• Brodie Giesbrecht

The Best Way To Combat Food Cravings

There are many strategies that can be implemented to suppress cravings but understanding why we get cravings in the first place will improve your self-awareness and help you gain ownership when these cravings arise. Having these cravings in of itself are not bad, but when trying to stick to a regimented nutrition plan with the purpose of improving your body composition, they can get in the way. This article will cover common strategies to help you manage your cravings when they arise, resulting in better adherence to your nutrition plan.


Why Do We Get Cravings?


A common theory is that you crave certain foods because your body registers that you need their nutrients. When you are hungry, that may sound like a solid theory to support your need to eat that food, but is there any truth to this?


Sodium deficiency indeed tends to increase our cravings for salty food because salt

contains a lot of sodium. Although, sodium is an exceptionally tightly controlled micronutrient in the human body and still salt cravings are not necessarily because you have a sodium deficiency. A good example of this is that men experience more cravings for salty food than women, yet they don’t have higher rates of sodium deficiency. Sodium deficiency is exceptionally rare, much more rare than excessive sodium intake in this day of age. If you experience a craving for chips, its quite unlikely that it's because your body knows it will thrive on its salt content.


The whole idea of your body getting hungry for a specific food because it craves its nutritional value falls on its face when you look at other trace mineral deficiencies and their effect on your appetitie. For instance, zinc deficiency often causes a loss of appetite, not an increase.


The take home here is that no, our cravings are generally not caused by some inner sense in our body that knows we nutritionally need these foods. It is far more likely that it's nothing more than a rationalization to justify to ourselves why we should consume those tasty foods. Put simply, we just crave tasty foods. You like certain foods more than others and you want to eat what you like. There is nothing wrong with this but the problem arises when you are trying to adhere to a specific nutrition protocol and these higher calorie foods are making it hard to do so.


Researchers have developed the Food-Craving Inventory (FCI), which has uncovered three qualities of food that make it crave worthy:

  • A high fat content

  • A high carbohydrate content

  • A sweet taste

It's also been shown that high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods result in the greatest

activation of our brain’s reward pathways. Many food manufacturers know this and generally make their foods high in carbohydate and fat because this keeps us coming back for more.


How Should You Manage Your Cravings?


By using brain tricks! Your cravings are largely a psychological effect, not a physiological one. In other words, we should look to our mind to rid ourselves of food cravings, not your body. Getting rid of food cravings is similar to getting rid of a memory. Research has found two brain tricks that may help you with this.


Mindfulness Training


Mindfulness training is an effective method for coping with food cravings. This simply comes down to accepting the food craving without acting upon it. Whenever you get a food craving, take a moment to acknowledge that you have the craving. Then accept it for what it is, a tasty food that you want to eat that has been triggered in your memory. Then move on with your day.


Episodic Future Thinking


Episodic future thinking has also been shown to be an effective method for coping with food cravings. It involves simply thinking about the future in a very specific manner to engage a memory. In the case of a food craving, you should actively and intensely visualize eating a meal other than what you’re craving that will satisfy your hunger. Doing this reduces food cravings and helps people make smarter long-term food choices.


For example, say someone at work brought in some ice cream and chocolate cake for the employees. You can engage in episodic future thinking by visualizing yourself eating your frozen yogurt with your chocolate fiber one bar that you planned to eat tonight. Think of how you’re going to enjoy this meal and how much better it is for your fitness goals and health. It still tastes great, but carries a fraction of the calories. In general, lower-fat versions of products are often an easy way to save calories and when people eat a full-fat vs. a low-fat option without knowing which, they often can’t tell the difference.


Summary


Use Mindfulness Training and Episodic Future Thinking to help cope with cravings when they arise. All successful strategies that deal with cravings share the common trait that they do not involve giving into your cravings. Instead of feeding your craving, starve it.

References:


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3. Chan S, Gerson B, Subramaniam S. The role of copper, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc in nutrition and health. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine. 1998 Dec;18(4):673-685. DOI: 10.1016/s0272-2712(18)30143-4


4. White MA, Whisenhunt BL, Williamson DA, Greenway FL, Netemeyer RG. Development and validation of the food-craving inventory. Obes Res. 2002;10(2):107-114. doi:10.1038/oby.2002.17


5. DiFeliceantonio, Alexandra G. et al. Cell Metabolism, Volume 28, Issue 1, 33 - 44.e3


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7. Daniel TO, Stanton CM, Epstein LH. The future is now: reducing impulsivity and energy intake using episodic future thinking. Psychol Sci. 2013;24(11):2339-2342. doi:10.1177/0956797613488780


8. Tapper K, Turner A. The effect of a mindfulness-based decentering strategy on chocolate craving. Appetite. 2018;130:157-162. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.08.011


9. Hollis-Hansen K, Seidman J, O'Donnell S, Epstein LH. Episodic future thinking and grocery shopping online. Appetite. 2019;133:1-9. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.10.019


10. Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga, Nicole E.G Wijckmans-Duijsens, Wilhelmine P.H.G Verboeket-Van De Venne, Kees De Graaf, Jan A Weststrate, Karin H Van Het Hof, Diet-Induced Thermogenesis and Satiety in Humans After Full-Fat and Reduced-Fat Meals, Physiology & Behavior, Volume 61, Issue 2, 1997, Pages 343-349, ISSN 0031-9384

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