No matter your level of crazy in the pursuit of healthy eating, you probably still get those junk food cravings every once in awhile. It may surprise you that indulging these cravings is essential to your mentally sanity. The key is moderation. What I mean by moderation is simply, don’t overdo it. A slice of pizza every once in a while is much different than eating a whole pizza and washing it down with some Pepsi every night. Those are obviously two extremes, but you get the idea. You know yourself, you know your like and dislikes, and most importantly, when it comes to healthy eating, you know your weaknesses. Healthy eating with some moderation is empowering. It is a skill that, like any other, can be strengthened over time. The following are some tips to help in your goal of healthy eating and strategies to beat food cravings in their tracks
One key to curbing those cravings is to be prepared. Let me paint a mental picture for you. It’s 3 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, you are at the office typing away on some report or spreadsheet when all of a sudden it hits you. The Craving. Your stomach growls and soon you can’t think about anything other than how to tame the wild beast. What do you do? A frantic scramble through your desk drawers only yields a strand of used dental floss, a AAA battery and a Nokia charging cord. You turn to your co-worker. They offer you some gum. No, that won’t work. Suddenly you’re sweating profusely and panting like a Pomeranian puppy. Ah ha. The basement. The vending machines. You rush down the stairs in a panic only to find that your vending machine options are Sun Chips or Skittles. Which do you do? At this point, pick which ever one you think your body needs more of, Yellow number 5 or hydrogenated vegetable oil. Let this be a lesson to you. Next time be prepared. The first step to handling cravings is stopping them before they start. If you had prepared beforehand, and had a handful of almonds in your purse or some string cheese and an apple in the break room, this scenario could have been avoided. Cravings tend to sneak up on us when you haven’t properly fueled your body. By planning ahead to have food on hand to eat a small healthy meal every couple hours, you’ll be less inclined to give in to the cravings when they hit.
The important thing to remember is that for a small meal to property fuel your body it should be high in protein and fiber. This combination of nutrients will slow digestion and help you feel full longer. In contrast, foods high in sugar or refined starch, like the Skittles or Sun Chips in our horror scenario, digest quickly and can cause a blood-sugar rebound, causing your to sugar cravings to go into overdrive. Rule of thumb, a snack should have at least five grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. For meals, at least 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber.
Here some ideas:
2 sticks of String Cheese and an Apple
1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese and a handful of raspberries
2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter on celery sticks
Handful of almonds (I’m a big fan of the flavored almonds from Blue Diamond)
Sometimes hungry brings along its whiny little sister, thirsty. They can often be misconstrued. When your stomach growls, down some water and wait. If after 30 minutes or so, you still feel hungry then eat one of the delicious healthy snacks you have prepared for yourself (see #1 above). We all should drink more water. It’s good for the body and practically free. If drinking water becomes a chore, sass it up a bit with the one of the many water infusers on the market now. There’s fruit flavored packets and drops that you can add to any bottle of water to make the chore that much easier. You can typically find these water enhancers in the juice aisle in any grocery or supermarket.
By it, I mean your body of course. Moving your body releases a hormone called endorphins. These hormones make you feel good, which is one of the reasons people enjoy working out, running marathons other physical activities. There’s another hormone that makes you feel good called seratonin. Studies have shown that delicious sugary or fatty foods release this hormone. This is why we love that bacon-maple bar from the local main street bakery, deep dish pizza from Gino’s East in Chicago and that amazing handmade peanut butter chocolate fudge from Nellie’s Sweet Shoppe in Smithville, Missouri. When we eat these types of foods we are transported to that happy place where everything seems right with the world. That’s the seratonin talkin’. By substituting a workout for a junk food craving, your body gets the good feeling without the guilt. It’s a more healthy way to get that happy feeling.
4.Test the Beast
Here is an easy way to test the cravings beast. It’s an imaginary game to test whether your craving is physical or mental. You feel the beast start to rage, imagine you have a bowl of grapes in front of you. Would that bowl of _____ (you fill in the blank with a healthy snack) satisfy the craving? If the answer is yes, then it’s physiological, so go eat something. If the thought of a bowl of ________is not appetizing to you, then it’s not hunger is probably due to something mental, stress, boredom, depression, etc. Now you can assess what need your body is really trying to meet. It could be a cure for boredom or comfort from the stress of a long rough workday.
5. Just have whatever you’re craving, guilt-free.
So you’ve tried everything. You have followed all the steps, locked yourself in your room and called an exorcist and you still can’t stop thinking about that chocolate dipped canoli. For your mental sanity, indulge yourself, have that canoli. Once you do, it will be out of your head and you can focus again on eating well. This is a last case scenario.
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