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How to handle cravings

by Alasdair McClintock on Saturday 30 December 2017


Cravings. We all have them and they’re rarely for anything that’s good for us: pizza, cheesecake, burgers, delicious, delicious chocolate. 

The types of foods that people crave are highly variable, but usually they’re processed and high in sugar. We know they’re bad for us, but we keep going back to them. Why? Well, the answer is not that you’re a soft touch, but rather, scientific. 

Without going too much into the boring nitty gritty of it, these foods, when ingested, trigger the release of natural opioids and give us a sense of pleasure. Indeed, the same areas of the brain associated with drug craving light up when people crave a specific food.  

So, basically, it’s not all in your head (well, it is, but not your consciousness), so don’t be too hard on yourself. 

That doesn’t mean you should just let go and give in though. Cravings are one of the biggest reasons why people have problems losing weight and keeping it off, and can lead to more sinister problems like Type 2 diabetes.

When you put your mind to it, it can be surprisingly easy to overcome these urges.  

The first thing you should work out is whether your craving is physiological or psychological. Sometimes when you’re craving those salty crisps, it’s your body telling you it needs some salt. Did you go for a long, sweaty run that morning? If you’re constantly craving red meat, you could be low in iron.  

If there’s no clear physical reason, try a tall glass of water. Thirst is often confused with hunger or food cravings. If you feel an unexpected urge for something naughty, try drinking some water and wait a few minutes. If the urge remains, well, at least you’ve drunk a glass of water.

A more proactive way could be to introduce more protein to your diet. If you are someone who often suffers from cravings, protein can reduce these cravings and keep you satisfied for longer. A recent study in overweight men showed that increasing protein intake to 25 per cent of calories reduced cravings by 60 per cent.  

Failing that, you can try distancing yourself from the craving. Take a brisk walk or literally run away. The change of environment may be the distraction you need. 

Be aware of your triggers. Are you craving chocolate because you’re stressed at work? Or you’re bored? Or maybe you’ve told yourself you can’t have that particular food and like that famous Seinfeld joke about someone telling you not to think of a monkey, you can’t help but think of the monkey! Ask yourself, before you succumb to your craving, why you feel you are craving this particular thing? Is it because you actually want it, or are you just so stressed at work that you need a little bit of pleasure and distraction to help get you through the day? This brings us onto our next solution, mindful eating.

Mindful eating is something we could all benefit from practicing, but it also helps with managing cravings. It teaches you to develop awareness of your eating habits and helps you choose your response, instead of acting impulsively. It encourages you to be present while you eat, slow down and chew thoroughly. 

Mindful eating is also about occasionally giving in to that craving and allowing yourself to savour it. So, succumb every now and then. Maybe even create a ritual for your favourites. If occasionally sitting down with a pepperoni pizza and a terrible rom-com makes you super happy, it can’t be that bad for you, can it? After all, what is life without a few naughty perks?

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