You’ve been eating healthy all day until work deadlines and family obligations leave you exhausted, stressed and having to deal with junk food, refined carb and sugar cravings. You’re ready to polish off a bag of cookies even though you’ve told yourself you’ll never do it again.
You don’t have to give in to cravings. There are time-tested ways you can stop cravings in their tracks. Research shows improving your diet is more effective than exercise for losing weight. One of the reasons: it will take an hour of running to burn off just two cookies. Giving into junk food and sugar cravings to overdo it and eat the whole bag can mean no matter how much you’re working out, you’re going to gain weight. That’s why managing cravings gives you the best “bang for your buck” in your weight loss battle.
Here are some typical types of food cravings and how to stop them:
The Hunger Craving
Your brain says: “I’m starving. I want an entire pizza.”
The fix: Eat balanced meals and snacks that have the right carbs, protein and healthy fats every three hours to prevent hunger. Choose high-fibre foods that keep blood sugar steady such as vegetables, beans, berries and quinoa. Include protein such as chicken, Greek yogurt or eggs and healthy fat such as a slice of avocado or a handful of nuts. Protein is the most filling nutrient, making it key for crushing the hunger craving.
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The Habitual Craving
Your brain says: “It’s 3 p.m.— a.k.a sugar cravings a.k.a frappuccino and chocolate cookie time.”
The fix: This coffee break alone could bump up your day’s calorie intake by 430 empty calories. Instead, swap your caffeine and sugar cravings for herbal tea and a fun magazine. And throw in a quick spin around the block: Exercise can also help banish cravings for sweets and chocolate. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and bestselling author of Mindless Eating and Slim by Design shares this tip: “You can get by on 1/4 of a craved snack if you distract yourself immediately afterward (return a call or straighten your desk).”
The Flavour Craving
Your brain says: “I need the intense flavour only junk food can give me.”
Junk food flavours such as savoury, sweet and salty are engineered to tantalize our tongues, but they lack nutrients. They drive us to fill up on empty calories that don’t satisfy us, according to author Mark Schatzker in The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavour.
The fix: Satisfy your taste buds with healthier alternatives. Sugar cravings? Try frozen pineapple or mango chunks. Make a batch of my Mango Frozen Yogurt or Cocoa Macaroons for a healthy treat to beat sugar cravings. Want something salty? Sprinkle sea salt on air-popped popcorn or edamame or bake some delicious Sour Cream and Onion Kale Chips or All Dressed Zucchini Chips. Your craving for salty junk food will be long gone.
If you really want junk food, buy a single serving rather than a large bag and savour the flavour. Do take note though: each time you give in, you’re strengthening that behaviour and giving it power. Each time you make a healthier choice, you’re making it easier to keep doing that in the future. What you do now does impact tomorrow!
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The “I Give Up” Craving
Your brain says: “I’ve been good all day, I want a chocolate bar or a piece of cake already.”
The fix: Research has shown than our willpower “muscles” get tired as the day goes on. So plan a treat for when cravings typically strike. This will give you something to look forward to and help you stay on track. Choose 100-calorie indulgences such as 1 ounce of dark chocolate, 6 Chocolate-Covered Strawberries, a mini Creamsicle, two part-skim Mozzarella cheese sticks, a small piece of 5 Minute Tiramisu or a small skinny latte.
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How do you deal with food cravings? Share in the comments below!
This article was originally published as “Crush Cravings” in the February 2016 issue of Canadian Living Magazine.