Cravings come in all shapes and sizes: donut-shaped, pizza-shaped, french fry-shaped—no no no, that's not what I mean.
I mean there are a few different reasons we feel cravings, and once you figure out which type you're dealing with, you'll know exactly what weapon to use for battle—and how to prepare ahead of time.
Figure out what type of craving you’re experiencing:
Physical - Otherwise known as hunger (or thirst). Alright, this isn't technically a craving, but I'm defending its inclusion here because hunger can lead still lead to cravings. Identifiable via hunger pangs, low energy, and sometimes irritability (hangry much?).
Emotional - Manifests as an urge to eat, sometimes a specific food, when you are feeling bored, sad, anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, procrastinating, etc. (This is probably the most common.)
Habitual - Occurs when you’re used to eating at a certain time, or whenever a certain event happens, i.e. when you arrive home from work, when you turn on the tv, if you’re accustomed to having a snack at a certain time, etc.
Is this a reoccurring craving? Here are some ways to prevent and minimize them:
- If you’re constantly hungry, consider whether or not your calories are too low. Staying in a deep caloric deficit is unsustainable. Raise your daily caloric intake.
- Eat more filling foods. Consider raising your protein intake, eating more low-calorie vegetables, and adding more fibrous whole foods to your diet.
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry. If waiting too long between meals is making you ravenous, consider splitting your meals up into smaller meals throughout the day, or having a small snack between meals.
- Similarly, don’t let yourself get too thirsty. Thirst can mask itself as hunger, so keep hydrated throughout the day.
- Try to identify the emotion you are experiencing. If you are having a persistent issue, it’s a good idea to address the underlying cause. See a mental health professional if necessary (seriously).
- Keep trigger foods out of the house. If you know you always cave to the same thing, don’t keep it around. (Mine is Nutella.)
- Will having a bit of something here and there help prevent you from binging on it later? Don’t make certain foods off limits if it will create problems down the line. Plan to have a donut once in a while if it will keep you from eating a box of them on the weekend.
- Make sure that you always have healthy foods that are ready-to-eat. This goes for in and out of the house.
- If you do have craving-worthy food in the house, keep it out of sight. Put it in the back of the fridge or pantry, or behind something else on the shelf, or keep it in an opaque container rather than a clear one.
Didn’t plan ahead and have a craving to deal with in the moment? Here’s what to do:
- Eat something healthy, either by itself OR eat something healthy along with a bite of whatever it is you’re craving. (Exception: Don’t do this if you know that eating a bite of it will lead to you overeating the rest.)
- Drink a glass of water. Not thirsty? You’re probably thirsty.
- Find alternatives to the emotions or feelings you identified in Step 2. Tired? Prioritize getting more sleep. Bored? Find another source of entertainment. Stressed? Look into other ways to relieve it--get a massage, go for a walk, meditate, etc. Once you have identified the troubling emotion, take the necessary steps to alleviate it.
- Try keeping a food journal, with the purpose of recording what you are feeling or thinking before, during, and after you eat.
- Distract yourself. If you can entertain yourself with something else for long enough, your craving will lessen or even disappear. Try something that is fully engaging, like a video game instead of a tv show, or FaceTime a friend instead of browsing Facebook.
- Create If-Then statements to change your habits. (Okay, you’ll have to think these up before hand, but they’re meant to be used in the moment). e.g. “IF I want to have ice cream for dessert, THEN I will have some Greek yogurt with fruit.” “If I want to have a snack while I’m watching tv, then I will have baby carrots instead of chips.” “If I’m low on energy at work, then I will have a piece of fruit and a pre-portioned serving of nuts.” And so on, to suit your own needs.
I would love to flippantly say, "That's all there is to it," but in practice, dealing with cravings is much easier said than done. If you need some additional help, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.