How to tell your cravings you don’t care how hard they huff or puff, they can’t come in!
Diet is indeed a four letter word often doomed to a cyclical pattern of commitment, success, craving, binge and recommit! The problem is that after so many cycles the success and recommit sections become fewer and farther between while binge eating on your junk food of choice slowly becomes the everyday norm.
Cravings come in every flavor from sweet or salty to fatty comfort foods and chocolate. Anyone trying to improve eating habits can tell you these cravings can be strong and persistent, making you feel like the frightened little pig as the big bad wolf howls from inside your pantry door.
Some diet guides will say all that is needed it to toss the offending foods way. Simply remove them from your home, car, purse, or desk drawer. If you have tried this then you may know what a boomerang effect it can have. You purge your space of all that is on the diet no-no list, only to find yourself stalking the kitchen cupboards searching desperately for something that was left behind. Finally you give in, drive to the nearest convenience store, and eat like a little pig.
Get the Wolf On the Couch!
Simply tossing the wolf out is not enough. If you are going to defeat your cravings once and for all you need to have more than a super-sized puncture-proof hefty bag. You need to understand what causes those cravings, how to dismantle them, and most importantly how to fill the void left once you chuck them out of your life.
Cravings have root causes of two basic kinds: physical or emotional comfort and nutritional deficiencies. Almost anyone can relate to the comfort aspect of a craving. There is a whole category of foods widely accepted as comfort foods. What is less obvious is that some cravings are actually your body’s way of signaling to you that it needs something.
Cravings can be multi-faceted. Cravings can be classed into four taste experiences: sweet, fatty foods, salty, and chocolate. If you understand what is driving your cravings you will be able to beat them. Use the two pronged attack of substitutions and supplements to keep your cravings permanently at bay.
The Understudy Becomes the Star
The first string of defense against cravings is to get help from other foods that are healthier choices, yet fill the demands of the craving. This is not always easy; after all there is very little out there that can stand in chocolate’s shoes. It is difficult, but definitely not impossible.
The idea of bringing the understudy is distasteful to many, because that is their exact perception of the substitute: distasteful. It doesn’t have to be like that, expecially with the incredible variety of low calorie substitutions available in any supermarket.
Sweets mean different things to different people: candy, pastries or sodas. The main linking factor is sugar. Sweets are exactly that because they are loaded with sugar. To trick your tongue an adequate substitute must also be sweet.
The anatomy of a sugar craving usually rests in the body’s need for sugar. Knowing what you’re after is a treat and not really the candy, icing, or cupcake makes finding an appropriate fill in that much easier. Almost anything sweet can fill that gap.
A really effective choice is fruit. Wait! Before you totally roll your eyes and walk away, be honest and appraising. Everyone has a special fruit that they love, but don’t keep on hand due to expense or it isn’t anyone else’s favorite. Take a stroll through the produce section and get your most delectable treat and keep it around so when the sweet tooth begins to knock you have an answer. Add some light whipped cream to sliced strawberries, or cinnamon sprinkled on apple slices and you have a dessert!
Speaking of cinnamon, this might seem like a nonsense filler spice, but cinnamon is a champ when it comes to beating down sugar cravings. Grab a piece of toast and dust it lightly with cinnamon. This will hit the spot for sure, but it also helps to control blood sugar levels so you don’t find yourself needing another sugar boost in an hour when the glucose in your blood crashes. Dieters who included a 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon in a snack were able to go for hours longer before feeling hungry. They also reported being more energetic, as cinnamon helps with energy levels.
Sugar-free options for candies and cakes are everywhere. Like anything, limit your portion sizes and look at overall total calories. A snack pack size of sugar free chocolate pudding with a few dollops of light whipped topping can tame even the meanest chocolate craving, for about 1/3 of the calories of a sugar-loaded candy bar.
Remember to take note of your cravings; it could just be your body’s habitual rhythm kicking into action. Do you go on the rampage looking for a treat around 3 pm every day? Is your danger hour just before bed? If you do have a habitual sweet tooth prepare with a healthy sweet alternative and time it a little earlier so you beat the craving before it starts.
Lastly: chew gum. It is true a sweet flavor of gum can really fill the sweet craving without the extra calories.
Salty, Salty, Salty
You don’t go for sweets, but give you a bag of potato chips and stand back! This craving is a killer for many. We're not going to suggest you substitute other crunchy snacks for crunchy chips. We haven't met a celery stick that could compete with a ruffled chip. What you do need to find is another salt source.
If you cook from scratch and don’t add much salt to your food a salt craving could be your body telling you that you actually need more. This does not mean you should purchase a salt lick or treat chips like another food group. All you need to do is salt your food to taste.
If addressing your salt cravings by allowing for more salt at meal times doesn’t help, then it might be time for substitutes. The great news here is that there are so many reduced salt options. Try popcorn that you make yourself instead of chips.
