We know how hard it is to eat a healthy diet and resist those moments when you feel the urge to grab the first thing you find in the fridge or pantry. The inevitable desire to immediately satisfy a whim. That irresistible feeling of wanting to put something in your mouth right now! Usually foods that are not seen as particularly good from a nutritional point of view. An ice cream, a pizza, a bag of chips, chocolate… Of course, you don’t have to eliminate all of these from your diet, but at certain times in your life they may be counterproductive to achieving your goals. But we’re all human and it’s impossible to magically exchange your desire for a chocolate bar with a craving for broccoli and chicken.
Even if you are not very strict with your diet – which is perfectly reasonable – there are still reasons to keep certain parameters around food that is less nutritious, as studies such a this , from Louisiana State University in the United States states that, “regular binge eating outside of regular meals to satisfy a craving that does not stem from hunger accounts for as much as a 7% to 11% increase in body weight.”
Most people fall somewhere between total impulsivity and total control. If you’re not satisfied with the way cravings are driving your diet, though, we’ve got some ideas.
Why do we have cravings? Are they due to a lack of nutrients?
Although at first it might seem that there’s a very close relationship between our diet and cravings, science shows us that this is not really the case. For example, a study from Current Nutrition Reports , published in 2020, suggests that: “A nutritional deficiency or energy deficit can rarely explain the onset of cravings”.
However, a relationship has been found between cravings and other factors such as mood or lack of sleep. Thus, a study published in The International Journal of eating disorders , found that cravings are “closely related to mood and affect men and women differently” and another treated collected in the PLoS Medicine , highlights the influence of sleep deprivation on the onset of sudden appetite.
So how can we keep ourselves in line and not fall into this type of temptation? The first thing we need is willpower, but there are also a few tips that can help you win in the fight against cravings. Let’s see what can be done: Take note!
1. Don’t Forget Breakfast
Not everyone wakes up hungry, but a routine that includes breakfast can help you stay away from cravings. If this breakfast includes a good amount of protein, even better. Thus, a study published in the Nutritional Journal , makes it clear that those who eat breakfast are less likely to indulge outside of meal times. This is because protein, in addition to being filling, stimulates the release of dopamine, which regulates food intake. As stated in this Mayo Clinic study : “The recommended daily amount to prevent deficiencies in an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Example: a person weighing 75 kilograms should consume 60 grams of protein daily. Regular exercisers also need more protein, about 1.1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram. The same is true for people who regularly lift weights or train for a race or cycling competition and need between 1.2 and 1.7 grams per kilogram. Eating too much protein is equivalent to eating more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight on a daily basis”.
2. Drink Coffee
There is increasing scientific evidence of the relationship between coffee consumption and its effect on appetite. A study published in the International Journal of food Sciences and Nutrition shows that “consumption of caffeine can moderate acute energy intake” which translates into a reduced appetite. After drinking coffee, most people ate less than if they had not had coffee, as shown by the same piece of research. We also came across another study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition which highlights the relationship between decaffeinated coffee consumption and hunger control. Specifically, this study showed that “decaffeinated coffee can acutely decrease hunger and increase the satiety hormone PYY”.
3. Increase Protein Intake
Protein can be your great ally in the fight against cravings. Not only can it help you reduce hunger pangs, according to this study, but it’s also a great help in coping with nighttime cravings, as evidenced by this other study. In addition, consuming protein can also help you feel fuller for longer, as shown in this piece of research from Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Plus, you can easily consume protein in many different ways, either in bars that you can carry with you or in whey protein shakes that you can make in just a few seconds.
4. Use Low Intensity Workouts
If you want to fight that sudden hunger, get moving! But beware, because a high-intensity workout could make you feel even more hungry. So the best option would be a low intensity training (LISS). A little yoga, a walk or a bike ride are a good choice. Before you dive into a bowl of brownies with ice cream, try taking a walk, which may cut your chocolate intake by as much as half, according to a study from the University of Exeter in the UK.
5. The Importance of a Good Rest
Never underestimate the benefits of getting quality, restful sleep . Rest is key to good physical and mental health. Even more so if you lead an active life and like to watch your weight. Many scientific studies point to the importance of rest. A study on how sleep affects weight and appetite, conducted by the University of Colorado, analyzed the effects of 5 days of insufficient sleep in 16 adults, compared to enough sleep. The study found that “lack of sleep increased total daily energy expenditure by ~5%; however, energy intake, especially in the evening after dinner, exceeded the energy needed to maintain energy balance”. Furthermore, this research also concluded that “sleep deprivation led to a weight gain of 0.82 ± 0.47 kg despite changes in hunger and satiety hormones, ghrelin and leptin, and peptide YY, which indicated excess energy reserves. Insufficient sleep delayed the circadian melatonin phase and also led to an earlier circadian phase of waking time”.
The researchers concluded that “these findings provide evidence that sleep plays a key role in energy metabolism. Importantly, they demonstrate physiological and behavioral mechanisms by which sleep deprivation may contribute to being overweight and obesity.”
6. Look for a Distraction
Just had a craving and don’t know how to avoid it? Reach for your cell phone and play a short video game, pull out your crossword puzzle book or find a distraction to keep you entertained for a few minutes. Focusing on something for a while can help take your mind off the feeling of having to put something in your mouth. For example, how about Tetris? Incredible as it may seem, study from the University of Plymouth suggests that playing Tetris for three minutes can reduce cravings. Can you think of a more entertaining way to beat temptation?
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