How To Stop Food Cravings
Updated: Mar 14, 2022
Have you ever sat down one evening and really, really wanted a bar of chocolate ? Or some ice cream ? Or a bag of your favourite crisps ? (FYI mine's Thai sweet chilli flavour Kettle Chips !)
How did that feel....? Did you find yourself constantly thinking about it, even when you tried to distract yourself ? Did you end up rummaging through your cupboards/fridge/freezer or popping out to the shop ? Have you ever tried to ignore these cravings and been successful for a while, only to succumb and eat the entire bar or bag ? And why don't you ever seem to crave an apple.....?
I hear you, we've all been there, it's incredibly common. This article will provide you with 5 handy tips to manage those cravings.
1 - Eat enough food
Yes, you heard that right.
Let's start with the most important tip. If you're not eating enough, then naturally your body is going to crave food. This is a physiological response where your body is telling you it needs energy and nutrients to function effectively. Often this will result in generalised cravings for food, not necessarily for a particular food. It sounds really obvious but it's really common for people to under eat, especially when they are trying to lose weight or are exercising regularly.
So, eating regulary in accordance with your hunger cues (see point 3), ensuring that your body is getting what it needs, will help keep those cravings at bay.
2 - Avoid restrictive diets
Have you been on a low carb diet and all you wanted to eat was bread and pasta ? When you cut out certain foods or entire food groups, this leads to what's known as the 'deprivation backlash'. This is where cravings for something increase as soon as you restrict it, avoid it, or it's unavailable. This doesn't just happen with food. When its been raining for days, all we want is to see the sun again.
If you tell youself that you can't eat chocolate, as the days progress, you'll start thinking about chocolate more and more and those cravings will increase in intensity. Eventually, you'll crack and eat the chocolate. The problem is that due to those intense cravings, you'll likely eat more than you want and need. You may feel out of control and this only serves to reinforce your belief that you can't be trusted with chocolate, so you tell yourself you must avoid it. Unfortunately, this is a vicious cycle.... Each time you tell yourself this is the last time and because of that, you have a 'last supper mentality'. This is where even the perception of a food becoming banned triggers a sense of panic, resulting in you eating this food (again, often to excess) even if you aren't hungry or don't want it.
So if you can accept that no foods are off limits and give yourself that unconditional permission to eat, these spcific cravings will disappear. I guess that you're worried if you do this, you'll end up over eating these foods ? Don't worry, studies have shown that this isn't the case. Once we take the foods off their pedestal, they lose their pull and intense desirability. Essentially, they just become like any other food item, an option you may or may not want to eat. There's science behind this, called 'habitutation theory'. I've written about this in an earlier blog. (Click here to find out more: https://www.rachelfletchernutrition.com/post/will-intuitive-eating-make-me-gain-weight)
3 - Learn to listen to your body
I'm sure you've been there, when you're so hungry that you really crave high energy foods (those which are higher fat and sugar). This is because your body is desperate for a quick hit of fuel. So to combat this, try not to let yourself get to the stage where you're 'hangry' and could eat the entire contents of Tesco !
Learning to recognise and honour your hunger cues means that you won't let yourself get ravenously hungry and will therefore reduce those cravings. I've written more about this in a previous article, which you can read here: https://www.rachelfletchernutrition.com/post/why-do-i-feel-hungry-all-the-time
4 - Allow yourself to enjoy food
Food isn't just fuel, the satisfaction factor is so important too, not to mention the social and cultural aspects of food. For example, think about the positive association you have with food and happy events such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter and parties.
Take the time to notice how you feel when you eat foods that you don't really enjoy but feel that you ought to eat, compared with the foods that you love. There will be a huge difference. How many foods do you eat that you don't actually enjoy ?
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. When you remove the 'good' and 'bad' labelling of foods and you eat what your really want (from a satisfaction point of view, or because it's what your body needs) will remove any last supper or deprivation mentality, which really helps curb those cravings. What's more, you'll actually end up eating foods that are best for your overall health, both physically and mentally. I'll talk more about this in a later article, so keep your eyes peeled.
5 - Manage your stress levels
Lastly, a tip that appears to be nothing about food but is super important. Studies have shown that being stressed increases food cravings. It's thought that chronic stress causes hormonal imbalances that impact appetite. Not only that, stress also leads to the craving of reward mechanisms, which include food. Have you ever felt stressed and had chocolate/ice cream/wine to relieve it ?
Emotional eating is extremely common and you will most likely find yourself craving so called treat foods as a way to manage feelings. This isn't just caused by stress, it could also be loneliness, boredom, depression or anxiety. Finding non-food ways to manage your emotions will help reduce your cravings. Why not try getting outside for a walk, some gentle movement such as yoga, an exercise class you enjoy, meeting a friend for a coffee, some mindfulness, listening to a great podcast or music, or reading a book....? Having some alternative options is super helpful, although do bear in mind that sometimes, only that chocolate bar will hit the spot and that's ok.
Also linked to emotions and stress is tiredness. If you are stressed, it will probably impact your sleep too. Being tired can also affect your hunger hormones and lead to you feeling hungry and craving energy dense foods. It also means you're less likely to feel as though you have the energy to cook from scratch or make healthy food choices. Working on getting a good nights sleep is super important for your health for so many reasons and forms the foundation of good health. There are lots of tricks to help with this such as turning off tech an hour before bed, cutting down on caffeine and alcohol and doing relaxation exercises.
What else ?
So there you have it, my 5 tips for managing your food cravings. As I said at the the start, food cravings are completely normal and we all experience them from time to time. However, if you feel that these cravings are appearing more than usual and are becoming stronger, then giving these tips a try should improve things. Additionally, if this has resonated and you feel that you need some personal support to help improve your relationship with food, then I can help.
Click here to book a free 15 minute chat to tell me what you're struggling with and find out how we can work together to support you:
Hit the comments to tell me which tip(s) you found the most helpful.