Most of us start the new year with great ambitions, and one frequent returning element of the new year is "getting back on track" with our eating habits. That's right, we definitely indulged over the holidays, and now we are inevitably facing the consequences. One of the (numerous) reasons diets are doomed to fail in January, is those nasty post-Christmas cravings - we got so used to those yummy Christmas puddings, all the chocolate and cakes, snacks, heavy meals, and stuffing ourselves like there is no tomorrow. Our bodies get addicted to sugar and fatty foods quickly, and "weaning off" in January, is one of the biggest challenges, as it affects both our bodies and our mind.
What are cravings anyway?
Food cravings are a strong desire to eat sugary, salty, or fatty types of food, which often seem uncontrollable, leaving you unsatisfied until you get what you want. It's an intense urge to eat these foods. However, they don't come with any hunger pangs, rumbly tummy, or fatigue, which are the natural hunger signs - it's a desire, not a necessity. Our bodies don't actually need these foods - you can quickly realize, that cravings are more mind tricks than anything else.
Over 90% of the world's population experiences food cravings, and we all experience them differently.
Men are more likely to crave savory foods like meat, fish, and eggs. If men do crave sweets, they typically go for sugar-sweetened beverages.
However, women crave mostly sweet foods like chocolate, cakes, and ice cream. The same studies have shown that women more frequently report experiencing cravings in their everyday lifestyle, not bound to food.
How to beat cravings
Sadly, there are no bulletproof methods - we are human after all! However, some studies found that three key factors play a majority role in cravings:
Sleep efficiency is often associated with craving sugar. Studies show that people with poor quality sleep increases the frequency of their cravings. Overcome this by preparing a bedtime routine focused on calming your mind for better sleep. Avoid caffeine after 3 pm and leave your phone in the living room or study overnight. Practice a bedtime wind-down such as breathing exercises or meditation.
When you are stressed, it causes your adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol, increasing your appetite and cravings. Take up journaling to help let go of the stress from the day. Set a specific time each evening to answer these three questions:
"I will let go of…".
"I am grateful for…".
"I will focus on...".
Dieting is often to blame for causing cravings since you deny yourself specific foods. For example, when avoiding food rich in sugar, you tend to increase the cravings for sugary food. Improving the relationship with food through mindfulness may help control overeating, moving past restrictive diets.
5 habits to help reduce cravings
Drink plenty of water:
Drink a big glass of cold water the next time you have cravings. It helps by hydrating the body and giving a sense of fullness.
Eat enough protein:
Studies have shown that a healthy diet rich in lean protein may help reduce cravings. The same research suggests that eating more protein helps suppress hunger and reduce ghrelin (a hormone related to appetite.) Start the morning with a high-protein breakfast to kickstart your day.
Avoid shopping when hungry:
It is almost a sure thing that you will experience food cravings if you enter the supermarket hungry. Why? – Because the salty, sugary, fatty foods are easily accessible and at eye level. Try shopping after you have eaten.
Brush your teeth:
No evidence shows that brushing your teeth affects the hormones that regulate your appetite. But food does not taste good right after brushing your teeth. It helps extinguish the desire to fulfill a craving. Try brushing your teeth after meals.
A study shows that chewing gum for 45 minutes can make you less hungry and avoid cravings.
When you are craving something sweet like candy, pastries, or chocolate, try replacing it with:
When you are craving something salty like potato chips, try replacing it with:
Sources & Further Reading
Food cravings mediate the relationship between chronic stress and body mass index. Ariana Chao, Carlos M Grilo, Marney A White, and Rajita Sinha https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc6186388/
Associations of Sleep with Food Cravings, Diet, and Obesity in Adolescence. Chelsea L Kracht, Jean-Philippe Chaput, Corby K Martin, Catherine M Champagne, Peter T Katzmarzyk, Amanda E Staiano https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31801259/
Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity. Jessica Hallam, Rebecca G. Boswell, Elise E. DeVito and Hedy Kober https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918881/
Effects of chewing gum on short-term appetite regulation in moderately restrained eaters. Marion M Hetherington and Martin F Regan https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21718732/
Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables. Joanne L. Slavin and Beate Lloyd https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649719/
Effect of short- and long-term protein consumption on appetite and appetite-regulating gastrointestinal hormones, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ali Kohanmoo, Shiva Faghih, Masoumeh Akhlaghi https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938420304376