Food cravings are quite common among people of all ages and genders and are probably the most common complaint I get from my clients.
There are two types of cravings that people generally experience: physical cravings and emotional cravings. Let’s explore them:
Physical cravings are typically experienced as a result of physiological imbalances or deficiencies, such as a lack of certain nutrients or an imbalance in hormones like insulin or leptin (the satiety hormone). These types of cravings are often intense and urgent, and can manifest as a strong desire for a specific type of food, like chocolate or salty snacks. If you do have strong cravings for chocolate, you might want to check your magnesium levels, for example.
Emotional cravings, on the other hand, are usually triggered by feelings of stress, anxiety, boredom, trauma, or other emotional states, and are often associated with specific situations or events that act as the trigger. These types of cravings are typically less urgent than physical cravings but can still be difficult to resist, especially when they become a habit or part of a routine.
Here are my top five strategies to address both types of cravings:
Eat balanced meals with protein and fiber: Eating balanced meals that include protein and fiber can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent sudden drops that can trigger cravings. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings for sweets and high-fat foods later in the day. You can try adding more eggs, turkey, protein powder, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, dairy products just to name a few. Additionally, a study published in Appetite found that consuming fiber-rich meals reduced cravings for high-calorie snacks. Oats, leafy greens, legumes, and fruits are just some fiber-rich foods to integrate.
Get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation can increase cravings for high-calorie foods. A study published in the journal Sleep found that participants who were sleep-deprived had increased activity in the brain's reward center in response to food images, indicating a greater desire for high-calorie foods. Prioritize sleep and make sure you go to bed early and sleep between 6-7 hours of quality sleep every night.
Manage stress: Stress can trigger food cravings and increase the consumption of high-calorie foods. A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that participants who underwent stress-reduction training had fewer food cravings and less frequent binge eating episodes compared to those who did not receive training. Try meditation, yoga, breathing exercising, listening to music, dancing, singing or spending time with friends.
Practice mindful eating: Mindful eating can help you become more aware of your body's hunger and fullness signals, which can help prevent overeating and reduce food cravings. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who practiced mindful eating techniques had reduced food cravings and improved eating self-regulation.
Practice distraction techniques: Engaging in distracting activities, such as exercise or hobbies, can help reduce the intensity and duration of food cravings. A study published in Appetite found that participants who engaged in physical activity had reduced cravings for high-calorie foods compared to those who were inactive.
From dietary changes to mindfulness techniques, the above strategies are all backed by scientific research.
Whether you're struggling with a sweet tooth or find yourself reaching for salty snacks when stressed, these tips can help you overcome your cravings, be in control, and stay on track towards a healthier you.