How to manage your Christmas food cravings and keep your diet under control this winter
- Credit: Archant
With Christmas around the corner it’s even harder than usual to dismiss our food cravings. EA Life’s health expert, Nikki Edwards looks at ways to keep the urge to pick at bay.
You’ve had a big meal and you are sitting on your sofa, with your feet up, all ready to watch a Christmas movie.
Two minutes later you’re thinking about the chocolate in the fridge, the ice cream in the freezer, the crisps in the cupboard, the sweets in the tin.
You are not hungry. Not in the slightest. Yet it’s almost inevitable that you are going to wolf down that treat and then feel sick and guilty.
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What is a food craving?
A food craving is, of course, a strong desire for a particular food. Unfortunately these foods are usually high energy, high calorie and high fat. Funnily enough, we don’t tend to dream of broccoli, sprouts or gherkins, (unless we are pregnant!)
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Food cravings are a headache if you are trying to manage your diet.
So what can we do about them?
Well, understanding what causes you to want certain foods is key to keeping those urges under control.
Firstly, a craving is not hunger. The desire comes, not from your stomach, but from your brain.
What causes those cravings?
You have cravings for all sorts of psychological reasons but most are brought on because your brain says you need an energy boost or your mood is affecting your desire.
People crave high calorie foods, high in carbohydrate, fat and sugar because it gives them a fast burst of energy, even though it would be much better for them to eat something with better nutritional value and without empty calories.
Certain emotions, including stress, sadness and boredom, can promote cravings. So too can feelings of happiness – many people “celebrate” with the reward of their favourite snack.
Occasionally people have an underlying medical condition like Type 2 diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can make them crave things like carbs and sugar.
The gender divide
Research suggests men are more likely to crave salty, savoury foods or stodgy foods like pizza and pasta. In contrast, women are more likely to crave sweet snacks, like chocolate, biscuits and ice cream.
Can you control cravings?
Here are my top tips for managing the desire to over-indulge:
1. Be prepared.
Keep your fruit bowl well stocked and always have healthy snacks in the fridge. If you feel your craving creeping up, grab a banana and a big glass of water or maybe even have a teaspoon of honey or a handful of raisins to satisfy your need for sweet stuff.
2. Do something unrelated.
You can dampen the craving by distracting yourself immediately. Have a bath, leave the house, go for a walk, phone a friend.
3. Tap your fingers.
Many therapists use techniques like finger tapping to get you out of a food craving frame of mind.
4. A little of what you fancy. Have a square of chocolate rather than a whole bar. But you will need a serious amount of willpower.
5. Don’t buy it.
If, like me, you don’t have the willpower for number four, don’t buy it at all. Make sure your cupboards do not contain any of the things you usually reach for when you hit a sugar low.
6. Keep a food diary.
Keep track of your cravings. You might notice you crave certain things at certain times of the month or when you haven’t eaten well the rest of the day. This will help you monitor what you are eating and when you are most likely to feel cravings.
7. Chew gum.
A great way to trick your body into thinking it’s eating when it’s not. It might also stave off pangs.
8. Brush your teeth.
When a craving hits, reach for your toothbrush. After a swill of minty mouthwash, you will be far less likely to want to eat anything.
9. Don’t skip meals.
When you’re hungry, you’re much more likely to want sugary foods because the longer you go without food, the lower your blood sugar gets. Sugary foods quickly enter the blood stream to raise blood sugar levels. To best regulate your blood sugar, eat every three to five hours.
10. Focus on protein.
If you’re constantly having food cravings, not having enough protein at meal times could be the problem. Protein foods don’t raise insulin levels to the degree carbohydrate foods do. Having sufficient protein at meals can help stabilize your blood sugar levels. Cure a sweet tooth and get a protein fix in one with a protein shake.