydrates when feeling tired and sleep-deprived, or chronic stress increasing desirability of highly palatable foods.

 

Why do I crave sweets after a big meal?

Eating a meal that is rich in carbohydrates can result in a spike, and subsequent drop in blood sugar levels. The body will then start looking for this increase in energy again, which results in the sugar craving. On top of this, when we feel tired, more of the hormones which make us feel hungry can be released (grehlin), with the ones resulting in feeling satisfied being slowed down (Leptin). This can lead us to feel hungry when we actually are not needing any fuel.

 

So how to best manage cravings?

  1. Choose foods that complement a healthy, balanced diet. This means lean proteins, plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and adequate portions of low GI carbohydrate. Not consuming enough carbohydrates an also result in cravings. Keeping it balanced can help you stay satisfied, with level blood sugar levels in between meals.
  1. Adequate sleep is key for managing cravings. When you feel tired, you͛re more likely to look for high sugar foods to give you a quick burst of energy.
  2. Drink plenty of water. Becoming dehydrated can increase appetite, and increases the risk of overeating, instead of choosing a glass of water.
  3. Include physical activity! Exercise can help manage blood sugar levels, whilst also boosting serotonin levels; the hormone that makes you feel happy.

 

Before reaching for the chocolate cake, have a handful of berries or cherries. Sometimes the sweetness of the fruit can be enough to curb your craving.

 

And if you do choose to indulge…

Eat slowly, take your time, and savour each bite. If you͛re including dessert, the sole purpose is enjoyment, so taking the time to relish the flavours, textures and smells of what you are eating will enhance the experience, whilst also helping you to exert portion control through increased feelings of satisfaction.

 

By Chloe McLeod, Accredited Sports Dietitian and Co-Owner of Health & Performance Collective.

 

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