In today’s lesson Ross (VFT’s fitness expert and team member) is back with part 2 of…
“How Do I Control My Cravings?” Discussing nutrients PLUS mental and emotional cravings.
For a more detailed answer see Ross’s written response below.
Part one of this Q&A covered physiological hunger cravings and specific food cravings caused by addictive ingredients or allergies (add link?). This portion continues right where the first left off with two additional types of cravings and finishes with some general tips for controlling cravings.
Here are 2 more types of cravings plus general advice for controlling them
Craving #3 – Nutrient cravings:
Nutrient cravings are when your body craves foods containing certain nutrients. These can take a number of different forms from a general craving (any food high in protein) to more specific cravings, such as craving a banana for potassium. In a way, the true hunger craving discussed in part 1 is a type of nutrient craving, because your body needs the calories to perform physiological tasks.
Your body tries to let you know when it needs more of a nutrient and cravings are one way this happens. For example, if you exercise in the heat and do not consume much salt/sodium, you may have a sodium deficiency and start craving salty food.
The problem with this type of craving is it is hard to distinguish from other food cravings and many cravings that make people want specific foods have nothing to do with needing nutrients. While it is possible to be deficient in salt, most people consume more than enough salt, so when they crave salty foods it is not a real nutrient craving.
Action Step: When you crave a specific food it may be your body telling you that you need more nutrients (calcium, vitamin A, protein, water, etc.), but a nutrient deficiency is just one possible option for the cause of the craving. On the flip side, if you don’t have nutrient cravings it doesn’t mean you don’t have nutrient deficiencies.
Nutrient cravings do not happen all the time and they can be very subtle, but they are a possibility to be aware of. The best thing to do is try to determine if a nutrient craving is likely, based what you eat and drink, as well as your overall lifestyle.
Craving #4 – Mental/emotional cravings:
This category contains a wide variety of cravings and is responsible, at least in part, for the greatest number of major craving problems. There are many forms and symptoms of mental/emotional cravings, but I am grouping them all together, because they all require the same general approach to correct. That said, the specific steps for improvement can be very different depending on the person and the situation.
Emotional cravings are often tied to moods and people can have cravings when they are feeling down, nervous, bored, restless, etc. These are all cravings where people do not need the calories/nutrients, but the eating is caused by an emotional state or reaction. I classify a mental craving as something similar to emotional cravings, but without the link to a specific emotion. These cravings often stem from habit or routine.
For example, if you have cookies every day after work, then your body will start expecting or craving cookies after work. The craving could be contextual (happen only after work) or it could be time dependent (happen around the time of day you normally leave work regardless if you worked that day or not). Again, there is no physiological need for this craving, but they can be among the strongest cravings people experience.
As with all cravings, the first step is to identify the craving and figure out why it is happening. If you struggle with cravings, you are probably already aware of what they are, buy may not have thought about exactly why they happen. However, I know many people who know about their craving and understand why they happen, but still struggle to control them.
The most common thing I encounter is people feeling as though it is too difficult to change their behavior in order to improve the craving. In these situations the person’s attitude and approach really makes all the difference. When people struggle with cravings, they often sound like they are at the mercy of the craving and have no control over the situation.
Regardless of the specific mental or emotional craving, one of the most important steps for change is understanding and more importantly believing that you can eventually control your cravings. I am not saying that all you have to do is believe your cravings will go away and they will stop, but you have to believe it is possible. Unfortunately many people get stuck at this step and remain slaves to their cravings indefinitely.
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy where the belief that cravings are too strong makes it impossible to ever gain control of them. Believing you can control them does not automatically change them, but it does open the gates for real change to happen.
Then the next step is to figure out what you should change to get things moving in the right direction.
There are many steps you can take to control cravings and the key it to find the one(s) that work for you. There are so many different situations and tactics that it is hard to even scratch the surface, but I will briefly describe a few effective strategies.
If you want to routinely crave a specific food and want to stop it completely, the simplest thing to do is to limit your access to that food. Most notably, do not buy the food when you shop or if someone else does the shopping, ask them not to buy whatever food(s) you are trying to avoid. If the foods you crave are at another location, such as work, you could bring your own food to eat, so you are not forced to pick from the choices at work.
I worked retail for about 8 years and brought 3 small meals with me every day because I did not want to be tempted by the unhealthy foods around. Since I made this a part of my routine, I did not have to think about what I was going to eat and did not crave other foods nearly as much.
Other options include making daily lists with specific tasks like only eating a certain amount of _____ per day (where the amount is less than usual of a craving food). If you plan for the craving, then you are less likely to go overboard with the amount you eat. You can also keep all of your foods in single serving containers to help control portions of foods you crave.
Action Step: Individual differences make a huge difference in the approach you should take. If you don’t know where to start, think about previous times you overcame obstacles and examine the steps you took to succeeded. Then apply a similar type of approach to your nutrition and cravings.
General advice action steps:
1. Keep a nutrition and cravings journal – Make notes about what you crave, when you crave it, and how intense the craving is. The nutrition component does not have to be complicated, but include what you eat/drink and when. This is a great tool to help you pinpoint the cause(s) of your cravings and gauge the success of your intervention strategies.
By charting this information over time, you can learn how everyday nutrition and lifestyle (stress, etc.) impact your cravings. When cravings are most intense, try to think about everything that is causing the craving at that time. This will help you figure out where you need to focus your energy to control the craving.
People are often hesitant to keep a nutritional journal, but they always end up saying that it is worth the effort. As an added bonus, just the act of writing down everything you eat and drink tends to make people improve their nutrition habits. Of course, this only works if you make the effort to be as accurate as possible and not allow yourself to cheat.
2. Gradually reduce “bad” carbs – For most people not all carbs are the enemy, but some cause major problems. The more of the wrong carbs people eat, the more they crave carbs. Bad carbs vary somewhat from person to person, but the most common ones are processed grains and sugars. Foods containing high amounts sugar (sucrose) or white flour (white bread, etc.) are prime examples of bad carbs.
If you consider yourself to be addicted to carbs, one of the most successful strategies is to gradually reduce consumption of these ingredients over time. Try to replace some of the bad carbs with healthier ones by switching from white rice/bread/pasta to whole grain versions of some of the same products.
The whole grain products may taste strange if you are not used to them, but your taste buds will adjust. It is just like switching from whole milk to skim or regular soda to diet. At first you may think they taste bad, but after a while they will seem normal and the products you used to use will taste strange instead.
Another option is to eat the same type of carbs, but decrease the amount you eat during your meal and add some protein and/or healthy fat in its place. Adding protein or fat while decreasing carbs can significantly decrease carb cravings. Just be sure to decrease the carb calories by at least as much as fat/protein calories you add or your total calories will increase, resulting in fat gain.
That’s it for the craving Q&A. I hope it gives you some ideas to help deal with your craving issues, but these are just a sample of the types of things you can do to overcome your cravings. Regardless of the strategy you use, be sure to stick with it, because the more frequently you break from your strategy, the longer it will take to get your cravings under control.
By Ross Harrison
VFT “Awesome” Fitness Expert 🙂