How to Control Your Cravings

Why am I always craving unhealthy food? What does this mean? Don't stress – here are a few ways to keep your cravings in check. 

Ever had the uncontrollable urge to eat? Has the *insert dangerously addictive and unhealthy snack here* in your desk drawer been calling out to you more often than you'd care to admit?

Of course you have – this has happened to all of us, even those people with the strictest eating habits.

Hunger is a physiological prompt designed to tell us when we need to have something to eat, but we also experience slightly-more-extreme food cravings, which feel like unavoidable temptations and have you reaching for the biscuit tin in no time at all.

So, why do we get cravings and how do we control them?

Understanding types of hunger

Before we get onto to strategies for keeping your cravings at bay, it's a good idea to better understand 'hunger' itself, because nowadays the interpretation of hunger has gotten a bit muddled.

A general understanding of hunger is usually split into two main categories, 'true' hunger and mouth hunger.

True hunger is self-explanatory. This is a physiological and logical hunger need – it explains those loud stomach growls you get at the most awkward possible moments, low energy, a lack of concentration, and maybe even a headache. In a nutshell: you haven’t eaten for a long time and need to eat, and your body has decided to let you know about it.

Conversely, mouth hunger is all in your head. (Maybe it should be called 'brain hunger'? Might conjure up too many images of zombies to be helpful...) Either way, it explains the feeling when we crave a particular food or flavour – these cravings are often associated with unhealthy foods and have more to do with our mindset as opposed to basic hunger needs for survival.

What are food cravings?

Cravings are extremely common and every person experiences them differently. For most people, cravings for particular foods can come out of nowhere or can be linked to stress, a particular smell, sight, or even just talking about specific foods. 

Most of the foods we crave are often high in sugar, salts and unhealthy fats, like chocolate. Cravings have a unique motivational power that won't be satisfied until you've had that particular food, and this can become a problem when we associate them with negative mood cycles and unhealthy eating habits. What’s worse about these bad cravings is that they can be particularly difficult to curb. But we know you know that, because why else would you be here?

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Food triggers

Food is constantly around us, making it difficult to avoid the ‘triggers’ and manage our self-control for unhealthy cravings and snacking.

It’s not always a bad thing to give in to your cravings and have that piece of cake, because the chances are it won’t massively steer you off course from any healthy eating or wellness goal.

However, repeating this process is where cravings become an issue. Eating the cake won’t be nutritionally beneficial or necessarily scratch your foodie itch. If you end up doing this daily it could turn into an unhealthy eating habit.

This can often lead to feelings of guilt or annoyance with ourselves, creating bad relationships with food. It’s not always easy, but learning to manage your cravings is key.

How to keep your cravings under control

Understanding and controlling cravings is how we master them – you don’t need a crazy diet or to completely avoid them, you just need to learn more about them.

Next time you feel a craving, follow these practical tips to think about how and why you’re having the craving and how to control it. Here are a few tips for keeping your cravings in check:

  • Eat regular meals and stick to a schedule – get into the habit of not skipping meals even if you are trying to be ‘good’ or because you feel guilty about what you ate earlier. Intermittent Fasting diets are good for creating an eating schedule.
  • Listen to your body – eat regularly and only when you are genuinely hungry. Learn the difference between physiological and psychological hunger.
  • Identify what’s causing your cravings – keep a food and feelings diary by jotting down what you eat and when, and how you feel before and afterwards. This may help you identify triggers and problematic times of the day, and to recognise if you're snacking for comfort, boredom or loneliness. Those feelings are more closely connected to hunger than you probably realise.
  • Reduce stress levelsstress or emotional eating leads to craving comfort foods as an anecdote for releasing pressures. Through times of stress, our body also holds on to cortisol, which can impact weight gain. Reducing your levels of stress, using other, healthier remedies can help kick this unhealthy habit. Go for a walk, meditate, or read a book – all of these can provide comfort from stresses.
  • Find a hobby or interest – if you are snacking for comfort, eating will not make the problem go away. Do something to occupy yourself to avoid nibbling. Try chatting with a friend, exercising, watching a film, or having a relaxing bath
  • Make eating a separate activity - many people snack while doing certain things, and consequently, the activity then becomes a signal for a craving. For example, watching TV and snacking, or eating an entire bucket of popcorn at the cinema before the trailers have even finished.

Suppress cravings with healthier options:

  • Have regular drinks – this will help to keep you feeling full. Hot drinks are particularly useful as hot liquids empty from the stomach slower than cooler ones, and sugar-free fizzy drinks can help to satisfy your taste buds
  • Drink plenty of water - being well hydrated throughout the day means you do not confuse thirst for hunger and can stay healthy and feeling fuller for longer.
  • Snack sensibly – fruit and berries are a great choice and will help curb sweet cravings. Sugar-free jelly is also a great snack.

One important thing to remember is that, even if you slip up, give in, and reach for the proverbial piece of cake – it isn’t going to be the end of the world. Forgoing certain cravings can have an adverse effect on your healthy-eating habits and can cause you to have a low mood and potentially develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

As you can take control of your unhealthy cravings, over time you may soon realise that you don’t actually need the food that you’re craving or can moderate your cravings healthily. The result could be an improved mood and being able to reach any fitness or wellness goals more easily with fewer setbacks.

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