When I talk to clients the topic of food cravings always comes up in conversation. Normally when we talk about cravings we often associate a pregnant woman calling out for chocolate in the middle of the night. The cravings that my clients talk about are rarely hormone based and both men and women complain about the same thing, typically cravings for sweet food.
Why do you get cravings?
- A craving can be cause by what I like to call “head hunger” or appetite. It’s when you see food, smell it, remember about it and you want it. You’re not actually hungry, but your brain is telling you it taste’s so good you have to have it.
- A craving can also be cause by unbalanced eating patterns. Typically, if you skip meals, don’t eat enough protein or carbohydrates, your blood sugars may drop and you say things like “I feel like I need something sweet”. This usually happens straight after you finished a meal or the mid afternoon.
- A craving can be caused by having a diet based on refined carbohydrates. When you eat a lot of high GI refined carbs it ramps up insulin secretion. Insulin is a fat and carb-storing hormone. It’s job is to bind to blood sugars and store them in muscle and liver as glycogen or transport them to be converted into fat tissue. When this happens your blood sugar levels drop quickly and you feel like you need sugar again. Notice how hungry you get next time you eat sugary lollies.
How can you fix food a craving?
Points 2 and 3 can easily be fixed by following a balanced eating plan. A plan containing low GI carbs. protein and enough calories to match your energy needs. Often when people try to diet to lose weight they cut way too much food or omit food groups, which throws meal balance right out the window. If a diet leaves you with cravings, it’s probably the wrong diet to follow. A healthy well-balanced calorie controlled eating plan, can certainly help you lose weight, eating carbs and all, minus the craving.
What can you do about head hunger?
Head hunger is all in the mind. You need a plan to get yourself thinking new thoughts to avoid food urges. To get you into the right frame of mind, lets explore this psychological study called Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression.
In this study participants were asked to try and not think about a random topic, in this study they asked participants to think about white bears. Participants were told that they where free to think about anything but white bears, and when they thoughts about a white bear, to ring a bell. At the same time they were to describe the dialogue occurring in their minds. The study participants found no matter how hard they tried, they could not stop thinking about white bears. Why don’t you give it a try for the next 5 minute, try not to think about white bears and see what happens.
The outcome of this study reiterates that, your mind doesn’t work in negatives. It cannot, stop thinking about ideas you put in it. You cannot actively suppress thoughts if you tell yourself to not think about white bears, because this is exactly what you’ll end up thinking about.
Now put this in the context of when you say to your self “I will never eat chocolate again”, the only thing you’re going to think about from then on in is eating chocolate. This is not very useful if you’re trying to lose weight. This is also how cravings start, as soon as you start your “diet” where your not allowed to eat chocolate, feelings of deprivation kick in and the head hunger starts. “I can’t eat chocolate, but i’ll only have a little bit”.
We also send ourselves in to a false sense of confidence “If I am thinking about this so much, my body must need it”. When in fact all you are experiencing is the white bear effect. You believe you need it because you keep thinking about it, but your thinking about it is solely caused by the idea slipping into your mind. This idea is then repeated over and over again, because you’re actively trying to avoid it. Then you end up believing that the need to eat, is actually true. When it’s your mind working against you.
In order to over come your own mind games you need to first know what’s going on and then develop a plan of attack. Next time you get a craving and you’re not hungry, follow the following 4 steps:
Step 1: Admit you have a craving and accept it. There is no use fighting thoughts, because it will make you think of it more, remember the white bear effect.
Step 2. Realise why you are thinking about it, start by asking yourself “I feel this way because?”
Step 3. Remind yourself of your over all goal (Eg getting healthier) and that you are more than able to achieve that goal. Reiterate why this goal so important to you.
Step 4. Distract yourself. Your mind cannot think of two things at once, see my blog about brain plasticity. It’s impossible to multi task effectively so immerse yourself into something interesting so can have a break from thinking about food. It will buy you time to build willpower and confidence.
The more you practice these steps the easier it will become over time. Delaying your craving response will built your resilience to these thought patterns and eventually your craving will disappear for good. Happy eating!