8 Effective Ways to Manage Food Craving
Food cravings and binge eating are one of those common occurrences in life. Everybody at one or more times in their life would have experienced this. It may seem harmless on the surface, but repeated cycles of food craving and indulgence can do a lot of damage to your health in the long run. It will lead to weight gain, unless one is doing strenuous exercise regularly that will help burn all the extra calories. In addition to obesity or overweight, it opens the doors for type-2 diabetes, heart ailments, fatty liver disease and arthritis.
Food cravings and binge eating generally involve all those types of food that may be good for your palate but not good for your health. This includes sugary snacks or beverages, salted condiments, sweets and fried foods. Generally, foods that are high on salt, sugar and fat!
It is important to be aware that, strong emotions are strong triggers for food craving and binge eating. This includes ravenous hunger, sadness, depression, anxiety, delight or celebration, physical pain, anger, bitterness or stress. Being overworked, and not resting or sleeping enough too triggers such bouts of indulgence. This is because quick satiation with junk-food creates a dopamine rush in the brain, which gives out feelings of happiness, calmness and satisfaction. This is very similar to feelings that drug abusers or alcoholics` experience. Needless to say, it can create an addiction for unhealthy food and sets in motion – unhealthy eating patterns!
Fortunately, over time, doctors and nutritionists have come up with simple techniques or effective ways to manage food craving. These minimize the health risks mentioned above, and ensure you stay healthy while being satiated at all times.
1. Eating a wide variety of foods, eating on time
Everyone would have experienced this at-least once in their life. There are days when you strongly crave for sweets, and on some days, it is salted snacks. This can be due to changes in your blood sugar or blood pressure. This happens when you have skipped a meal, or when your meal timings are erratic. Or even if there is a dearth in certain nutrients. For example, a deficiency of chromium in the body can create cravings for sweets.
That is why, it’s important to eat a balanced meal every time, that includes lean meat, whole grains, healthy fats and a wide variety (in every colour) of fresh fruits and vegetables. All these components of a balanced diet are rich in requisite vitamins and minerals that provide the required nutrition for overall health.
2. Avoiding hunger
At times, we may skip a meal, and then get too busy with our work. Result – strong hunger pangs. At such times, the body tends to crave for high calorie, or high salt foods. Avoid this situation by keeping a small snack with you on all those days when you expect your schedule to be disrupted. This could be a peanut chikki, a protein bar, a piece of fruit, or a small portion of cooked food. Also, it’s a good idea to have 5 small meals over your waking hours, as against the norm of 3 large meals. The quality of the snack also matters. Avoid salted condiments, sweets or anything with a high fat load. Choose snacks that are high on protein, medium on carbohydrates and healthy fats, low on sugar.
Also Read: Is Binge Eating a Mental Disorder? – An Insight
At times, in-spite of being well-fed, you may experience food cravings. This happens when one is discussing or thinking about food, or has seen food-related content on the mobile, TV or display-ads. In such a situation, get away from the trigger. Change the topic of discussion, get up and go for a walk, or do some tasks related to your work or personal life. You will discover that the craving has disappeared or diminished significantly. Avoid going out to an eatery or ordering food online, at such times. Remember, the food craving is uncalled for, it’s just your mind playing tricks on your habit of unhealthy eating. Distract yourself, and you will be able to break the urge.
4. Staying hydrated
Quite often, one may mistake thirst for hunger. Not being hydrated enough can cause a wrong notion of hunger and in turn cause food cravings. To avoid this, stay hydrated at all times with water, healthy beverages (coffee, tea and fruit juice with no added sugar) or soups. Of all these, water is the easiest to access. If your work requires you to be on the road often, carry a bottle of water and take a sip whenever you get such cravings. At the workplace, get up and go to the water filter and drink a glass of water. This habit is good for your diet and also your joints.
5. Meal planning
Create a meal plan for all days of the week. This should cover what dishes will be cooked for the 3 meals, and must be healthy food-choices. You should purchase the ingredients upfront, so that there is no change in this plan. When such a plan is in place, you need not waste too much time on what to cook or what to eat. The less the mind wanders around the topic of food, the less of chance of cravings, ordering something online, or rushing to an eatery.
6. Develop food sensibility
While being cautious about diet and nutrition is a good thing, there are many people who swing to the other end of the spectrum. They take up crash diets that are low on either proteins, carbs or fats, or restrictive diets that expect the person to completely avoid some dish or ingredient for a long time. These reduce nutrition from food and open the door to other complications. And then there are people who follow diet and nutrition plans very strictly, or rigidly with no possibility of an exception or indulgence (think “military school”).
All these creates an unhealthy approach to food and health. Moderation or balance is the key to good health in life. This obviously includes mental health as well. Taking an extreme view on health and nutrition creates a spring effect where-in, one day, the person drops all such plans and goes on a binge-eating or revenge-eating spree. Or the person goes on a cheat-eating spree every now and then, denying that it can do any harm. Avoid all such behaviours. If at times, you feel a very strong urge to eat your favourite dish, go ahead. Keep the portion small and keep such instances fewer. Use your mind and body as friends, not slaves, in your campaign for good health.
Also Read: The Gut-Brain Connection
7. Sleeping well
In recent times, sleep deprivation has become a common problem thanks to drastic changes in lifestyle. Sleep deprivation affects the amygdala and frontal cortex of the brain, which increases the risk of depression, diabetes and heart-ailments. Further, sleep deprivation creates food cravings for sweet, salty and high-calorie foods. To avoid such a situation, and even otherwise for the sake of good overall health, it’s important to get 7.5 to 8 hours of quality sleep every day. Eat your dinner 2 to 3 hours before sleep, and avoid use of devices an hour before sleep. Instead, read a book, as reading is known to calm the nerves and induce good sleep.
8. Managing stress
Stress – both physical and mental are triggers for food craving and binge eating. While physical stress cannot be avoided as its dependent on one’s profession, mental stress can be and must be well-managed. You can do Yoga, meditation or indulge in your favourite hobbies to dissipate your stress. Spending time with friends and family also has a positive effect. In addition to reducing stress, it prevents social isolation, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, as one ages.
In addition to the above, exercising regularly is an important measure in battling food cravings. Regular exercise helps maintain body-weight and regulate metabolism, which helps internal organs function optimally. This ensures all biological triggers for food-craving and binge-eating are eliminated and one can follow a healthy lifestyle.
Reviewed by Dr Suresh S Venkita, Group Medical Director, Kauvery Hospitals
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
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- Dec 28, 2022