It is a new year and many of us are ready to form new habits and get on track with diet and exercise. Often, getting in a good exercise routine can be easy, but dialing in the diet is a whole different story.
One of the biggest things that can derail a diet plan are cravings. Before we can learn how to crush cravings, we need a better understanding of what cravings truly are.
Our nutritionist Spencer Miller and coach Colby Pearce have the answers.
What are cravings?
Food cravings are a powerful desire to eat sugary, salty, or fatty types of food, which often seem uncontrollable, leaving you unsatisfied until you get what you want. Then, after you satisfy that desire and have those foods, you may feel guilty or like you failed on your diet.
Studies have shown that people crave various kinds of food.
Men are typically more likely to crave savory foods like meat, fish, and eggs. If men do crave sweets, they typically go for sugar-sweetened beverages. However, women tend to crave mostly sweet foods like chocolate, cakes, and ice cream. The same studies have shown that women more frequently report experiencing cravings in their everyday lifestyle, not always bound to food. However, these are just the trends and males and females can crave the same things.
Over 90% of people experiences food cravings, and we all experience them differently. For some of us, the desire to eat a bag of salty potato chips might be the craving. Others may crave something sweet like a pint of ice cream. No matter what you crave, there are ways you can help reduce these cravings to better stay on track with your diet.
How to beat cravings
Some studies found that three key factors play a majority role in cravings:
Sleep efficiency is often associated with craving sugar. Studies show that people with inadequate quality sleep increases the frequency of their cravings. Overcome this by preparing a bedtime routine focused on calming your mind for better sleep. Avoid caffeine after 3 pm and leave your phone in the living room or study overnight. Practice a bedtime wind-down such as breathing exercises or meditation.
When you are stressed, it causes your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol, increasing your appetite and cravings. One idea is to try taking up journaling which can help let go of the stress from the day. Set a specific time each evening to answer these three questions:
"I will let go of…".
"I am grateful for…".
"I will focus on...".
Dieting is often to blame for causing cravings since you deny yourself specific foods. For example, when avoiding food rich in sugar, you tend to increase the cravings for sugary food. Improving the relationship with food through mindfulness may help control overeating, moving past restrictive diets.
120 Seconds of Discipline from Coach Colby Pearce
There are two facets to this technique that Colby uses with his athletes. The first is “60 seconds of discipline per week” and the second is “60 seconds of discipline per serving”.
60 seconds of discipline per week
“I coach my athletes that they only need 60 seconds of discipline per week to act on this. The 60 seconds is: before you walk in the door of the grocery store. Before you leave your car, you look in the mirror and plan your shopping, out loud, while looking into your own eyes. You consciously choose what to buy, or not to buy, which gives you authority over what to eat or not eat. It’s called being an adult: taking Absolute Authority over your choices. Everyone has what I call “domino foods” which are foods that are hard to stop eating once you start. Common examples are ice cream, pretzels, potato chips, French fries, chocolate, or salted nuts.
The exercise is to consciously choose which domino or trigger foods you will let into your house, and which ones you won’t. Draw the line right here. Make an agreement with yourself before you leave the car. “I will buy one package of cookies, but I will not buy ice cream, no chocolate bars, and no potato chips in this grocery trip.”
If you buy cookies, ice cream, and potato chips, it’s a losing battle of will once they are in the cabinet, no matter how committed you are. By having 60 seconds of discipline before you go in the store, you set yourself up for success.”
60 seconds of discipline per serving
“There is one more technique that is helpful when you do decide to enjoy your favorite treat: 60 seconds of discipline during serving. If you take the entire one-gallon bin of ice cream out of the freezer and sit in front of the TV, it is lights out. You are making it way to easy to eat the whole thing or way more than you want to. Instead, take the ice cream out, take out a bowl, and serve yourself an appropriate portion. Before you take a single bite, put the container away, in the freezer, with the lid on. I know it is not convenient to put ice cream in a bowl when the container serves the same purpose, but you are not just a lazy slob, you are an adult! Use a bowl like a proper person.
I use this same technique when I serve myself one of my biggest domino foods: dry roasted, salted cashews. I put the serving in a bowl, then close the bag, wrap it in a rubber band, and put it away. If I stand in the kitchen and eat out of the bag, it is easy to over-consumption.
Once you have defined your portion and put it in an appropriate eating vessel, go sit on the couch or at the table and enjoy your treat. Chew or enjoy each bite slowly, put the spoon down [or hand down if you are eating with your hands, hopefully not for ice cream] and take time to consume the treat. It’s a treat! Enjoy it! By defining boundaries around the portion and having a slight bit of ritual around the consumption of the food, we make our choices more conscious. Domino or trigger foods are all about eating unconsciously and this is what makes them so calorically catastrophic.”
Try these habits to help reduce cravings
Drink plenty of water
Drink a big glass of cold water the next time you have cravings. It helps by hydrating the body and giving a sense of fullness.
Eat enough protein
Studies have shown that a healthy diet rich in lean protein may help reduce cravings. The same research suggests that eating more protein helps suppress hunger and reduce ghrelin (a hormone related to appetite.) Start the morning with a high-protein breakfast to kickstart your day.
At Team EF Coaching we recommend getting anywhere from 1-7-2.0+ grams of protein / kg bodyweight per day.
Give in to healthy snacks
If your body is telling you that it’s hungry and needs fuel, don’t ignore it. When in doubt, give in to a healthy snack. You don’t want to avoid the cravings and eating so long that you are starving and then end up making a bad food decision. Eating a healthy snack can lower your hunger and help you to not give in to those cravings later.
Consume plenty of fiber
Consuming foods with fiber help you to feel satiated for longer. Fiber adds bulk to keep you full as well is improve digestion and gut health. Choose high-fiber foods paired with protein to get the most satiation.
Avoid shopping when hungry
It is almost a sure thing that you will experience food cravings if you enter the supermarket hungry. Why? – Because the salty, sugary, fatty foods are easily accessible and at eye level. Try shopping after you have eaten.
Putting it all together
When you allow yourself the freedom to snack on healthy foods, fuel your body with what it needs, and limit the number of temptations surrounding you, it will be a recipe for success to keep your diet aligned with your goals.
We hope you find these tips helpful and can implement them next time you start to get cravings or feel the urge to go off your diet. Of course, we recommend the 80/20 rule of 80% of the time staying on track and the other 20% of the time enjoying yourself. These tips will help you to stay on track during that 80% and help you reach your health and nutrition goals