Food cravings are an intense urge to eat specific pleasurable foods. Unfortunately, the foods we tend to crave most art usually unhealthy. Ask anyone what their food craving is, and they will most likely give you back a quick and confident answer. Be it chocolate or potatoe chips, ice cream, or salted peanuts, we can all fall victim of an overindulging junk food eating frenzy. This can certainly put on excessive pounds. The question is, how can we stop these food cravings?
There is a way to control these urges. Being aware of the problem and having a plan of defense is the first step.
Step 1: Know Your Weaknesses
Be aware of what foods you crave and beware of having those foods readily available in your home. In a two year study with over 350 overweight subjects, eating a craved food less often controlled their mental cravings for that food (1).
Step 2: Have a Plan of Attack Against Your Cravings
Most of us know what we crave. But how we stop the problem, is the next quandry. Changes in diet, exercise, and stress levels can help cut the cravings (2).
Change Your Diet
In the last 30 years, junk food has become more easily accessible. This has resulted in an obesity epidemic. Studies have found, the more you eat junk food, the more you crave it. Our brain can actually rewire to send us craving messages for a junk food we have made the habit of eating. This is a poor diet induced cognitive impairment (3). When this happens, its time to rewire the brain by not eating junk food. Making healthier choices to feed our body with nutritious food will help us crave the junk food less.
Research has also shown, that when we are missing certain important vitamins and minerals our body needs to be healthy, the cravings come on! So, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and get your needed protein, vitamins, and minerals. Then, you will crave the junk food less. This interesting article discusses a relationship between nutrient deficiency and food cravings: Unhealthy Food Cravings, A Sign of Nutrient Deficiency.
Exercise to Cut the Food Cravings
Exercise can certainly help reduce weight by burning calories. But it may also help cut down on food cravings. One study has shown that regular exercise reduced the brain’s neural response to visual food cues (4). In another study, 25 regular chocolate eaters significantly reduced their craving with a 15 minute brisk walk (5). So, the next time you feel an urge to open a bag of chips or tub of ice cream, throw your walking shoes on instead, and do a lap around the block!
When we are stressed, it can affect our choice to eat junk food instead of healthy food (6). We eat high fat, sugar filled foods to feel better. But why?
Often, food can be associated with pleasure, releasing the dopamine hormone in our body that can calm our mind and reduce pain. Further, we can develop a conditioned response from past pleasurable memories. We may think about Grandma’s sweet cookies, or that day we hung out with friends at the movies while eating a big bowl of popcorn. These subconscious memories can trigger a craving to feel that same pleasure again that we once felt years ago when eating those fatty or overly sweet foods (7). But, this is a conditioned response that could be possible to unlearn. In a study with 47 overweight women, improvements in mindfulness reduced stress and helped with weight control related to improved eating patterns (8).
Mindful Breathing Exercise
Take in a long deep breathe. Try filling the bottom of your lungs first and working your way up on the inhale. Inhale until your lungs are nice and full. Then pause a few seconds before exhaling. Exhale a long slow breathe, beginning at the top of the lungs, and slowly working your way down to the bottom. At the very end of your exhale, gently suck the gut in to work that last bit of air out of the lungs. Pause a few seconds before inhaling again.
With each inhale, breathe in the wonderful memories, happy thoughts, and the healthy vibes of nature. With each exhale, remove the negative thoughts out of your mind and let the stress leave your body.
Living for the satisfaction of only one part of my body (my mouth), is unholy.
- Apolzan, J. W., Myers, C. A., Champagne, C. M., Beyl, R. A., Raynor, H. A., Anton, S. A., … & Martin, C. K. (2017). Frequency of consuming foods predicts changes in cravings for those foods during weight loss: The POUNDS Lost Study. Obesity, 25(8), 1343-1348.
- Myers, C. A., Martin, C. K., & Apolzan, J. W. (2018). Food cravings and body weight: a conditioning response. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity, 25(5), 298-302.
- Morris, M. J., Beilharz, J. E., Maniam, J., Reichelt, A. C., & Westbrook, R. F. (2015). Why is obesity such a problem in the 21st century? The intersection of palatable food, cues and reward pathways, stress, and cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 58, 36-45.
- Cornier, M. A., Melanson, E. L., Salzberg, A. K., Bechtell, J. L., & Tregellas, J. R. (2012). The effects of exercise on the neuronal response to food cues. Physiology & behavior, 105(4), 1028-1034.
- Taylor, A. H., & Oliver, A. J. (2009). Acute effects of brisk walking on urges to eat chocolate, affect, and responses to a stressor and chocolate cue. An experimental study. Appetite, 52(1), 155-160.
- Zellner, D. A., Loaiza, S., Gonzalez, Z., Pita, J., Morales, J., Pecora, D., & Wolf, A. (2006). Food selection changes under stress. Physiology & behavior, 87(4), 789-793.
- Volkow, N. D., Wang, G. J., & Baler, R. D. (2011). Reward, dopamine and the control of food intake: implications for obesity. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(1), 37-46.
- Daubenmier, J., Kristeller, J., Hecht, F. M., Maninger, N., Kuwata, M., Jhaveri, K., … & Epel, E. (2011). Mindfulness intervention for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: an exploratory randomized controlled study. Journal of obesity, 2011.
Post by: Kathy Sadowski, MS, RA (ARC), NAHA and AIA Professional Member, LMT