It’s all well and good having a nutrition plan, but what happens when a craving hits? Cravings can be powerful forces. Knowing what they are and what can cause them can give you the edge towards overcoming them. When I refer to cravings here, I’m thinking of those drives towards high sugar, high fat, quick energy foods – generally junk foods – that fall outside your healthy nutrition plan. Like the sudden urge to nosh your way through a packet of biscuits that seems to descend on you from nowhere and consumes your attention so completely that you find it difficult to find an alternative snack.
Importantly, when a craving gets the better of you, feelings of guilt and shame can sabotage your ability to get right back on the plan. Cravings are normal, and not a sign that you are incapable of sticking to a nutrition plan. They are, however, a signal from your body. So getting your understanding and perspective right about this issue is vital for long term success.
Here are five common factors in cravings and how to beat them:
1) You don’t eat enough.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by cravings, inadequate calorie intake is the first thing to consider as a cause. Many people set their calorie intake too low when they want to see changes in their body, unintentionally laying the trap for big cravings later on. For others, it might be useful to recognise that your body’s calorific needs can vary greatly from day-to-day depending on a huge range of factors such as workout intensity, mood/stress and weather. If you think you generally eat enough, but have occasional strong cravings, try adding another small, balanced meal, rather than give into the craving.
Products like Peanut Butter are ideal as a calorie dense snack. Not only is it high in protein and healthy fats, but the high fibre content promotes slower digestion, and the delayed release of glucose into the bloodstream.
2) You are in an adjustment phase.
When you are setting new habits and becoming less dependent on junk foods, your body and mind will take a little time to adjust. Sugar is increasingly turning up in foods where we wouldn’t find it before. I was looking for a pork joint the other day and found one that looked like plain meat, but listed ingredients on the packaging, including sugar! When you start eating a more healthy, nutritious diet limiting sugar is necessary, but there will be an adjustment phase where you will crave it. If you think this is you, stay tough. Eat natural sugars as a replacement, such as a piece of fruit. Allow yourself up to 2 weeks of abstaining from sugar to see these kinds of cravings disappear.
3) You are missing vital nutrients.
We can all get stuck in a rut. It is not uncommon to find people who have found a good nutrition plan, but find it difficult to keep it varied. Different sources of protein, a variety of fats and trying different fruits and veggies on a regular basis will help to keep you topped up with a balance of vitamins and nutrients. Cravings can be a response to being depleted in certain nutrients, or even being bored of the same things. Make sure you try to keep it interesting.
Products like Complete Multivtamin Complex™ and Complete Greens™ are a fantastic way of making sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need to support good health – particularly if there are gaps in your diet.
4) Your emotions are difficult to handle.
Emotions are a key trigger for cravings. Not all cravings are emotionally driven, but we can all find ourselves drawn towards comforting emotions with food. Food does create calming feelings, and this can feel hugely attractive especially when emotions seem impossible to handle. One way to distinguish a nutritionally driven craving (i.e. inadequate calories, missing nutrients) from an emotionally driven craving is to notice where you feel it in your body. Cravings felt in the mouth or throat are generally emotionally driven. Those driven by a rumbly tummy are generally related to hunger and nutrition. What to do? Find an alternative outlet. Talk to someone you trust. Write about how you feel. Or take care of yourself in a non-food way, such as a massage, hot bath or early bedtime.
Tyrosine plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters (brain messengers) such as Dopamine and Norepinephrine. Supplementing with Tyrosine may in turn help to regulate emotions and mood which may be linked to cravings. Tyrosine also helps to directly stimulate appetite suppression, irrespective of mood.
5) You are making it too easy to give in.
If you are constantly confronted with what you crave, you are going to find it difficult to abstain. Stop thinking of yourself as either super-human in terms of discipline or as a complete failure if you give in. You are only human and seeing a cupboard full of junk food will get you sooner or later. Create an environment primed for success. If other people in your household want the kinds of food that you crave and give into, it’s time to ask for support. And time to ask some practical questions. Does your partner really need to keep big bags of crisps in the house, or can he/she enjoy them another way? Can your kids have sweets in smaller amounts outside the house, or do you really need bags of them right in your face? First step, believe that you do deserve to ask for what you need. You deserve the support of others. Then be creative about problem solving.
Last point, we all give in sometimes. When you do, it’s not an act that warrants lots of self-blame and guilt. If you criticise yourself, you will find it much more difficult to find a solution to the problem. Instead, chalk it up to experience, don’t overcompensate by restricting food, get back on the plan and look for ways to avoid the same trap in future.
About the Author:
Jess Johns-Green is a level 1 CrossFit trainer and Psychologist. She specialises in Performance Psychology and interventions for eating disorders and obesity. Jess is an athlete at CrossFit Colchester.