Identify your triggers
Unmasking the culprit behind your junk food fixation will help you quash it, says Meghan Bauer, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. She gets her clients to write down when, where and what they eat, as well as how they felt at the time. After a few weeks, she can see the links between their cravings and mood, diet, menstrual cycles and time of day.
If you find you're always reaching for a bag of Oreos after a run-in with your boss, it might be time to rethink how you deal with stress, Bauer says. She coaches people to use deep-breathing techniques, yoga and meditation before seeking solace in a trip to the vending machine. Plus, sugary junk food can cause spikes in your blood sugar and insulin levels, which over time can cause insulin resistance, increasing your risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes. And that's exactly what you want to avoid.
- Seven diet myths that are making you fat
- Nine ways food can boost your mood and increase happiness
- 14 strategies for a happy (and flat) tummy
- How to eat healthy on a budget
- Four ways artificial sweeteners cause weight gain
Anatomy of a craving
When you're jonesing for a cupcake, it can feel like it will torment you forever, but it'll pass (we promise!). Understanding the process can help you ride it out.
1. A smell, sight or thought triggers the desire in your brain.
2. You salivate, and ghrelin, the "hunger hormone," is released by your stomach. The need for that contraband goodie builds and reaches a peak.
3. The desire starts to ebb and then subsides after about 10 minutes.
Fill your plate with slow-burn foods
"When your body is properly nourished, you have fewer food impulses," says Judy Chambers, a registered holistic nutritionist in Vancouver. That means eating more foods that take a long time to digest, like whole grains, lean protein and high-fibre fruits and vegetables. Starting each day with a healthy, filling breakfast helps, too. Bauer suggests eating steel-cut oatmeal (an excellent complex carb) sprinkled with cinnamon, which helps regulate blood sugar and decrease cravings. You can also try taking a complete B vitamin and a vitamin C supplement, which may help lower your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can lead to cravings. And don't forget to tote your water bottle with you everywhere you go. Hunger is often confused with thirst, so staying hydrated helps prevent cravings before they start.
Cut off your supply
Most of us will eat junk food if it's lying around in plain view, so don't bring it into the house in the first place. When you go to the grocery store, make a list and stick to it. And beware of buying in bulk, says Karen Graham, a registered dietician and author of The Complete Diabetes Guide. Especially those too-good-to-be-true 100-calorie snack packs. "You may think you'll eat one a day, but the truth is we often go back for more," Graham says. "The temptation is just too great."
Neutralize the enemy
Don't allow yourself to be ambushed by unexpected cravings. As soon as the urge to indulge hits, knock it out by hydrating with lemon water or herbal tea. Chambers says water promotes feelings of fullness and satisfaction. If you crave sweets, have a few olives. "Sour cuts sweet," explains Chambers. Other foods to try: sauerkraut, plain yogurt or sour fruit like raspberries, green apples or grapefruit. Or pop a chewable vitamin C or D tablet, says Dr. Joey Shulman in her book The Last 15: A Weight Loss Breakthrough. "Once your brain registers a sweet taste, the craving will be satisfied."
Seek out healthy distractions
Train your body to react in a new way when cravings kick in. The more you do something other than eat at this time, the easier it will be to say no. Graham has clients who pick up their knitting needles, doodle, strum a guitar or play with an elastic band or stress ball when they feel themselves being tempted by junk food. If it's the same activity every time, your body learns to recognize it as the appropriate response to its craving sensation. You can also try jumping on a stationary bike, heading out for a walk or rocking some Zumba moves. A few minutes of exercise can suppress your perceived appetite and keep cravings at bay.
Tap it out - literally
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) are a type of therapy in which you tap specific energy points on the body — the pinky side of your hand, your thumb, your eyebrows, beside your eyes, under your eyes or your chin — to rid yourself of unwanted behaviours or thoughts. Practitioners liken EFT to acupuncture but without the needles (it's even called "psychological acupuncture"). A recent study from Griffith University in Australia showed EFT can virtually eliminate cravings in as few as four two-hour sessions.
Try it now: Choose a mantra, something like "Even though I want chocolate, I don't need it." Then, while repeating your mantra, tap your body's energy points with two fingers, seven times each, until you've forgotten all about that chocolate. For more details on the techniques, go to Eftuniverse.com.
Plan your indulgences
If you always deny yourself junk food, you'll only desire it more. So if you know it's movie night on Saturday, stock up on smart snacks (health food stores have all kinds of healthy, low-cal, low-fat options) or throw a handful of chips in a bowl and put the bag away. Then simply enjoy it, no guilt! If you reframe your urge as a sign of hunger and not an undeniable need, you disarm the desire. In other words, feed the hunger, not the craving.
Replace your cravings with these suggestions:
Doughnuts - A whole grain English muffin with low-sugar jam.
Milk chocolate - One square 70% cocoa (or higher) dark chocolate and tea (the warmth enhances satisfaction).
Chips and dip - Nori (seaweed) or baked kale chips with hummus.
Sugary pop - Kombucha (a light carbonated tea-based drink available in health food stores or the ethnic section of grocery stores).
Jujubes - Dried sour cherries, dried apricots or frozen grapes.
French fries - A dozen walnuts or Brazil nuts, or sweet potato fries.
Connect with Chatelaine: