Curb your Cravings with LA Fitnessby Debbie M., MS, RD –

If the mood strikes between meals and you are craving something in particular, should you give in? 

That depends on whether the desire is really hunger, appetite or a nutrient craving.  You see, the body has a pure driven need for energy expressed as hunger.  Environmental cues and emotional status can trigger appetite when no true hunger is present. Thus, very rarely will you actually experience a craving for a particular nutrient. This nutrient craving is described as physiological need for a compound present in a certain food.

Cravings are characterized by a strong desire that you will go out of your way to satisfy.  Cravings often surface as a result of stress and/or emotions.   Sometimes they are the byproduct of hormonal changes, such as during a woman’s monthly cycle.  Typically, the food desired is associated with positive feelings a person has experienced when eating the item in the past. Chocolate and pizza top the list as the most desired foods.

Once you determine the source of your craving you can address it appropriately.

How to Manage a Craving

You can use these tips to help curb your cravings.

  • Imagine yourself engaging in your favorite activity.  Yes, close your eyes and use mental imagery!  The pleasure derived from this can help reduce the intensity of the craving.
  • Write down what you’re feeling when you have the craving.  By putting your emotions and physical sensations into words, you may abate the need for unplanned eating.
  • Use a delay tactic. Instead of telling yourself “No”, say “I can have that later” and see how you feel about it in 15 minutes.  Often you become engaged another activity and the craving will subside.
  • Slowly eat a small portion of the desired food while focusing on the sensory characteristics of smell and taste.  The idea is to fully experience the flavor and hopefully eat less.
  • Identify the actual food characteristic that is at the core of your hankering.  Opt for something healthy that shares that quality. Check out the next section for some examples!

Crave This, Eat That

Try these alternatives to some common cravings.

  • Potato chips à low-fat popcorn; dry cereal; cheese & crackers.
  • Soda à Seltzer with lemon; calorie-free flavored water; iced tea.
  • Ice cream à protein smoothie; Greek yogurt & berries; nuts & banana.
  • Cookies à oatmeal & raisins; protein bar; half bagel & cream cheese.

Preventing Cravings

  • Increase your mental well-being by surrounding yourself with a strong support system, manage stress with effective coping skills, and boost emotional level with positive self-talk.
  • Reduce your chances of a craving by eating regular meals and not succumbing to fad diets or the use of diet pills.
  • If you’re reducing your calorie intake for weight loss, be sure to meet micronutrient needs. Take a generic daily multivitamin/mineral if gaps exist in your diet.
  • Be sure your diet is not overly restrictive or monotonous.  The greater the number of foods you have in your eating plan, the less frequent or intense you’ll experience cravings.

If you do give in, accept that it’s normal and that any nutritional damage incurred pales in comparison to beating yourself up about it.  On the other hand, the emotional success of overcoming a craving might win over the temporary pleasure derived from succumbing to it. Don’t look at forgoing a desired item as denying yourself, but rather a positive step toward the body you’re working so hard to attain.

Haley Nordbak contributed to this article

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