Wellness Tips

How to Conquer Food Cravings

We all crave food that tastes delicious but may not be healthy. Chips ring a bell? How about baked goods? Ice cream? We all succumb to these foods at one point or another. I certainly do. In fact, one of the top questions I get asked as a nutrition coach is, how can I control my hunger cravings? The answer?  There are many ways. You don’t need to implement them all but the key is to experiment with evidence-backed methodologies and then pick and choose those you like and believe will help you achieve your personalized nutrition goals. Below, I’ve sketched out a few evidence-based things you can do to curb your food cravings below. Let me know how it goes!

Meal Timing

  • Eat meals on schedule, 3 a day, 3-4 hours apart
  • 1 afternoon snack, 3-4 pm
    • If hungry between breakfast and lunch, break up breakfast
  • Set a routine time every day that you will indulge in the unhealthy foods you crave and don’t budge from it
  • For me, sweets are dessert after dinner
  • Salty, 3 or 4pm snack
  • Avoid accepting office treats, birthday surprises

Understand the difference between homeostatic and hedonic hunger
Sometimes we eat because our bodies actually need the fuel and are physiologically cueing us to satiate (homeostatic hunger), but sometimes we eat simply for pleasure (hedonic hunger). Below are a couple points of guidance on to how to cope with each type of hunger responsible for your food cravings. 

  • Homeostatic: eating for calories and pleasure (physiological hunger, what you experience after 12+ hours of not eating)
    • Eat healthy and nutritious foods to satisfy your body’s need for fuel
  • Hedonic: eating just for pleasure (what you experience after eating a meal and feeling full but still wanting more)
    • Keep the hedonic foods out of the house

Learn to make healthier versions of foods you crave 
This requires taking some time to recipe hunt and even learn basic cooking skills. Some of my favorite crave food recipe replacements, which are in my book, The Win-Win Diet are:

  • Whole wheat flax chocolate chip cookies
  • Banana ice cream
  • Rice pudding with made with plant-based milk
  • Vegan chocolate mousse
  • Moroccan orange salad
  • Berries with maple syrup and cinnamon
  • Health fruit crumbles 
  • Zucchini bread
  • Almond flour flatbreads
  • Banza, whole wheat pasta

Drink 
Often we feel hungry or in need of nutrient-poor food simply because we are actually thirsty. Before you fall prey to noshing, have something to drink first. Not only will drinking fill you up, but choosing the right drinks as stated below, will also set you on the right path to following up with equally nutritious foods. 

  • Tea
  • Water
  • Seltzer

Follow a reduction plan

  • Reduce portions of the foods you would like to decrease or eliminate from your diet
  • Reduce the frequency of meals in which you eat foods you would like to decrease or eliminate from your diet
  • Reduce days on which you would like to decrease or eliminate crave foods from your diet
    • I elaborate on these steps extensively in my book, The Win-Win Diet

Avoid zero-calorie sweeteners

  • These trick your brain into thinking you’ve eaten less than you have confusing fullness signals
  • Can lead you to eat more

Eat nutritious foods, especially lean protein and fiber

The more of these foods you eat, the fuller and more satiated you will feel

Lean protein

  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Skinless white meats
  • 95% lean red meats, fat trimmed (sirloins, rounds or loins

Fiber

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Legumes 
  • Whole Grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Distractions
One of the most common reasons we eat crave foods is because we are bored. If you can recognize boredom as your trigger, try some of the following measure with which to distract yourself or come up with others you enjoy.

  • Brush your teeth
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Visual tasks
  • Play board games
  • Socializing with family friends (play a game instead of eating and drinking)
  • Watch tv (not if associated with food craving)

Get Sleep
Sleep controls our hunger hormones among many others. Make sure your circadian rhythms are in order is key to curbing the hormones that ultimately drive cravings. Adults on average need:

  • 7-9 hours of sleep a day

Exercise

Exercise can be helpful to curbing food cravings but can also be harmful. Finding the right balance is crucial to achieving your goals. While rigorous exercise can curb food cravings more so than can light or moderate exercise (because these calories can easily be replaced), if you push too hard your body will want to make up for the calories lost and then some. Consider the following:

  • Exercise regularly on schedule
  • Mix up your program between vigorous and lower intensity training
  • Create a cross training routine whereby you’re doing cardio on some days, strength on others, and more relaxing exercise on others

De-Stress
Stress releases tons of hormones that can drive food cravings. Whereas in the short term, stress produces appetite suppressing hormones such as endorphins (corticotropin-releasing hormone and adrenaline), in the long-term, it produces cortisol, which increases hunger. It’s therefore important that you nip your stress in the bud before the cortisol kicks in. You can do with:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Chatting with friends
  • Talk therapy
  • Relaxing music
  • Strolling
  • Art
  • Reading
  • Children
  • Neat environment

Mindful Eating
Intuitive or mindful eating helps you experience food with joy, awareness, and purpose as opposed to for emotional, social, or psychological reasons. There are many tenets of mindful eating, but if you can start with purely making the act of eating a sensory experience, you will be on your way.

When eating, take your time to engage all your senses:

  • See
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch  (pay attention to the texture)
  • Listen (chew well)

My new book is out!

Reinvent your diet, take control of your health, and live a better life with a flexible and sustainable plant-based diet solution.