Instead of salting your foods, choose other spices like rosemary or garlic. These flavors can really make the foods you eat appealing without the health detriments of salt.
Another option is to switch to nuts instead of chips. Nuts might be salty, but they supply vital nutrients that an empty calorie chip never will. It is also easier to feel satisfied after a handful of nuts. Nuts also have the belly fat blasting benefit of monounsaturated fats. Chips seem to dig the void deeper and deeper without ever filling it in.
From the Fryer
French fries, bacon, cheese: whose mouth isn’t watering? Fatty cravings cover a wide array of flavors and palate preferences. This is why perhaps they are among the most difficult to spot. It is easy to spot the not good-for-you elements of a sugar laden, salt encrusted treat, but what’s wrong with a nice marbled steak?
Cravings for fatty foods are just as bad for you health as any other kind of craving. The upshot is that this kind of craving is also more easily substituted in a way that fools the taste buds so completely they would never suspect you of not giving into their fatty whims.
You want a steak. Fine, just trim all the fat off prior to cooking and don’t eat the fatty portions at meal time. Do you like butter on your morning muffin? Switch to a butter substitute. Most taste just like butter without all the calories and fat.
Instead of using oil to sauté your evening meals use broth. Instead of oil in your cakes and waffle batters try applesauce and flaxseed. Often the flavor and texture is improved upon, all without the added fats.
You can also make your own would-be fatty snacks and bake them instead of frying them. There are many very tasty recipes for oven-baked French fries, oven-fried chicken, or chips. Baking instead of frying reduces the fat content to almost nothing, but the taste is preserved.
Cheeses are a sticking point for many. You don’t have to skip the cheese to cut out fat. A combination of the reducing and substituting techniques works well. Cutting back the amount will cut back the fats added by cheeses, but you are unlikely to notice unless you reduce the amount by more than half. You can also use sharper, more flavorful varieties of cheese. This allows for maximum flavor using a minimum amount of cheese.
Chocolate, My Friend and Yours
The most popular sugar substitute is carob. Carob is also made from plants, and tastes similar to chocolate but without the caffeine and usually the added sugars. Carob can be used to stand in for chocolate in baking when making dipping sauces. Some people find they actually prefer carob.
If we are being really honest with ourselves, if you are a dyed in the wool chocoholic, there is simply no other substance on earth that can possibly hope to take its place. If this is the song your cravings sing, there is still hope that you’ll be able to whip things into shape.
The answer here is to cut back and take a step up. Instead of going for quantity, choose quality. You will find your mouth will be just as happy with once or two pieces of really good chocolate as it would be with a king sized chocolate bar of a lesser quality. Your hips will thank you for eating less because you will find fewer inches settling onto them.
Another benefit of ‘quality’ chocolate is that it usually has less sugar than its lower-quality counter parts. It is the sugars in chocolate that do the real damage. The added sugars create the binge cycle as your glucose levels alternately soar and crash. With each crash you find yourself needing another chocolate bar. Chocolate, dark chocolate in particular, that has less sugar does not perpetuate this cycle, thus you naturally eat less.
Dark chocolates carry nutritional benefits as well that you just don’t get from lesser quality chocolates with a higher sugar content than actual chocolate.
You can easily get a chocolate fix with sugar-free, fat-free chocolate pudding, sugar-free frozen fudge pops, and drizzling sugar-free chocolate sauce on fruit. Recipes for fat-free, sugar-free chocolate goodies abound, make some ahead of time and have them on hand when a craving strikes.
Substitute low calorie low fat choices for high calorie, obesity-inducing foods. Not only will your slim, trim body make it worthwhile, but your energy levels from eating healthier will soar! In then end you will find balancing your diet will be the biggest craving fighter of all.
When to Talk to A Doctor
Sometimes, cravings turn into addictions. When we think about an addiction, we often don't think about sugar and salt. Instead, our brains usually default to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Anything can turn into an addiction, including sugar and salt.
Sugar addictions in particular are more common than you might think. If you find yourself unable to resist eating a sugary sweet no matter how hard you try, or if you suffer from certain physical or mental side effects after avoiding sugar for a period of time, you may have a sugar addiction. A sugar addiction is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
Sugar addictions can cause major health problems if left untreated. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are only just a few of the issues you could face due to an unhealthily high sugar intake. The sooner you get help for this problem, the better. Talk to your doctor if you believe you are experiencing a sugar addiction.
The same goes for salt, or any other type of food or food ingredient. Food addictions are often linked to stress and other mental health issues, so consider whether you've been experiencing elevated anxiety or depression lately. If you have, speak to a mental health professional about whether those mental health issues are connected to your food addiction.
The content of this article should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the opinion of a qualified medical professional before making decisions that affect your health.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©iStock.com/stocksnapper.