When you need comforting or want to relax, even sleep, we turn to carbohydrates, according to Mary Beth Sodus, a registered nutritionist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Carbohydrates come in simple forms such as sugars and in complex forms such as starches and fiber. The body breaks down most sugars and starches into glucose, a simple sugar that the body can use to feed its cells. When we feel a craving… it’s usually for carbohydrates.
Maybe cheese and dairy products are your “craving favorites”. The smooth, milky texture of dairy items may help you feel mothered. However, over-indulging on cheese, frozen yogurt, or ice-cream is not a good diet plan.
A way to avert overall hunger and reduce craving is with water. Hydration is important. It can give you an almost immediate feeling of fullness.
Recommended “safe-foods” can help satisfy cravings without the added calories and even stop cravings. Grapefruit, small red baked potatoes, carrots, and salads filled with greens and fiber can do the trick.
Visual distraction has also been prove to curb cravings by Scientists at Queen Mary’s University of London. They found that people would forget about the craving if they were given imagery tasks. These tasks gave subjects time for the craving wave to pass and also kept people from thinking about the food they were craving.
Unhealthy craving for sugary, salty, fatty, or carbohydrate-rich foods is the most common. Most often, these cravings are not a sign of hunger, but of an emotional nature.
Another form of craving is more intellectual according to Sodus. These cravings are usually for caffeine and sugar that people depend on to stay alert.
The most common craving is when people want a burst of energy and turn to sweets. “Sometimes people go from sugar to sugar without actually eating a meal,” says Sodus.
Chocolate as “comfort” puts it in a class by itself. Even though it is sweet, chocolate is most often regarded as “comforting”. “It’s like a big hug.” According to Sodus.
Even when you’re not hungry, salty flavors can “call to you” for a variety of reasons. “They hit people above the neck as a taste for something, not actual hunger,” says Sodus.
Since cravings mostly live in your mind… your mind is the best place to stop them. We all know how nagging a craving can be until its satisfied, yet there is a time limit to cravings. Ms. Sodus says: “Cravings will go away if you wait them out, but people rarely do this”.
Cravings come in a variety of flavors, but for most of us, sugar, salty foods, hearty carbohydrates, caffeine, chocolate and dairy products, are the most common. The cause for the craving can be different. A need for energy, to be alert, be comforted, have a time-out or in some way be satisfied are all factors.
Because cravings come on suddenly, they are inherently unhealthy. They seem to hit when the food choices around are bad for you. “People aren’t going to be cooking for an hour [to fulfill a craving], so it becomes drive-thru mode,” says Sodus.
We can overcome carvings if we are more aware of their causes.
“Mindful eating is an antidote to cravings,” says Sodus. “But you have to practice when they’re mild,” she warns.
She recommends certain “safe-foods”. These are foods that can help satisfy your cravings without the added calories. Her list includes grapefruit, small red baked potatoes, carrots, and salads filled with greens and fiber. By eating these foods, you are filled up quickly and they help give you time to get past the craving wave. The task of eating a grapefruit is slow and is a great way to take the time so you get over your craving.
Cravings play a big role in causing people to become overweight is no surprise, but has been verified by experts in the field of weight management.
“One of the main reasons people overeat is due to food cravings,” says Anne Hsu, a Behavioral Scientist at Queen Mary’s University of London.
Being able to hold off giving in to cravings is a way Hsu’s team feels is a better way to deal with the problem. They are researching ways to distract the mind rather than substitute “safe” foods.
“It doesn’t work to just tell people not to eat something,” says Hsu. “All behaviors come from underlying desires and changing the root cause of that behavior could have more affect.”
Using your imagination is far stronger than trying to rely on willpower according to Hsu. Imagining food causes people to desire or crave that food. According to Hsu, if you can imagine something else, you can overcome the craving.
“If you hijack that part of the brain [imagining the food] then it can’t sustain the craving anymore,” says Hsu.
An app developed in 2014, called iCrave, gave people things to imagine. This “highjacked” their thoughts by challenging them with certain tasks. Having them imagine a forest, or a white horse interfered with images of food they were craving. By using the app when they felt a craving coming on, 48 subjects were able to reduce significant amounts of unhealthy snacking.
“This proved we can redirect mental processes with another task,” says Hsu who highlights the importance of people choosing to do this themselves.
“You don’t need a phone to do this task, you can chose an imagery task for yourself,” she says.
If played for just three minutes, the computer game Tetris, can curb cravings for food another study showed. It also was effective in curbing desire for drugs, sex and sleep.
“Playing Tetris decreased craving strength for drugs, food, and activities from 70% to 56%. This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings,” said Jackie Andrade from Plymouth University, who led the study, in a statement.
“Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.” This form of “mental distraction” has proven to reduce all forms of craving.
So the next time you have a craving for something sweet… you might want to try your imagination instead.
To your good health!
Drew Avery – Health Investigator