You started your day with a Roasted Red Pepper Frittata and kicked that midmorning hunger with a Java Boost Shake.
A warm, hearty bowl of Beef Chipotle Chili with Corn Pudding for lunch and crunchy Parmesan Italiano Chips for an afternoon pick-me-up was also so satisfying.
Then came along Chicken Meatballs with Marinara and Linguine for dinner, which felt like an indulgence rather than a balanced meal.
You followed your meal plan to a T throughout the day then it happened… A ravenous craving creeping up fast right before bedtime.
There are two things you could do:
1. Feed into the craving or 2. Avoid it.
Or, better yet, there’s a third option:
3. earn why the craving bombarded into your head and how to handle it.
Before grasping cravings and how to tackle them, though, it is important to understand what cravings actually are.
Cravings 101: What They Are & Potential Causes
Hunger and cravings are often used interchangeably, though there are definite and important distinctions between the two.
Hunger is a physical need for food. It results in a growling stomach, headache, and loss of energy. Hunger is often not exclusive to one food, and people likely feel satisfied after eating.
Cravings, on the other hand, are predominantly a mental desire. They are mostly stimulated and fueled by negative feelings and emotions. Cravings tend to be comfort food-specific - including products rich in sugar, fat, and salt - and can pass with time. If cravings are fed into, people are commonly unsatisfied following their intake and may even feel guilty.
Cravings result from physical, emotional, and environmental factors that influence the way your body and brain function. More specific causes of cravings may include:
1. A Diet Rich In Refined Carbs: Whether snacking on crackers at your desk or the breadbasket at the dinner table, foods laden in refined carbs can actually provoke additional hunger. Unlike whole grain products, refined carbs are stripped from satiating fiber and valuable nutrients.
When breads, pastas, crackers, and other products rich in refined carbs are consumed, the body releases insulin, which facilitates the entry of glucose from the blood to the cells to use as energy. Ultimately, the body will crave more food to balance out this drop in blood sugar and make you feel hungrier.
2. Dehydration: A dehydrated body can easily mistake thirst for hunger. So instead of pouring a glass of water to hydrate, you may feel tempted to reach for an unnecessary snack.
3. Boredom: It is a common sequence of events… You are bored in front of the television, walk into the kitchen, realize you are not even hungry, but still continue to find something to munch on.
4. Feeling Overly Stressed: A stressful day and high emotions can have you reaching for food for comfort. These namely comfort foods often laden in sugar, salt, and fat activates the pleasure and reward centers of the brain and makes us feel good.
Especially overtime, a high intake of sugar can tarnish hunger and satiety cues and heighten cravings.
Managing Cravings On Your BistroMD Plan
So you may be wondering, “My diet is free of refined carbs and the stress is taken out of meal prep, so why am I craving foods with a balanced, structured meal plan?”
Use these steps for pinpointing why you might be experiencing a craving:
1. Distinguish Between Hunger and Craving
You first need to evaluate if the feeling is a craving or true hunger. Again, more times than not, cravings are emotion and boredom-based and surface and intensify the desire for a sweet scoop of ice cream, chocolate chip cookie, or a slice of leftover cake. But before raiding the kitchen amidst an intense sugar craving, truly ask yourself and scale the question, “Am I hungry?”
If truly hungry, consult with a bistroMD dietitian to determine if you are eating enough for your personal needs. They can further advise slightly increasing calories and protein, as well as ensuring adequate hydration. Really, you should not be hungry on the bistroMD plan!
2. Evaluate the Environment
Still having trouble shaking off that craving? Evaluate the environment to see if there are external cues. This may include a readily-available candy dish or constant baked goods in the breakroom.
3. Check-In with Emotional Health
Cravings are often driven by emotions, so check in with yourself and how you’ve been feeling. Take note if a craving surfaces if feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or bored. Doing so is helpful for managing cravings in the future.
4. Learn How to STOP Cravings & Temptations
Whenever tempted to deviate from your plan, “STOP!” This is an acronym for a four-step process that can help stop a craving right in its tracks.
STOP! Visualize a stop sign and hear the word "stop." Immediately stop what you're doing!
TAKE a deep, cleansing breath. This creates a "window of opportunity" during which you can become aware of the temptation facing you and can start over.
OBSERVE your situation and analyze your options. What's going on? How are you feeling? Hungry, angry, lonely, tired? What do you want? What do you need? What really matters to you? What choices do you have? What actions will help you move toward what's really important to you?
PLAN an action. Choose a plan of action based on one or more of the options available to you and put that plan into operation. Shift the focus away from food by diverting attention, including by:
If you find yourself ever thinking, “I'm tired of not eating what I want. I'm going to have a treat!” make an active choice to focus on the benefits of maintaining your healthy lifestyle and bistroMD program.
Let yourself hear whatever voices inside you are suggesting that you abandon or sabotage your program, and pause long enough to acknowledge and respond to those voices. Encourage yourself as you would a close friend!
Transform an old action into a new way of reactive, too.
Old Action: Food thought or craving → Give in → Eat → Feel guilty → Give up
New Way: Food thought or craving → Stop → Take a deep breath → Observe → Plan of action
The more often you enforce “STOP,” the more effective you will start to become. That's because after you do something successfully again and again, it starts becoming natural.
It becomes part of you and a habit... A GREAT habit worth holding onto!