Food cravings out of control? Knowing why cravings happen will help you fight them – and help you maintain a balanced healthy diet and weight.
When your food cravings hit
You’ve probably noticed that you feel your strongest food yens at specific times of the day—or month.
1) Mid-afternoon food cravings (from about 3-6 p.m.)
By far the greatest number of cravings occur late in the day, when our blood glucose drops, making us sluggish and in need of a lift. All it takes now is a cue—a fast-food billboard on your way home or a co-worker’s candy bar—to bring on major sugar cravings or carb cravings.
2) When we’re upset or bored or need stress relief
Bad moods frequently give rise to cravings. We imagine that if we eat a cookie or a chocolate bar, we’ll feel better—and often we do. Carbohydrates—sweet or starchy foods—increase the secretion of the brain chemical serotonin, which in turn can improve mood and provide temporary stress relief.
Discover when food cravings tend to hit and how to effectively fight back.
Here are common craving triggers:
1) Food cravings happen at times when we’re accustomed to eating.
Our bodies often associate food cravings with happy times we’ve had in the past. When we’re at the ballpark, for example, we might crave a hot dog with the works instead of other more healthy meals; if a summer-night trip to the ice-cream parlor was a family tradition, we may find ourselves nursing sugar cravings for an ice-cream cone instead of choosing healthy snacks when the weather gets warm.
How to manage your food cravings
Forewarned is forearmed: If you know a craving is going to strike, you can plan healthy snacks and healthy meals to eat at those times, or find other distractions rather than surrendering. Here are proven methods to help tame your cravings:
Include carbs, protein and a little fat for your healthy meals and healthy snacks.
When we eat meals that are lacking in one kind of food, we may be more likely to crave it later. Those who are on high-protein, low-carb regimens, for example, may have carb cravings later.
When eating a varied balanced healthy diet, you’ll feel better and have more energy and better concentration. Protein and fat take longer to digest than carbs do, so including them, along with more fiber, in any meal means that you’ll feel satisfied longer. When our meals are monotonous — the same day after day — we’re practically guaranteed powerful cravings, even if your diet is nutritionally adequate.
Too often we’ll skip breakfast or forget about lunch, only to feel a craving strike later in the day. Think ahead and plan a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner that consist of carbohydrates, protein, and good fats.
Your snacks, too, should be a combination of protein, carbs and a little fat, especially in the late afternoon, when cravings seem most urgent. Any of the following snacks can fend off a trip to the candy machine to satisfy sugar cravings: whole-wheat pita bread with hummus; a pear with lowfat cheese slices; a quesadilla (made with a whole-wheat tortilla); raw veggies with lowfat cottage cheese; whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter.
Balanced Healthy Diet Conquers Food Cravings
Crave-proof your home and office by banishing crave-worthy foods and making healthy snacks and meals readily available.
The simplest way to quash sugar cravings or carb cravings is to ban crave-worthy foods from your environment. If you do buy snack foods like chips or cookies, choose small packages or individually wrapped portions to avoid going overboard.
Here are three other ways to make healthy snacks easily available to defeat sugar cravings and carb cravings.
- Cut up and bag carrots, radishes, broccoli and celery sticks in advance and pack them with some lowfat cheese.
- Buy light microwave popcorn packages to have on hand, and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top.
- Keep fruit washed and ready to slice into a container of lowfat yogurt.
Address your stress and emotional overeating.
If your food cravings hit when you’re anxious or stressed, seek consolation in other ways instead of emotional overeating. What is it that you really need? A comforting conversation with a co-worker, a walk, or a shoulder massage from a friend may do the job. If reassuring "comfort foods" are your downfall, find some that are healthy, but still satisfying—a vegetarian casserole, maybe, or mashed potatoes made with lowfat milk.
Giving in to food cravings is sometimes okay on a balanced healthy diet.
If your craving is especially persistent, denying yourself that cookie or bag of chips will only make the urge more intense. Allow yourself a moderate portion of the food you crave, deciding on the amount you’ll have before you dig in.