This article is also available on Nutrition in Motion's blog NIM Dish
Quell Those Cravings
Sarah Reid, RHNC
Cravings are famous for their difficult-to-ignore nature. From alcohol to cigarettes, obsessive indulgences spark 12-step programs worldwide and just as many “quick fix” schemes. But one of the most common yens for people is food. Is it possible that food can overtake those same “addiction” brain processes that fire in other behaviours such as smoking? The “craving centres” are the same on the cortex regardless of the cause, and the sheer inability to control the indulgent behaviour they trigger is one of the root causes of poor, or over, eating. Breaking the cycle of craving-indulgence-guilt is undeniably hard, but there are several proven methods of fighting them one at a time.
Keep a food and mood journal for a few days – document each and every morsel you put into your mouth, and how you were feeling emotionally at the time. This allows you to keep tabs on your triggers, your common comfort foods and “risk times”. Notice that you always gr
ab a latte with friends at 10:30? See if your group can come up with a social “norm” away from food at that time (gab-fest over glasses of ice water, anyone?), or agree to meet once a week for the treat instead of every day. Chances are, they’ll appreciate the reduction in their own trigger situations, and you’ll appreciate that weekly treat even more.
Combat your triggers by realizing what they are and when they occur – and planning for them. Preplanning works to your advantage by either helping you avoid the risky situations in the first place or subconsciously occupying that part of the brain with a “no I won’t” thought. Speak your intention out loud for the maximum impact, and in situations you can’t avoid (such as monotonous desk work at a job), prepare a healthy distraction such as an herbal fruit tea or cut fruit and vegetables. Other stop-eating tips such as brushing your teeth or chewing gum impart a fresh-mouth, minty feeling that deadens the taste of other foods and works as a type of aversion therapy to overindulging. Before digging in, drink 2 cups of cold water – if you’re dehydrated, not truly hungry, it will take the edge off.
Is it boredom, stress, or habit to eat a certain food that’s the problem? Develop a new, non-food ritual that packs a double (or triple) whammy by combining distraction, stress relief and/or exercise. Leave a pair of runners at the office and take a walk outside while the coffee-break snacks circulate, or stretch for two to three minutes along with deep-breathing exercises. At home, flip on your favourite radio station, go out for a walk with the family or the dog, tend the garden or phone a friend (or your parents!) for a chat. Another major stress buster is sleep. Even minor sleep deprivation raises the likelihood of overeating. Ideally a minimum of seven hours should make up your sleep cycle, and unlike a bank account, you can’t count on the weekends to “catch up” on your deficit.
Aromatherapy, acupressure and even flavor restriction have also shown to keep the lid on cravings. Essential oils (or even candles) such as grapefruit, peppermint, lemon and bergamot stave off appetite pangs, while cinnamon, banana and green apple scents work best for sweet cravings. The section of cartilage just below the ears, near the jaw joint, is an appetite control point for acupuncture and acupressure therapy. Pinch the section firmly (but not going into pain) for about 30 seconds, then release. Wait 30 seconds and repeat the process twice more, a total of three pinch-release cycles in all. When you are actually hungry, simply picking the right food can be the difference between success and failure in terms of overeating. A type of therapy known as flavour-restriction has been shown to prevent overindulgence by enhancing the speed of satiety. Allowing yourself one taste at a time (say oranges or strawberries) saturates your tastebuds and stimulates your “fullness” indicator faster than eating a variety (think a fruit salad).
At the end of the day when cravings hit, sit down and write out the top 5 reasons you want to eat. Hunger not the first reason? Get out of the kitchen, brush your teeth and go for a walk.