Desire can be a good and useful part of the human experience, but sometimes it can lead to detrimental cravings. Left unchecked, indulging in your cravings keeps you in a perpetual state of wanting more: more sugar, more carbs, more caffeine — more of all those feel-good foods that give you a temporary energetic or emotional boost.
Few of us are immune to cravings. Research shows that cravings are unrelated to body mass index. Yet for women who are overweight or obese, cravings usually are for foods high in fat and processed foods.
I’ve found that I can crave almost anything, but usually it involves carbs (even the healthy type) – sweet potatoes with ghee, chips and guacamole, or flourless chocolate cake.
Luckily, kicking cravings is something that’s within your control, although it may take a little practice to form new, craving-busting habits. Here are five tips for success.
1. Interrupt the craving.
A craving usually lasts only 15 minutes. Knowing that there’s an end in sight can sometimes be enough to carry you through without eating your problem food. My first tip is to choose a way to interrupt your craving pattern, like the following example:
- Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- Drink a tall glass of filtered water.
- “Take 10” — that is, 10 deep belly breaths with a five-count inhale and five-count exhale.
There are other ways to interrupt the pattern, whether it’s to call a friend, chew gum, or make a gratitude list. You can ride out the craving until it passes.
Still craving after 15 minutes? Eat two ounces of protein (20 almonds, or five forkfuls of wild-caught salmon).
2. Maintain your blood sugar with regular meals and snacks.
When your body is fueled properly and frequently, cravings have less of an opportunity to develop. I find that most cravings arise from a problem with blood sugar, so eat every four to six hours to reset these hormones. Make sure your meals and snacks include a minimum of 4 to 6 ounces of clean protein (lentils, wild-caught fish, pastured chicken or eggs, wild meat), fiber, and healthy fats to keep you full.
3. Forgive and forget.
Cravings can quickly derail your dietary progress. For instance, you indulge a sugar craving, then decide that you’ve entirely blown it anyway, so why not eat junk the rest of the day? This kind of attitude is like slashing the other three tires on your car because one went flat. Ridiculous, right? If you go overboard, pick yourself up and move on. You’re not a failure.
4. Get hormone help.
If you’re doing everything right and still can’t seem to resist cravings, it’s possible you may have a persistent hormonal imbalance that’s making things more difficult. Once you’ve ruled out psychological issues that may relate to food (addiction, disordered eating symptoms, grief, etc.), consider getting a complete hormonal assessment done to see if there could be a biological cause behind your cravings. Important hormones to consider: cortisol, thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, leptin, insulin, ghrelin, and adiponectin.
5. Root out the cause.
I’d put this tip first, but you may need the preceding steps to feel strong enough to go deeper, and ask yourself, What do I really want? Ask yourself what your “inner saboteur” is trying to do. Read an inspiring quote or text. Be open to unearthing the truth about your cravings, and what they point to in your life. Sometimes exploring this can yield clarity and insights needed to decode the divine message of your cravings.
Swaps that satisfy
Learning to substitute something healthy for your go-to indulgence can feel tricky — at first. But remember that this is how good habits are created and become second nature. We can learn new habits in just a few weeks. So whether you want some support during a detox or are committed to kicking that craving for life, here are healthy alternatives to turn to when cravings call.
Swap your cup of joe for hot water mixed with lemon and cayenne pepper. Make a beautiful pot of herbal tea. You should get a similar feeling of stimulation, and the drink will double as a detoxifying elixir.
Cheese contains casomorphins (opiate-like compounds!), which make it hard to stop eating that chunk of manchego once you start. Opt for something that tastes rich but is dairy free, like hummus. You can also make a batch of cashew “cheese,” which involves grinding up raw cashews in the blender with nutritional yeast, almond milk, salt and a few spices. It’s guaranteed to satisfy that creamy craving.
Hankering for a burger doesn’t mean you need to hit the drive-through. The nutrients and protein found in wild, cold-water fish, organic poultry, or even legumes (ever tried a lentil or black bean burger?) are healthier than what you get from conventional red meat.
Got a sugar craving? My go-to treat for satisfying this urge is a piece of organic, extra-dark chocolate. Aim for 85% cacao or higher.
If you’re used to relaxing with a little wine in the evenings, replace that vino with a glass of coconut kefir. A fermented drink rich in probiotics and enzymes, coconut kefir is fizzy and talks to the DNA of your gut bacteria in a powerful, loving way. Coconut kefir has a bit of a bite – it’s the perfect thing to sip on instead of booze.
Remember that one of the most effective strategies to tame your cravings is prevention. If you’re eating the right foods and fueling your body with regular meals, cravings will probably show up less often. What happens when you get to the point where you no longer touch the doughnut box at that staff meeting, or you finally kick your caffeine habit for good? It’s likely you can conquer just about anything.
For more help identifying which of your hormones are rockin’ steady, and which ones need TLC, take my FREE Hormone Quiz.
Originally published at SaraGottfiedMD.com