There are lots of factors which scupper diets – but cravings is the biggie. Cravings cut through willpower like a hot knife through that butter you promised yourself you wouldn’t have.
Banishing your cravings would be a great way to keep your diet (and waistline) on the straight and narrow – but everyone who’s ever succumbed to a post-prandial chocolate bar knows that it’s not as simple as all that.
Curbing cravings is hard work, and you won’t manage it 100% of the time (unless you are a Tibetan monk who spends his time in mind-over-matter meditation).
However, there are a few things you can do to help yourself out:
1 – Wait Ten Minutes
There’s a reason why we call certain cravings “primal” – it’s because they come from a part of your brain that is (in evolutionary terms) very old.
The bad news is that the older parts of your brain are very strong. However, the good news is that they “forget” things pretty quickly.
If you feel a craving coming on, distract yourself for ten minutes (easier said than done, we know, but do your best!). Strange though it may seem, all but the strongest food cravings will dissipate after ten minutes. Unless they’re based in genuine hunger or nutritional need, which brings us to number 2…
2 – Don’t Be Hungry or Thirsty
When your body is in actual need of food or drink, your cravings become ten times more powerful. And, when you’re experiencing the enormous biological imperative to eat, you are far, far less able to resist the urge to eat unhealthily.
If, however, you experience a craving when you’re not actually in need of sustenance, your body has no real incentive to back that craving up. So try and keep yourself fed and watered. You can do this easily without breaking your diet – fibrous vegetables and pulses will actually make you feel far fuller for far longer than most junk food will, and pure water eliminates thirst more effectively than any soft or caffeinated drink!
3 – Be Happier
It may sound hokey, but improving your emotional well-being can significantly improve your chances of banishing cravings. That’s one reason why professionals specializing in addiction recovery work so hard to build up their patients’ mental health.
Cravings frequently have a strong emotional component, and many of us have subconsciously “trained” our brains to “self-medicate” with unhealthy foodstuffs. When you’re happier, you’re not only generally mentally stronger, you’re also less likely to emotionally eat.
Of course, improving your mental and emotional wellbeing is by no means something you can do “just like that”. It may require a lot of work, and perhaps professional help. But it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re really struggling to beat your cravings.
4 – Don’t Eat “Diet” Foods
Low calorie/no sugar options are great when you need a quick snack or drink but don’t want to break your diet. However, trying to lose weight by replacing your usual foods with diet versions of the same is unlikely to get you very far.
Scientists have discovered that those who consume a lot of “diet” or “sugar-free” foods are far more vulnerable to cravings than they may otherwise have been.
Nobody is sure why this should be, but scientists speculate that the artificial sweeteners etc used in diet options makes the body believe that it’s going to get a decent blood sugar boost, or a lot to digest. It prepares itself accordingly – but then never receives the payoff. It then urgently signals you to give it the fat or sugar it’s been led to believe it’s getting, resulting in enormous cravings.
While there is definitely a place for low calorie/sugar free options in a diet, you should treat them with some caution!
5 – Exercise
If you feel a craving coming on – quickly drop and do some press ups. Or go for a walk, or hit the treadmill, or whatever floats your exercise boat.
Research consistently shows that exercise is one of the best ways to combat cravings. There are a couple of reasons for this.
For one, while your brain is concentrating on working your muscles, it diverts resources from your stomach and digestion. Which in turn stops your stomach from contributing its part to your cravings.
For another, it is a really good way to distract yourself for the ten minutes or so it takes for most cravings to lose their power (see point one).
Best of all, exercise burns calories, so you won’t feel guilty about adding a few extra (healthy!) items to your next meal.