By Dr Megan Chircop
We all crave food on a daily basis, especially around meal times when we are hungry. Let’s face it we need it to survive, so the drive to eat is strong. But I am talking about cravings for specific foods, most likely to be ‘junk food’, which is ok to have as a special treat but not on a regular basis and not in large quantities, i.e. a binge.
How do we control these urges so that we prevent cravings from keep us fat and unhappy? It is a mental and physiological battle. Fortunately, there are some tools that we can use in our everyday life to help us cope with and avoid food cravings.
In general terms, the more rigid or strict your diet is the more you will likely battle with food cravings. For example, a study in the journal Appetite showed that individuals with strict dieting strategies, i.e. limiting certain food groups or total amount of food, were more likely to have symptoms associated with eating disorders (underweight) and higher BMIs (overweight). In contrast, those that had flexible diets were generally in the normal weight range.
Rigid diets are also associated with low dieting success compared to flexible dieting strategies, which are often associated with successful weight loss.
The bottom line is that if you are prone to food cravings, the worst thing you can do is make certain types of food forbidden and never to be had again. Remember, everything in moderation. Of course, your version of moderation may need to be adjusted. For example, 1 piece of cake a week may be ok for some but for others this may have to restricted to once a month. But the good news is, you don’t have to give it up all together.
Use the principles of flexible dieting to create a meal plan that works for you and learn how to incorporate ‘cheat meals’ without undoing all your hard work.
A cheat meal
A cheat meal is where you allow yourself to have eat more than you otherwise would. But not too much – if done in a controlled manner you can enjoy a larger, perhaps slightly naughty meal, without doing any damage to your weight loss progress. For example, if you are consuming 1500 calories a day to lose weight (20% deficit), then you can consume an addition 375 calories on a day you plan to have a ‘cheat meal’ so that for that day you are eating a ‘maintenance’ amount of calories. The other option is to consume this extra amount of calories distributed throughout all of your meals during one day. However, most people prefer to consume the extra calories in one meal such as going out to a restaurant or having a take-away pizza. Remember a ‘cheat meal’ is to be used cautiously and not too often. Some people can handle this once a week others may need to ‘cheat’ only once every few weeks. Your body will often tell you when you are crying out for a ‘cheat meal’ because the cravings will be unbearable, you may be grumpy and lacking energy.
By having a meal plan and occasionally allowing yourself a ‘cheat meal’ you can eat more or less all the foods you like (in moderation of course) while still reaching your body transformation goals.
Your mind is a powerful tool. Use it to make you stronger in every aspect of your life. You will gain self-confidence and believe that you can do things that you never once thought you could. For example, athletes use mental imagery to visual a particular action that they are just about to perform, such as kicking a penalty goal in a soccer match or shooting the ball straight through the hoop in a basketball or netball match. These are high pressure and stressful positions to be in but mental imagery can dramatically improve your chance of success.
So can you use this same mental imagery technique to fight food cravings? Of course you can. Here’s how.
Many food cravings start with a sensory exposure such as walking past a pastry shop and smelling freshly baked pies or croissants, or seeing a birthday cake or large spread of party food presented on a beautifully decorated table. These examples are like torture to a person on a weight loss diet. Juices start flowing in your mouth and you imagine yourself digging in to all of the delicious food you have just seen or smelt.
Why not use mind to turn off the mental imagery to turn down or turn-off the food craving that has instantly hit you.
When faced with a food craving, use your mind’s eye to create a non-food image, such as a beautiful subset, a cuddle with your partner, a massage, your favourite TV show or even a work-related problem that you are trying to solve. Imagine the colours, smells, sounds, emotions and touch of how this image is playing out in your mind. Hold it for several minutes. You will be surprised have the craving for the food that you were only thinking about a few moments ago starts to disappear and becomes less compelling to act upon.
The other option is to do something to distract yourself. Go for a walk outside and enjoy nature, pick up the phone and talk to a friend, play a game. The options are endless, just try to pick an activity that you enjoy as this will increase the chances that the craving will dissipate.
Mindfulness is a conscious awareness of what you are doing and paying particular attention to the details of the process in a non-judgemental manner.
By being mindful of your eating habits, which includes how (speed) you eat, when you eat, the environment in which you eat, and more, can assist you with your dieting success in several ways:
Some mindfulness practices that you can incorporate in to your everyday life and diet schedule are:
When you eat, slow down, savour every mouthful and become aware of the texture of the food, how it smells and tastes. Think about how it makes you feel. Is it a nice bowl of pumpkin soup that is warming you up on a cold winters night, or a crunchy crouton of wholegrain sourdough bread coated in a lemon vinaigrette in a freshly made salad on a hot summer’s day. Are you with friends enjoying a few laughs or are you enjoying a romantic conversation with your partner at the dinner table. The idea is to focus on the whole experience and take your time to enjoy every aspect of it, not just the food.
You may occasionally have moments of guilt about eating something and self-judge as a result. Simple be aware that this is what you are thinking and feeling. Acknowledge that you are human. Be strong and tell yourself to “keep calm, nobody is perfect and carry on”.
If you are going to achieve the body you desire and be able to maintain it for the rest of your life, then you really need to take control of food cravings. You do this by:
Remember, food cravings occur to even the best of us. So there is nothing to be ashamed of or guilty about. Learning how to deal with these cravings will equip you with the tools you need to achieving your ideal body in the long-term.
The Body Sculptors Australia team prides itself on developing nutritious recipes that are absolutely delicious and follow the principles of a flexible diet with lots of variety and healthy snacks to minimise cravings. You will wonder why you have not eaten like this your whole life when food tastes this good.
Our mission is to help as many people as possible achieve their ideal healthy, lean and active body to have confidence and happiness in their everyday lives.
Our personalised meal plans will teach you ...
*how much food YOUR BODY needs to achieve optimal health and energy
*how to turn healthy food in to delicious meals
... its easy...
we do all the thinking and calculations for you (to take the stress out of every day),
all you need to do is follow the plan!
You might also be interested in the following articles:
A morning pick-me-up that will burn fat
Is it ok to eat late at night?
Nutritional optimisation for weight loss
Recipes from all cuisines to suit all cultures and tastes to achieve your weight loss goals
The secret to eating for weight loss
How many calories do you 'drink' in a day?
When appetite does not work properly – part 1
8 reasons why meal planning will ensure you lose weight and keep it off for good
Transform your life, health and body today
Feel fantastic again in your own skin by learning what foods your body needs to nourish itself
Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the Body Sculptors Australia team is not, and will result in blacklisting.