Food cravings are often but not always related to actual hunger or physical need. Getting the right nutrients and enough calories in your diet can help reduce the urge to snack on high-fat, sugary treats. The brain is also responsible for food cravings. The memory center, reward center and pleasure centers of the brain are activated when you desire specific foods. Comfort foods usually satisfy an emotional need. Eating right and addressing emotional issues will help you avoid giving in to food temptations.
When you are physically satisfied, you are less likely to think about food. Avoid excessively low-carbohydrate and fat-free diets, as these will leave you feeling unsatisfied. Start the day with a high-protein meal. Being satisfied with a good breakfast will reduce the urge to snack on unhealthy foods later in the day. Eat three meals and snacks regularly. Skipping meals can cause your blood sugar to drop, and this may result in intense cravings for sugary foods. Eating well-balanced meals keeps blood sugar levels from spiking or dropping.
Focus on the colors, textures and flavors of the food on your plate. Don't get distracted by watching the television or multitasking while you are eating. Consume your food slowly, chewing each bite thoroughly before swallowing. Avoid gulping your food down by taking breaks during your meal. Simply put down your fork between bites or take a breath before you put another bite into your mouth. You will feel more satisfied and be less tempted to slip into bad eating patterns if you are fully present when you eat and can enjoy the experience. Make sure you are drinking enough water, too, because it's easy to confuse thirst with hunger.
One way to reduce the emotional aspect of food cravings is to reduce the stress in your life. Manage your emotions and stress levels with plenty of exercise and fresh air. When you feel like you are experiencing an emotional need for something sweet or rich, go for a short walk instead, or try taking a relaxing bubble bath. Aim for at least eight hours of sleep a night. When you are tired, you might end up eating in an effort to get more energy, when what you really need is rest.
Certain foods, usually high-fat and calorie-dense types, produce opioids that attach to receptors in your brain and make you feel good. The reward circuit is similar to what happens when people become addicted to drugs, only it's food that's causing the pleasure and reward centers of your brain to be stimulated. It's not uncommon to feel the need for starchy foods when you're feeling blue. One key to resisting food temptations is to know the difference between real hunger and emotional hunger. Give in to emotional food cravings only occasionally. Trying to resist them completely may leave you feeling deprived and depressed, and that may lead you to eventually eat more unhealthy foods.
- Dr. Bob Arnot's Guide to Turning Back the Clock; Robert Arnot, M.D.
- The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: The Psychology of Food Craving
- Joslin Diabetes Center: Food 'Cravings' and Diabetes