Weight Loss: Understanding (and Beating!) Your Cravings

Guest Blogger: Jessica Hochstadt, MS, Nutritionist and owner of “I Do” Nutrition
Jessica was a Nutritionist and Health Educator in a Boston-based hospital before deciding to focus her practice on brides with “I Do” Nutrition—a global weight-loss service that caters to brides and their bridal parties, on their schedule. She understands that everyone has a different relationship with food, and enjoys guiding bridal parties to appreciate the importance behind meal planning, understanding nutrition, and building a healthy lifestyle. In a time where our world and kitchen cupboards have become overly saturated with misinformation about nutrition, Jessica brings the simplicity back to a field that has sustained us through life.

Understanding Cravings

Cravings are the Achilles heel of every diet. They are the unplanned guests at your dinner party (or evening in) who just wont let you be. They gnaw at your willpower and, if given into, can destroy a diet with one bite.

Like any enemy we face, we must first understand cravings before determining the best way to destroy them. 

Cravings stem from three places: environmental cues, emotional cues, and physiological cues. 

  • Environmental cues come from your surroundings, like when your friend tears open a bag of chips, so you innocently grab one or two before realizing you’ve finished off the entire bag. Researchers have used the candy at the secretary’s front desk and the size of popcorn buckets at the movie theater to confirm that if sweet and salty foods are presented to us, we usually eat them, ignoring our stomach signaling that we are full or simply not hungry. This is a candy company’s biggest weapon; they know that our brains will respond and, often times, give in to these cravings. 
  • Emotional cues are cravings based on how we feel. Many a time, we turn to unhealthy foods as a crutch or a way to deal with emotions. Have you ever had a bad day and reached for a head of broccoli? Probably not. But our internal rewards system, the signals in our brain that tell us when we are happy or satisfied, have evolved to interpret sweet and salty foods as signals of happiness. Therefore, we often turn to junk foods like chips or ice cream in stressful or sad times.  
  • Physiological cues are actually quite important and have saved us throughout evolution — they are the signals in our brain that tell us it is time to eat. These cues should not always be ignored. Thankfully, we experience these cravings if our body is missing a nutrient. Often times, new vegetarians will experience cravings for hamburgers or steak because their bodies are lacking of iron. Fortunately, there are meatless ways to get this nutrient. But for most people, physiological cues are important signals telling us it’s time to eat. 

Before you decide to ignore a craving, figure out what is making you want that food. Did you really want the entire bag of chips, or would one have sufficed? Are you using ice cream to quell your anger? Have you skipped all your veggies today and is your body simply begging for a salad? 

Take the time to listen to your body before making decisions on what you eat.

Overcoming Cravings 

We’ve evolved into a species who rarely listen to other peoples’ good advice, so it has become utterly painful to listen to our own. The evidence exists that sweets, junk foods, and empty calories are damaging to our health, and yet we find ourselves quite comfortable walking down the cake mix aisle in the supermarket, content on deciding which sugary reward we will be preparing next. 

Whether your cravings are due to environmental, emotional, or physiological cues, here  are some tips on how to manage your temptations: 

  • Give yourself a defined limit. The best way to do this is to tell yourself that you won't eat a certain food for a limited number of days. Studies in behavioral modification suggest that it takes approximately two weeks to change a habit. This can be applied to our eating behaviors as well. Post a two-week calendar on your fridge, and cross off a day for each one that you don’t eat the food you're trying to limit. That way, you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you can see your progress throughout the week. And if you do end up giving in to your craving, you can always start again from day one. 
  • Drink water, water, and more water. We need water to survive; there is no question about that. Many times, our bodies mistake thirst for hunder. Therefore, many cravings can be staved off by drinking water. Grab a cup and straw, and drink at least two glasses of water before giving in to any cravings. In many cases, the cravings will desist about 20 minutes after that second glass.
  • Stop. Think. In our fast-paced world, we rarely take the time to think about what we are doing or why we are doing it. When cravings hit, this is the best opportunity to reflect. Think about why you want that bag of chips. This is a good time to consider the origins of your cravings. Are you responding to something you saw? Are you experiencing an emotion that you usually use food to deal with? Does your body actually want this food? If the food has a health benefit (like the nutrients in a salad or the meat of a hamburger) give in. Otherwise, use the first two tools to stave off those cravings.

Tell us: What are your tricks for beating cravings?

—Jessica Hochstadt

Photo Credit: Kate Osborne on Bridal Musings via Lover.ly