When I decided to change my lifestyle and diet, I wanted to cut out sugar completely. Now I know that this idea was silly, seeing that your brain needs a little glucose to function properly. However, I do try to only include natural sugar from fruit and maybe a bit of milk or dairy. (If you have a lot of weight to lose, you might want to limit your fruit intake to 1 or 2 servings per day, because even though they are natural, they do spike up your blood sugar. Try to get the rest of your 5 a day from vegetables.)
Cutting out sugar actually has been one of the biggest challenges in my fitness journey so far. We are surrounded by sugary, unhealthy things, and ironically enough - they are the once that taste good, too. I think that I am addicted to sugar - and as it is with every addiction, staying away from the drug isn't easy. Cravings get worse when I am bored, or when I'm emotional. I still haven't perfected my tactics of dealing with cravings, but I thought I should share them with you anyways, and I would appreciate it if you could share your strategy and tactics as well.
1. Are you hungry, or are you just craving food?
When you feel like you HAVE to eat something, take a step back and analyze your hunger. (Very) generally speaking, there are two types of hunger: Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger.
1a) Physical Hunger
Physical Hunger is a natural process that occurs when your body is running low on energy. It comes gradually and can be postponed. When you are properly hungry, you don't really mind what food you are eating (obviously you have favourites), but what this means is that any food can satisfy your hunger. In this instance, you know when you're full. You can stop anytime when your body has had enough energy intake, and you rarely overeat. After eating you feel satisfied.
1b) Emotional Hunger
This is not really hunger - more of a craving. You feel like you are going to die if you don't have a specific food (pizza, chocolate, carrot cake - oh my god I love carrot cake, ice cream etc.). Even though you know these foods are bad for you, and they will hinder your weight loss and fitness goals - they are all you can think about. Cravings creep up on you. They peek around the corner and jump at you. It is a sudden feeling of wanting to put tasty food into your mouth. Because cravings are so sudden and feel so urgent, you are very likely to overeat or at least eat more than you normally would. After you gorge on those tasty foods you are left feeling guilty and you regret your decision of opening that ice cream tub.
You can see, there is a clear difference between hunger and cravings. Before you do anything, you need to identify which of those two phenomena you are falling victim to.
2. How to deal with Hunger
This one is a no-brainer. Make some delicious food. If you are on the edge of starvation, go for veggies and dip whilst you cook your meal. If you have time, prepare something you like and that is healthy. For example, my go-to, quick dish is chicken seasoned with spices (curry, paprika, chili and olive oil), cooked in the oven for 30 minutes. With the chicken I have salad that is made of sour cream (+Italian Seasoning), romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mozzarella and avocado.
3. How to deal with Cravings
Now this one is tough. I have developed some strategies to take my mind off unhealthy food when I crave it, but I have to admit that they don't work all the time. I also asked other people how they deal with cravings, and here is a list of the 6 best strategies that we found have worked best:
- Talk to a friend. This one has multiple benefits, and is my personal favorite. If you are feeling alone, or you have relationship trouble, talking to a friend about your issues is not only the healthier choice, but also the more helpful one. It never happened to me that my love life got sorted by eating a whole box of cookies (unfortunately). Furthermore, if you tell your friend, family member or flatmate that you have a craving and that you do NOT want to give in to it, they can motivate you to stick to your promise. They can help you take your mind of things. It would also be really embarrassing if you give this long speech about how you really want some cake, but that you will be strong and not give in to your urges - and the next second your friend sees you stuffing your face with chocolate brownies.
- Reward yourself from time to time. Personally, I don't necessarily believe in cheat days. I think if I had a cheat day, I would end up in hospital due to an overdose of carrot cake. With me it literally works like this: Once the gate is open, the flood is coming in. I have no self-control once I start cheating. However, a lot of my friends swear by small treats. Some people have one 'nice' thing a day (sugary muesli in the morning, a cereal bar, a couple of pieces of chocolate) and it keeps them going. Other people have one cheat meal per week, which satisfies them and motivates them to stick to a healthy diet until next Sunday.
- Make a list of all the bad things that happen when you binge and overeat. I made that list last time I ate too much crunchy cereal, and felt so full that I didn't want to leave the house. Don't let cravings control your life. I pinned the list on my pinnboard in my room, and every time I feel a craving coming along, I just have to look at the sheet of paper to be reminded of the stomach cramps the binging gave me. (I will attach a photo of my list at the end of this).
- Try to take your mind off food. Call a friend. Go for a walk. Paint your nails. Take a shower. Shave your legs. Reorganise something. Drink water or tea. I am sure the list can go on and on. This strategy is especially effective when you only want to eat because you are bored.
- Buy expensive treats. Now, seeing that I am a student, this seems counter-intuitive. Coming from Germany, the high food prices in the UK make my heart bleed. However, I have discovered a Health Food store near my house, and I purchased some awesome Raw Food crunchy snacks, that also go well with my nutrition plan. Seeing that I have to pay 4 pounds ($6.50) for less than 100g, I am incredibly cautious of how much I am eating. I also start to think twice about if I really need this snack right now. At this stage it is also good to mention to opt for healthy alternatives. When you are watching a movie or TV show and you want to munch on something (I always want to snack when I watch something), maybe make carrots, cucumber, pepper and some hummus or sour cream and chives. I also found raw chocolate that is sugar free, gluten free and dairy free - it actually tastes pretty good, too. I know it is not the same, but often it helps.
- If worst comes to worst and you can't resist, make sure you control your portions. The other day my flatmate said: "I only eat what fits in my hand." I think that is a great way to go about it, seeing that your stomach is only a little bit bigger than your fist. This way you can satisfy your craving whilst not regretting your decision afterwards.
(Once again, please excuse the terrible quality. At some point in the nearer future I will invest into a better phone.)
I hope these tips and tricks are of some value to you. I know that none of them are 100% successful, but maybe you can try a combination. If, however, you do give in to a binge-attack, try to get back on track as soon as possible. Don't punish yourself by restricting your calories or swearing to put in an extra 3 hours at the gym the day after. It doesn't work like that. Something similar happened to me last semester. I gave in to my cravings almost every second day, and would overeat on cereal, chocolate, gummy bears, cookies, ice cream and all these things. Afterwards I would feel terrible and guilty, and swear to myself that from the next day on, I would stick to healthy eating and work out even harder. However, the next day the craving would hit me even harder, BECAUSE I would put so much pressure on myself. In the end you are trapped in a vicious cycle. Learn from your mistakes, and then move on. If you Register free at ProFitnessPlans.com. we can help you to generate a nutrition plan that satisfies you whilst being healthy, and also provide moral support throughout your journey.
Craving is a bitch. You have to learn to treat it like one.