We’ve all felt hunger. It’s the sensation we get when we want to eat food. It’s a physiological mechanism designed to tell us when we need to have sustenance. However, in the Western world, food is in plentiful supply all around us and our interpretation of hunger has become confused.
Broadly speaking, hunger can be viewed in two ways. Firstly, physiological, also known as stomach or true hunger, is where you are genuinely hungry because you feel low in energy and haven’t eaten for a long time. In other words, your body needs food. Secondly, psychological, or mouth hunger, is where you fancy something to eat. This is when you have a craving.
What are cravings?
Cravings can lead to a preoccupation with food. We want food, especially ‘bad’ foods, more than we did before. When we restrict ourselves from eating the foods we desire, it can have a bad effect on our mood. This increases temptation and when you then eat something you’re craving, you enjoy it even more. This can cause a negative cycle of mood changes that lead you to want to snack more, and then you recognize the intense pleasure next time you have a craving. Cravings become harder to curb.
The trap continues. Just thinking about food triggers the behavior you want to avoid, i.e. eating. It’s especially hard as food is constantly around us, especially as we are spending more time than ever at home. It’s such an important part of our social lives, we see advertisements for tasty foods everywhere, and it’s frequently the topic of conversation. None of this is helped when your always around family and they may be snacking around you when you’re trying not to think about food. Harder still, we often use food as a reward. We treat ourselves, and junk food is a frequent reward of choice!
How to curb cravings
The nutrition team at Huel (Huel.com), the world’s best-selling complete nutrition brand, has put together a list of a few practical tips to help you curb your cravings. As you take control of your cravings, over time you’ll realize that you don’t actually need the food that you’re craving, it’s just a mindset. The frequency, duration and intensity of the cravings will soon diminish.
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.
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 food and feelings diary by jotting down what you eat and when, and how you feel before and afterward. This may help you identify triggers and problem times of the day, and to recognize if you’re snacking for comfort, boredom or loneliness.
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 movie, 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, eating popcorn at the movies. To curb this, only eat at mealtimes, get out of the habit of eating while watching TV and when at home, confine eating to the kitchen or dining room.
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 occasional sugar-free sodas can help to satisfy your taste buds.
If you get the urge to eat, look at the time and wait half an hour before having something.
Brush your teeth or use minty mouthwash after meals. The minty taste will help curb cravings. This is especially useful after your evening meal, as we often associate cleaning our teeth with the last thing we do with our mouth for the day.
Adopt an eating strategy to help with discipline and to maintain a routine. For example, some people find intermittent fasting useful as it minimizes the window for permitted eating.
Snack sensibly – fruit and berries are a great choice and will help curb sweet cravings. Sugar-free jello is also a great snack.
Don’t let a slip-up lead to more – if you do succumb to a craving, avoid the mindset “now that I’ve eaten that, I may as well make the most of it”.