Take control of your sugar cravings the right way.
You know the feeling, it is a couple of hours after lunch and all you can think about is hitting the vending machine. Or watching TV at night and you are gripped by a compulsion to eat an entire tub of ice-cream – cravings.
Often sweet in nature, it is intense food cravings that can see our dietary goals fly out the window as we are completely overcome by a desire to eat foods that are high fat, calories, salt and / or sugars.
While cravings can tell us a lot about our base line nutrition, how we respond to our cravings is also important, as eating more of what you are craving can actually make the cravings worse. So if you regularly find yourself on the hunt for energy dense foods you do not really want to be eating, here some simple dietary strategies to help you take back control.
While some people may experience cravings because of a dietary inadequacy, in more cases than not cravings are a result of programmed behaviours in which the brain has been taught to seek out a specific taste or flavour. For example, in the case of eating sweet foods after dinner, after a few days of reaching for a sweet treat after your evening meal, the brain will then seek this out by the third or fourth day.
When eating patterns have been established for weeks, months and years, the brain will be looking for this sweet sensation whenever you revert to that same scenario and environment.
Such cravings are largely behavioural and can easily be broken when we work to alter the neural pathways that we have previously established. An example of this would be doing something different at the time you would usually have a sweet snack or treat. A study published in the journal Appetite found that a significant number of participants lost their craving for chocolate altogether when they had to go for a walk before they could indulge.
Perhaps the most important things we can do when it comes to cravings is to avoid feeding the cravings with the food the brain is seeking as this will only act to stimulate he brain to seek out more of this food stimulus. This partially explains why you are able to eat an entire packet of Tim Tams or tub of ice-cream in one sitting, the brain will basically continue to seek out these intense flavours until your body is ready to burst from such overconsumption.
So where does this leave you when you are wanting something sweet or salty to eat but trying to not overindulge on high calorie snacks and extra food?
First and foremost avoid any large serves of intense sugars and high fat foods such as lollies, chocolates, biscuits and ice-cream as these will be virtually impossible to stop yourself from overeating. If you must, the best options are for individual portions of ice-cream or chocolate so you physically cannot overeat them.
Next, practice the art of food combining, ideally with a protein rich food such as Mayver’s Peanut Butter, cheese, hommus or Greek yoghurt with something sweet to help balance out the flavours you are exposing yourself to. Here you will avoid the frenzied feeding that can occur when you are quickly eating sugary foods, whilst still satisfying the need for something sweet. In particular the foods higher in fat – hommus, cheese and peanut butter will give you the rich mouth feel you are looking for, as well as offering protein which will also help to keep you full. Some of my favourite food combos include – apple slices or celery dipped or spread with Mayver’s Peanut Butter, Greek yoghurt with berries, chopped nuts and a spoon of honey (this can also be made into frozen yoghurt, or rice cakes or corn cakes topped with Mayver’s Peanut Butter and banana.
Finally, when it comes to cravings behavioural management is key. If you regularly crave sweet foods at night, factor in one sweet, but healthy option to take the edge off the craving before it takes hold of you. Then aim to stop eating by a certain time, and brush your teeth to help to shift the desire for sweet food. Or if cravings take hold mid-afternoon, try and preempt them with a healthy snack and keep gum or sugar free mints or vegetable sticks on hand to take the place of sweet foods when you want to mindlessly munch. Changing habits and building new ones takes time, but eating well throughout the day can go a long way in keeping your blood glucose levels well controlled and ultimately preventing extreme cravings long term.