We spend so much time and energy trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle – we eat nutritious snacks, hit the gym and take the stairs, and when those pesky food cravings come around, we nip them in the bud, right? Not necessarily. No one is perfect, but everyone has food cravings.
The good news: You don’t have to deprive yourself of all things sweet, salty, rich and otherwise good in this world to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
We all get cravings from time to time, and any diet or healthy eating plan that tells you you can’t give in to them once in a while is not going to get you very far – only to the drive-in diner down the street to indulge in a plate of fries.
The creation of a craving
Before you learn how to manage your cravings, it is important to know where they come from. Cravings and hunger are two entirely different things. Hunger is your body’s natural instinct to survive, and cravings – just as human a trait! – usually don’t have much to do with survival.
Hunger is regulated by a hormone your body, signalling to your brain that you need more energy in order to function, which gives you the idea that it’s time to eat.
But you don’t necessarily need a plate of sushi or a chocolate cupcake to survive. Those are cravings, and they are more related to your brain than your stomach. Scientists have debunked the myth that when you crave, say, chocolate, it is your body’s way of telling you it needs a certain nutrient (sugar for instance). In fact, most of the most common food cravings are high in fat, sugar and calories. It is not our bodies saying they want these “nutrients,” but rather our brains wanting the pleasant feeling they are sure to bring.
Fatty, sugary foods release chemicals called opioids in our brains, which then lead to feelings of happiness. When we are feeling unhappy, we might crave these foods on a psychological level. At the same time, the sensory memory of the food (crunchy, chewy, whatever) reinforce the craving.
You don’t need it, but you still want it
Knowing you don’t need something doesn’t make you want it less. That is where curbing cravings comes into play. The first place to start is to identify what your craving is – do you want something salty, sweet, sour, or maybe a certain texture of food? Once you figure out what you want, it will be easier to find a healthy version of it that won’t kill your waistline. Here are some ideas:
Salty: Make your own fresh popcorn on the stove, snack on whole grain tortilla chips and salsa or try a handful of nuts.
Sweet: Try some fresh fruit or a smoothie.
Chocolate: Yes, even chocolate cravings can be satisfied in a healthy way. Just keep this in mind – the higher the percentage of cacao, the healthier it is for you. One little block of high quality dark chocolate can actually deliver health benefits thanks to its antioxidants!