Food cravings are extremely common, and very real. Learning to understand what’s causing the cravings and finding ways of preventing and managing them is key, especially if you have a specific goal you are working towards such as fat loss. We will dive into some of the common cravings, and offer solutions.
They are caused by the regions of the brain that are responsible for pleasure, reward and memory. Therefore, it’s important to realise here that a craving is different to hunger. It is your brain wanting something that releases dopamine in the reward system rather than your body needing energy to function.
Restricting foods from your diet and viewing certain foods as ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’ often increases your desire and cravings for them. Hence why if you’ve ever tried to cut out a whole food group (yes, you know what I’m referring to… glorious carbs!), you only crave that food group more.
Your brain is very clever; it associates specific foods with specific environments. Ever wondered why you need popcorn as soon as you step foot in the cinema? And a large soft drink to wash it down with. If you were at home, you’d likely sit through a movie without the need of any of these foods. Next time you are in a situation, think, “am I hungry, or is this a habit?”
Our emotions may also be a reason behind cravings. We all know about comfort eating, and how to do it! The reason we do it is because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that influences your mood as well as feelings of reward and motivation. When we eat, dopamine is released. Some foods do actually release more dopamine than others, hence why when you open a packet of cookies, you struggle to stop at two.
Hormones are another common cause of cravings. An imbalance of hormones such as serotonin and leptin can cause cravings. Getting too little sleep may disrupt hormone levels and thus lead to cravings. Cravings during pregnancy are also due to hormonal changes that can disrupt taste and smell receptors
There is also the possibility that a craving for a specific food may be due to a certain nutrient deficiency. Thus, your body is trying to correct this deficiency by craving a food rich in this nutrient.
7 TIPS FOR REDUCING CRAVINGS
Your body finds it hard to distinguish between thirst and hunger. Next time you have a craving for something, first have a large glass of water and see if the craving is still there. You may think you’re hungry but you actually might just be thirsty. Aim for 2 – 2.5 litres of water per day (keep a water bottle with you) to remain hydrated throughout the day and reduce the cravings occurring in the first place.
Eating regular meals is key. Your body likes a routine and structure. We’ve all been there when you didn’t have lunch before your lunchtime meeting and it’s now 4pm…You pop to the nearest shop and next minute you’re diving into a triple chocolate cookie and milkshake. Take the time to plan ahead and you won’t get to this point. Trust us, having a regular meal structure is one of the most important factors when it comes to changing body composition.
Sleep is something often forgotten when it comes to weight management. Sleep deprivation can disrupt hormones and may lead to cravings the following day. This helps to explain why you struggle to regulate your appetite following a poor night’s sleep. Adequate sleep coupled with a good meal structure can help your circadian rhythm, which can help to reduce those cravings.
We realise we’re like a broken record with protein. It’s just so important! Protein is one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and fats). Out of the three, protein is the most satiating. One reason for this is due to its effects on gut hormone response. This means it will help to make you feel fuller for longer. By ensuring you space your protein intake out throughout the day and aim to have a source in each of your meals, this will help reduce cravings between meals and unnecessary snacking. This is also why we encourage people to base snacks on a source of protein, such as hummus and veg sticks, boiled eggs or a natural greek yoghurt with berries.
As well as protein, focus on your vegetable intake too. Bulking out meals with vegetables helps to increase satiety without massively increasing calories. Try and include a variety of colours in each of your meals across the day. Beans, peas and lentils are all rich in fibre as well as plant protein and are also a great way to increase satiety and reduce cravings. We also forget how much water is in vegetables, hunger and thirst = sorted!
As I said previously, meal structure is key. By under-eating you are making your cravings worse. Instead of waiting for the extreme feelings of hunger, plan ahead and structure in regular meals and snacks throughout your day. Preparation is key. Stock your cupboards with healthy snacks and staples so when you are feeling hungry you can go for the healthy option. Another tip worth noting here is to only buy the essentials. If your cupboards are stocked with more unhealthy foods then you’re not helping yourself!
EAT MORE MINDFULLY
Far too often we don’t actually stop and enjoy the food we are eating. We are sitting in front of our laptops shovelling down lunch or eating dinner in front of the TV. Focusing on your food as you eat is so important for digestion and for managing blood sugar levels. Being mindful about your eating patterns is vital for becoming more aware of your hunger cues, emotions and cravings. Our final tip here is to simply relax and be present when you eat your food. This will lead to less “emotional” eating also. This can really help benefit recognising when you are actually full.
There is no simple solution or magic remedy for cravings, but understanding why the cravings are taking place in the first place is key. Sometimes you do need a little help to navigate all this. There are lots of ways; join a program (such as the BB30), logging your cycle in an app (to link cravings to your cycle), or get help from a dietician/nutritionist (we have a couple within the company – feel free to ask!).