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9 Ways to Curb Those Food Cravings

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French FriesYou've spent the last few weeks weeding the junk out of your diet. You feel better than you did last month, yet you're a little tired. "Aren't I supposed to have more energy?" you think. As if on cue, you pass the local McDonald's. The smell is arousing. "Yes, it must be lack of protein." As luck would have it, it's Big Wednesday - two Big Macs for $2. Certainly your body wouldn't steer you wrong, so you order away. Habit sways you to throw in fries and a Coke, but that's okay because you've earned it. Besides, you've been listening to your body, and it's craving protein. This can't be wrong. Or can it?

High Fat DessertLearning how to listen to your body is a vital step to living an active and healthy lifestyle. Your body is smart; it will tell you what is working and what isn't. Unfortunately, it's also a creature of habit, and old habits die hard. So sometimes when you could use a little fat, it tells you that you need a pint of Ben and Jerry's. You want to conquer these bad habits, yet you know you need to fuel yourself properly. What should you do?

Physiological Cravings versus Psychological Cravings

The ability to tell physiological hunger from psychological cravings is one of the keys to maintaining a lean body, and learning to distinguish which is which is your first step to learning how to conquer your cravings. Eating in response to a psychological craving almost always insures overeating.

Your body will tell you it needs food or a certain food because it's deficient. These are physiological cravings:

  • You feel like you suddenly have no energy.
  • You have a gnawing feeling in your stomach.
  • You're light-headed.
  • You can't stop thinking about meat, or spinach, or even fatty foods, etc.

Some examples of psychological cravings are:

  • You want something sweet after dinner.
  • You want a hot dog at a ball game or chips while watching TV.
  • You get hungry at the mention of ice cream.
  • You can't decide what you want to eat but feel the need to eat something.
  • You get suddenly hungry from the smell of a comfort-food restaurant.
  • You get hungry when you're stressed.
  • You get hungry when you're bored.

What to do
ChocolateOnce you decide which type of craving you're having, then make a plan of action. You want to give in to physiological cravings. These happen commonly when you don't eat for long periods of time. They also happen both at the onset of an exercise program or any time you restrict your diet. Often they signal a blood sugar crash, like when you're light-headed. Food cravings can signal different things. Meat cravings come from excessive muscle breakdown when your body wants protein to repair it. Veggies usually signal a vitamin deficiency. Ice cream, or any fat, can signal a fat deficiency. If these cravings are real, eating the right food will calm the craving, even if it's something you don't like. For example, a teaspoon of flaxseed oil might appease your ice cream craving if you haven't been getting enough essential fat. A protein shake may have the same effect as a Big Mac, even though you were sure you needed that burger. These types of cravings should be indulged. You just need to make sure to do it correctly.

Psychological cravings are far more common. This is when you become certain that you'll fall over dead if you don't get some peanut M&M's, now! These are the cravings that need to be resisted at all costs. Here are some tips to help when times get tough:

  • Eat every 3 hours. Even if it's something small. One of the biggest culprits for psychological cravings is falling blood sugar levels. If you keep your levels steady, you simply won't crave the same things. The easiest way to combat cravings is to avoid them in the first place.

  • Drink water. Dehydration confuses the body and will often make it feel hungry, especially if it's cool out. A small glass of water each hour will keep your stomach full and keep you hydrated.

  • Wait. Real cravings stay with you but psychological ones don't. If you've eaten enough and are hydrated, putting off a decision for 15 to 20 minutes will help the craving dissipate.

  • Distract yourself. Along the same lines, if you start doing something else the feeling will usually pass. If you've been working in front of a computer but feel the need to eat, do something else. Make a phone call or read the news. Changing your mindset might be all you need.

  • Exercise. If you start to exercise and your cravings aren't physiological, you'll feel better almost instantly. If they are physical, you'll never be able to really get into your workout, which is a sign that you need to eat.

  • Challenge your craving. Some people like to attack things, and so prefer the approach that is "Go ahead and take your best shot. I don't need food and I'm not eating!"

  • Healthy Snack of ApplesKeep healthy snacks around. Sometimes you just can't take it, especially if you're on a restricted-calorie diet. Keeping healthy snacks around will help. Have a piece of fruit or some raw veggies. If that doesn't help, you'll know your craving is psychological.

  • Change your routine. Habit can affect a craving, so shake up what you do, even if it's just slightly. Turn off the lights in your kitchen and try not to use that room. Change the lighting of your house, move your desk, sit differently, get up every so often and stretch, or drink waterdo anything different. Forcing simple changes can make it easier to follow through with tougher ones.

  • And when absolutely nothing else works, give in—but RARELY! Every so often you've got to blow it. After all, you're human. And if you didn't enjoy these foods, they wouldn't have become something you craved in the first place. You are going to mess up sometimes. This can be okay if you can limit amounts. Have a square of chocolate instead of a whole bar, a serving of chips (around 20) instead of a bag, half a soda instead of the entire thing. And never let one bad evening turn into a three-day (or three-week) binge! This will work your habitual mind in the right direction and lead to the ability to cut that craving out for good.
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