Hands-down, the topic that comes up the most when I talk nutrition with my friends and family, is cravings. Specifically, questions about how to go about getting cravings in check. Raise your hand if you’ve experienced this at some point in your life. Maybe you’re experiencing it right at this moment! Tis the season for eating. I think we could change the saying “Seasons Greetings” to “Seasons Eatings” at this time of year. If your craving monster was in its cage before, you may have found it starting to escape the past month or so and, with Christmas right around the corner, you can’t see getting him back in the cage anytime soon. So, with that said, what can we do to try and keep him as contained as possible over the holiday season and at any other time he rears his ugly head?
Today I want to talk about some tactics you can use to keep the craving monster at bay so he doesn’t continue to sabotage your health and fitness efforts. Some of these will seem fairly common sense, but sometimes all we need is a little reminder and a cue to check in with ourselves when it comes to our food intake.
- Make sure you are eating enough at each meal (3-4 meals a day). Often when we are not eating to satiation, we find ourselves reaching for food throughout the day. And more often than not, it ends up being food that is less than optimal (queue the holiday cookies and candy). An easy way to avoid falling into this behavior is to ensure you are eating to satisfaction. If you feel at all deprived after a meal, you are setting your craving monster up for an appearance.
- Use preemptive cheats to ensure you have the willpower to avoid the holiday treats. What does this look like you might ask? If you’re going to a holiday gathering or to any environment you know will be littered with all kinds of holiday, sugary goodness, make a point to eat something that hits that pleasure center before you get there. This doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to eat whatever or as much as you want, but enough of something that really helps take the edge off. For me this can be as simple as a piece of dark chocolate or a part of a protein bar. If you still think you may be victim to the craving monster at the gathering, take your preemptive treat with you and when you feel him start to make an appearance, consume the treat in that moment. This will likely be enough to keep him contained.
- Eat your veggies and protein! Cravings for sugary, starchy or salty treats usually points to some kind of dietary inadequacy. You are likely not getting enough protein and/or veggies (namely, fiber) to make and keep you satiated. The problem with this is you are missing out on the many benefits that come with consuming adequate amounts of veggies and protein, such as longer satiation and a higher metabolic rate of digestion (takes more calories to digest these foods). Not to mention the plethora of health benefits that go along with this. If you tend to be a big snacker, this probably impacts you even more, as most snack foods seriously lack veggies and protein and tend to be very carb-heavy, which, while immediately satisfying, have very little staying power.
- Don’t stand next to all the snacks and treats. We’ve all heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” well apply this to your next social event and you may find yourself avoiding unnecessary calories at the snack table. Unfortunately, what we see, we often eat, even when we are not really hungry. It’s almost like a reflex. But if we consciously choose to avoid the temptation that the snack table brings, we have a much better chance of avoiding the kinds of foods that will sabotage our health and fitness efforts. Additionally, if we can avoid this reflex up front, it will likely lead to better decisions as the meal continues. Because we all know that it is not uncommon to start eating unhealthy snacks, which then leads to eating unhealthy meals. Somehow we can rationalize it better to ourselves because if you’ve already been “bad,” whats the harm in continuing? And while some will have the willpower to stop this type of behavior in it’s tracks, for most it is a very slippery slope. Acknowledge what type of person you are and if the temptation of the snack table is too strong for you to resist, STEER CLEAR!
- Eat protein and veggies first. Fill up on the good stuff before you move onto the starchy and fattening stuff. If you’ve mostly filled up on protein and veggies, you will be less likely to consume a large amount of starch and fat and be more satiated after the fact. I never advocate abstaining completely from the delicious holiday goodies (stuffing could be an entire meal for me ;)), just keeping the amount you consume in check. These are the foods that produce the unwelcome feelings of guilt and shame that have no business being present around the holidays.
- Have an abundance mindset not a scarcity mindset. Simply put, realize these foods are not in short supply. They are not going extinct. They are always there if you want them. And just because they are in front of you, does not mean you have to eat them. It’s easy to justify scarcity around the holidays, as Grandma breaks out her famous holiday cookies only at this time of year, but I challenge you to break free from this mindset and ask yourself if you really want the treat or if you want it because you can’t always have it. If the answer is the latter, politely decline. But if the answer is that you really want it, indulge with no guilt and no remorse. Accept your decision and move on. Don’t let it derail you from your health and fitness goals. Just see it as an isolated indulgence and move on from there. Some think you have to be 100% compliant all the time, but the reality is, we can never be 100% anything at anytime. Instead of thinking you are falling off the wagon, realize the wagon doesn’t even exist and you are simply making a decision in line with your wants and needs.
- Find replacements for your problem cravings. This one is for those who have made a habit of eating certain foods unconsciously. Meaning, you feel compelled to eat a food at a certain point of the day even though you are likely not hungry, but you subconsciously desire it. This is best illustrated by the perpetual dessert eater. No matter what or how much they ate at dinner, dessert after is automatic. This type of behavior is usually ingrained in us from an earlier point in life, such as childhood when we were rewarded with dessert if we finished a meal, further cementing dessert as something we expect at the end of the meal. And what happens when we do not get what we expect? We are disappointed, maybe even depressed and seek the pleasure we are missing out on in any way we can get it. Food = pleasure. And while there is nothing wrong with food bringing pleasure, eating should be pleasurable, the problem is in using food as a crutch for pleasure, when there are likely many other things that bring us the kind of pleasure we are seeking. Some things that many find pleasurable and a good replacement for sugary foods are things like:
- Reading a good book
- Talking a bath
- Talking a walk
- Listening to music
- Watching a movie/favorite TV show
- Having a cup of tea
- Taking a nap
- Playing with a pet
If you haven’t tried a non-food replacement before, give it a go. You may find it wasn’t the food you really wanted after all, just the pleasure that it gives. But if you’ve tried this strategy before and you still find yourself reaching for food as a means of pleasure, start to explore healthier food options to replace the unhealthy ones. Some of my go-tos are things like:
- A square or two of dark chocolate
- A protein shake (good replacement for ice cream fiends)
- Greek Yogurt and berries
- Bedtime tea (just a hint of sweetness to take the edge off)
If you struggle with your craving monster and want to learn more ways to get him under control, Stronger Me coaching will help you build the skills you need to get him contained and under control for good.
For more information on coaching, see my coaching page or email me at email@example.com.
Become stronger than the craving monster,