You shouldn’t be hungry. You’ve just had lunch an hour ago, and it was a substantial meal. You had good portions and you ate until you were almost full, but you’re definitely feeling like having something more. Maybe nothing big, a snack or a bowl of cereal, but you definitely want to eat something. This is a classic case of having a craving, and it’s one of the most frustrating challenges people have to battle while trying to lose weight.
An overactive appetite isn’t easily ignored. It can be distracting and irritating until it’s satisfied and so many people give in ‘just the once,’ only to eventually form craving-oriented habits that sabotage their efforts to eat well and maintain a healthy weight.
Well, are you really? Food cravings often are not the same as genuine hunger. There are a number of factors that determine whether you actually feel hungry or just desire a certain taste or boost. The key lies in determining the difference between physical hunger and a mental craving.
Hunger is marked by physical symptoms. Your body is telling you it needs something to keep your system running properly. These symptoms include: ? Emptiness or tightness in the stomach, frequently accompanied by growling. ? Dizziness or trouble focusing. ? Exhaustion. These symptoms do not respond to waiting or distraction, but continue to intensify until you have eaten sufficient food to correct the imbalance.
By contrast, cravings are marked by primarily emotional and psychological criteria, such as: ? Desire to eat something with a specific taste. ? Wanting to eat something to unwind, as a reward, or for comfort.
Causes of Cravings
Genuine hunger is caused by genuine need – your body lacks vital nutrients, and will continue to tell you so until these needs are met and it can continue to function. Cravings, on the other hand, tend to be caused by a number of non-vital but nonetheless important stimuli.
For example, hormone imbalances can lead to hunger cravings. The body’s primary boosting hormone is serotonin, which is part of what leads to feelings of happiness and satisfaction. If the body is low on this hormone for any reason, including exhaustion, depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, or menopause, it could look for a substitute in sugar, which tends to provide a quick energy boost. Cravings also grow out of (and into!) habits. If you’re used to having a late night dish of ice cream and then stop in an attempt to control your weight or blood sugar, your body will be used to the routine and may trigger a craving for the snack at your usual time.
First, you need to understand that having cravings does not mean you have poor willpower. In many cases, they’re not about willpower at all. They’re often just an emotional response to factors influencing your mental state. So don’t start with personal recriminations, instead focus on ways you can make things easier for yourself.
As with any effort to gain self-control, it is more efficient to replace bad habits with good habits than to simply try to drop the old habit. Consider that late night bowl of ice cream we mentioned earlier. This is a case of habitual cravings and snacking, and maybe it would be hard to just cut it out. Consider instead having a warm mug of a sweet herbal tea with a little bit of honey. This gives your body the ‘sweet’ taste it wants, as well as filling your belly with something to tide you over, but without the concentrated calories of the ice cream.
This substitution principle can work out well in general – keep healthy snacking alternatives on hand, and try to reduce portions. Instead of munching through a bag of chips, try eating a small serving of healthy nuts with a tall glass of water, then waiting and seeing if the craving abates.
Consider these other craving-taming techniques: ? Incorporate additional healthy habits into the rest of your routine, so that cravings will become less pronounced. ? Eat high fiber foods, because these add bulk and a sense of fullness for a longer period of time. ? Make sure your body is getting good nutrition in general, as a healthy body is less likely to mix up signals and send false cravings. ? Exercise and socialize, to make sure your mental state is kept up and you don’t feel as stressed. Many cravings are a stress reaction, and keeping a healthy mental balance can certainly help.
Taking control of cravings is an important step in changing from unhealthy habits to healthy ones, and it can be daunting. However, it is a challenge that can be met one step at a time, in small degrees. Don’t beat yourself up for the cravings; instead, look at them for what they are, and know that you can take positive steps to keep them under YOUR control, where they belong.
source: Julie J. Price is Director of Weight Management at HabitChanger.com