Nutritionist Michele Chevalley Hedge shares some tips for curbing your cravings – including one that may surprise you.
You are the boss of your body and brain. And you know this…until that sneaky 4pm craving hits. Then you lose your power and your “cranger” (cranky anger) takes control. Cranger is the thing that makes you eat anything. Fast, easy to reach, carby or sweet. Milk chocolate, lollies, sugar-loaded chai lattes. Heck, you’d eat your own knuckles if they were dusted with cocoa.
I know the strong hold a craving – be it carbs, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol – can have on us physically and mentally.
I have met people in my clinical practice who tell me they think they were divorced due to their cravings of sugar. No lie. They shared with me that their life was a series of sugar highs and lows creating brain fog, self-loathing and sleepless nights for years.
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Regardless of how clean your diet is, almost everyone gets cravings for sweets or junk food now and then. To combat that, make a plan for when you need to deal with cravings. If you have a vision of where you want your health and wellbeing to be, it’s only a wish until you put a plan into action. So when it comes to controlling your cravings, try the following five simple steps:
1. Drink water
Are you craving something or are you really just thirsty? Many people confuse hunger and cravings when they are dehydrated, so drink a glass or two of water when a craving hits. Add some fun to your water with the addition of mint, lemon, lemongrass, lime or strawberries.
2. Find your trigger
If, after 10 minutes of hydrating, you are still ready to binge on something that does not serve your wellbeing, ask yourself the following: Am I tired? Bored? Lonely? Feeling bad about myself or something else? Overwhelmed or stressed? Chances are you want something more meaningful, rather than the quick fix of junk food. Once you have identified the real issue, you can start to find ways to satisfy what your real needs are instead of “medicating” with junk food. If this resonates with you, work on what is triggering the craving.
3. Eat pre-emptively
This is a big one. Cravings, especially for sweets, often strike when blood sugar is unstable. Consistently eating protein, good fats and smart carbs is the key to pre-empting cravings. With intermittent fasting on the rise, it is important for you to figure out what your fasting threshold is, as you do not want to get to the point when you are so hungry and unreasonable that you reach for anything convenient. Often, a late-night sugar binge is a sign you have not eaten enough during the day.
4. Find a substitute
Take some time to find something that really makes your tastebuds dance. Work out what you like to do or to eat that can “crowd in” your mind or physical body when a craving hits. For example, you may like blueberries or nuts, so have these close by when trying to break a bad habit. For me, it is often a big cup of cinnamon tea with a handful of tamari almonds along with a 10-minute break from all noise and monkey chatter.
5. Go for it (mindfully)
If you are still busting for an unhealthy craving after the first four steps, then just go for it. Wellbeing isn’t about deprivation. Be in the moment when you are indulging. The secret to success here is being truly present and not letting a few bites take you into a negative binge cycle for the rest of the day or week. Take time to notice if it really is as good as you thought it was going to be. You will most likely find that the thought of the treat was far greater than the 15-second taste. And what naturally starts to happen over time is that you have less of the bingeing moments because they are not nearly as fun as feeling in control, vibrant and healthy.
If you’re in the midst of a craving, here are some simple swaps you can make
- Swap hot chips for bakes sweet potato slices sprinkled with chilli salt: Why? Sweet potatoes are chock-full of nutrients. Store-bought hot chips are full of unhealthy trans fats.
- Swap gin and tonic for gin and sonic (half soda half tonic): Why? Tonic water is loaded with sugar. This is an easy way to lower sugar and still indulge.
- Swap pasta with red sauce to Bolognese pasta: Why? Fifty per cent of your pasta meal should be protein. Meat or tofu Bolognese will reduce a heavy carb load that often leads to more cravings.
- Swap milk chocolate with dark chocolate: Why? The sugar content of milk chocolate is often give times greater.
- Swap savoury biscuits for tamari almonds (or cocoa-dusted almonds): Why? Feed your crunch cravings with almonds versus hydrogenated (unhealthy) fats and other ingredients you cannot pronounce.
Michele Chevalley Hedge is a nutritional medicine practitioner, founder of the wellness website A Healthy View and author of Eat Drink & Still Shrink.