Learning to Control Cravings to Lose Weight
Cravings vs. Hunger: What are the Differences?
Cravings are defined as an “intense desire to eat a specific food. A majority of people surveyed have experienced cravings. Learning to control cravings does not have to be difficult even though the frequency, strength, and types of food cravings have been found to differ:
- Between men and women
- During the menstrual cycle
- Often with increasing BMI- overweight and obese people have more intense and specific cravings
It is the intensity (sometimes overwhelming attempts at control) and specificity (often for carbs but also for salty and fatty foods) that differentiates food cravings from feelings of plain hunger. Although food cravings and hunger occur together, one does not need to be hungry to experience food cravings. Food craving experiences are common and reported by the majority of adults. Although individuals with abnormal eating patterns and those who are overweight may experience cravings, they can also be present in “normal” eating and normal weight individuals.
Researchers Have Various Theories About the Causes of Food Cravings
- Cravings represent a learned appetite for high calorie foods that develops through the continued eating of particular foods when hungry.
- Often foods that are craved stimulate dopamine release from the brain. This produces calmness and pleasure similar to the way cocaine, heroin and, alcohol produce pleasurable feelings.
- Signals from the environment—smell, sight, and even sounds (like crackling of popcorn or chips)—stimulate the need to repeat prior pleasurable experiences whether hungry or not. This is classical conditioning. Much like how the sound of a bell triggered Pavlov’s dogs to salivate, certain activities, people, and places can trigger you to crave certain foods.
- Physiological Cravings: occur during pregnancy and menstruation. Also, normal adults often crave salt because of adrenal dysfunction. Individual food preferences have a lot to do with a person’s upbringing and their genetics. Chances are if you’re exposed to something as a young child, you’ll be less averse to it as an adult. But sometimes you just don’t have it in you to like a certain food.One recent study presented at the European Society of Human Genetics conference found that “people’s preferences for foods like coffee, artichokes, bacon, dark chocolate, blue cheese, and, yes, broccoli, are actually linked to variants in different specific genes.” How much salt or sugar a person eats may also be affected by genetics, according to other research presented at the conference.
- Stress, anxiety and depression often signal need for specific food that has been found in past experience to produce calmness.
- Monotonous diet programs often stimulate cravings for foods restricted by the diet.
Once you know the “why” behind your food cravings, you can begin to actively fight them. Remind yourself, “My body doesn’t need this food. I have conditioned myself to crave this food, and I can condition myself to stop.”
How to Control Cravings and Make Your Weight Loss Permanent
- Stay hydrated. Make sure you’re drinking enough liquids. That includes water and diet drinks, but not sugar-loaded drinks like soda, iced tea, sports drinks, energy drinks, or that phony “health water”.
- Avoid sugary foods and processed carbs to prevent leptin surges and blood sugar crashes that increase appetite and bring back memories of past experiences. When our blood sugar levels drop because we haven’t eaten in a while, or we have eaten very high sugar foods, we crave sugary foods to raise the sugar back up. And although it’s rare, ice cube cravings have been associated with iron deficiency anemia.
- Exercise: Rather than relying on fries and cake to help you calm down, exercise frequently. The exercise may boost your serotonin levels. That should help you control cravings and skip the sugar and extra carbs more easily.
- Avoid trigger foods for 30 days. Your brain has a great memory! If you really want to control cravings, one of the best ways is to avoid eating those foods for a set period of time. This isn’t easy because you will go through a withdrawal process, but it’s critical you stick to it if you want to kick the habit. The good thing is that you only have to do this for about 4 weeks Find healthier options to grab when you’re craving chocolate, sweets, cheese or chips. Try foods like low-glycemic index smoothies and desserts, fresh fruits and other vegetables. Keep these healthy foods on hand, and try to think about it like you’re adding in, rather than taking out. Your brain will actually change over time. Your body will start to crave the healthy, whole foods once you begin to make them your new habit. The junk just won’t taste the same! If you have changed from whole milk to low fat milk a few years ago, think how whole milk tastes now!