Are cravings getting the better of you? Do you ever find yourself mindless munching or reaching mid-afternoon with such an intense NEED to grab a snack that you are willing to get in your car to drive and get it?
The past year has been stressful in many ways, for many of us. Adjusting to our new “normal” as we navigate through Covid and add to this other stressors whether it be work, financial or social… can leave us experiencing more cravings than usual. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the odd craving, but let’s keep them in check before they get out of control.
- Prevention is better than cure
Erratic eating, skipping meals, inconsistency = increased chance of experiencing a craving.
Sometimes, not eating enough earlier in your day can result in a craving later in the day. Skipping meals because you are busy/no time or not hungry at the time can often have the “slap in the face” effect later. Blood glucose levels can drop or fluctuate (especially if you add the effect of stress hormones on glucose control) and this can result in your body “trying to fix it” by craving a quick-release snack item or beverage. By then we are a little (or a lot) hANGRY (so hungry we are irritable and angry) that the last thing we go for is a healthy chicken salad –we go straight for the instant pick-me-up (e.g. chocolates, sweets, caffeine, energy drinks). We feel a little better, but often we get a rebound energy dip after this. By eating more consistently earlier in the day – focusing on smarter snack options that sustain us – we should find the cravings reduce. Plan smart snacks like fruit, yoghurt, nuts, trail mix, biltong, cheese + crackers, peanut butter.
- Eat enough fresh fruit
If you don’t get enough natural sweetness you may crave sugar. Having a sweet craving is more likely to lead to you eating a chocolate bar than nibbling on strawberries! So try to plan in at least 1 – 2 fresh fruits daily. They make easy snacks and can really assist in reducing sugar cravings. If the craving has hit too soon – then try some dried fruit such as a few dates – they are super sweet but packed with nutritional value and won’t result in a rebound dip.
- Up the protein
Protein is a great blood glucose stabilizer and tends to keep us fuller for longer. Sometimes cravings are due to a day of eating that was a bit low in protein. Make sure you have protein with breakfast (egg or cheese work well). Include protein snacks during the day (e.g. lean biltong, low-fat cheese, low-fat milk, maas, plain yoghurt, mixed raw nuts, peanuts, peanut butter).
- Pop it or crack it
Sometimes a craving could be a boredom habit. Popcorn is a great snack that is high fibre and filling. It also takes time to nibble on it versus quickly getting through a packet of crisps. The portion size of lightly salted popcorn (not buttered!) is also almost double that of a packet of crisps from a fat point of view. Try nuts with a shell that you have to actually crack open. The effort to crack the shells and extract the nut without breaking it is highly therapeutic and distracting. It also takes time – which is often all the brain needs to “move past” the craving.
- Drink something
Have a drink before giving in to that craving. Examples: enjoy sparkling water with ice and some low-calorie Lecol (for colour and taste) in a tall glass OR have a sugar free fizzy drink OR enjoy a cup of coffee/tea with low-fat milk (add 1 tsp xylitol if you really need that sweetness). Drink/sip slowly.
- Ice it
There is some thought that a frozen lolly helps reduce cravings. This is not an absolute science but something about the ice temporarily numbing the taste buds that seem to work for some people. Give it a go. Freeze low-calorie lollies using diluted fruit juice or a calorie-free low cal Lecol. You could make up a smoothie with fruit and yoghurt and freeze it into lollies. The time to enjoy the colourful low-calorie ice lolly is often all you need for the craving to pass.
- Wait before going for dessert
Many people experience a craving immediately after a meal. Then go straight for something sweet. Wait 20 minutes between your last bite of dinner and dessert. This gives your brain time to get the fullness signal and, most likely, will make it easier to skip the sweet stuff or then go for a healthier option.
- If you can’t prevent it and have to have the treat – plate it
Always put what you’re eating on a plate or in a bowl/container. Never eat out of a bag, carton, or box, or while preparing the treat. We tend to over-eat if we do this. Take the container with your portion and move away.
This one takes practice. One particular study found that just 15 – 20 seconds of visualizing something (anything other than the food you are craving) did in fact result in the craving going away. Some find doing something not related to food/kitchen helps. Call or face time a friend, write a gratitude note, tidy a cupboard, go look at the garden, play with your dog/cat, check emails…
- Have it
Research shows that instead of trying to “will-power” yourself out of the craving rather allow yourself a small portion of whatever you are craving (yes whatever it is). This can reduce the risk of going off the rails later on. The key though is to have a small portion. Also, don’t gobble it down. Set your chosen treat on a plate, look at it, smell it and then enjoy every mouthful – slowly! This is called mindful eating. The slower you consume the treat the less the chance of over-eating. Note: if one or two bites leads you to quickly devouring the entire treat 5 minutes later – then this method may not be for you.
- Plan better swaps
Plan healthier replacements for typical sweet/savoury snacks. Lightly salted popcorn instead of crisps; Crackers with Marmite/Bovril, cheese and sliced gherkin/cucumber; olives with cheese wedges sort out a savoury craving. Dark chocolate instead of chocolate bars; cereal bars instead of chocolate candies, custard over chopped fruit instead of high-fat desserts; fruit with flavoured yoghurt, a closed handful of peanuts and raisins often takes off the edge.