The goal to eat healthy starts out easy in the morning. You are fresh. Ready to load up on protein and hold firm against the food temptations thrown at you during the day. Then you get to work. You forgot it was your boss’ birthday. Why is it always someone’s birthday? To celebrate your coworker brought coffee and donuts. You look at the donuts like a fighter sizing up their opponent. Not today you tell yourself as you slowly sip your black coffee. 11AM rolls around and the two eggs and turkey sausage you had at breakfast have long worn off. The donuts on the break room table beckon you. No, you tell yourself as you reach for carrot stick. You came prepared with lunch from home, but Katie from accounting has invited you out to lunch. Sure you tell yourself, get a light salad and all will be fine. Plus, the walk there will count as extra steps for the day! Katie has other plans and off you head to the local burger joint. Ok, fine, just a burger and I’ll skip the fries, but fries are potatoes which are almost vegetables; therefore, fries are practically the salad I had told myself I would get. Well, lunch was a bust. Back to work and the afternoon slump hits hard. All the while the donuts are still sitting on the table. Fine you tell yourself, just half the donut. Then the other half. Then the last one in the box because it looked sad sitting there alone and abandoned. By the time you head home you are discouraged, bloated and still on a sugar high from the donuts. Tomorrow you promise yourself will be better. Yes tomorrow is the day. But today is the day I finish the box of Oreos.
Why is it so hard to curb unhealthy cravings? There is no denying that craving junk food is a powerful psychological reaction. In fact, many foods are made in a way that triggers a reaction in your body to crave more of it. When you are restricting yourself from eating unhealthy food your body overcompensates and causes you to crave the food even more. Think about it this way: when you commonly eat the unhealthy food your palate gets used to the taste; therefore, it is not as exciting when you eat it. However, when you are restricting certain food you naturally crave the variety you have been missing. This creates more intense cravings that could lead to binge eating.
Although counterintuitive, experts believe that allowing yourself flexibility in an overall healthy diet is the best way to prevent binge eating junk foods. For example, if you are craving something sweet try small amounts of dark chocolate. This rich treat will satisfy the craving without ruining you day.
It is also important to take note of what your body is try to tell you it is craving. If you have eliminated certain food groups from your diet – such as carbohydrates – your craving may be your body’s way of indicating it is in need of a specific nutrient. If you suddenly crave cookies and cakes, your body is low on the fuel produced by carbs, and it is time to find whole grain sources before you finish off a sleeve of cookies.
Finally, always remember willpower is a limited resource. There is only so long you can deny certain treats in your life. Thinking about not eating something will eventually either drive you nuts or make you want to eat it more. Giving into the craving within moderation will – in the long run – make it easier to resist in the future. Telling yourself you can give into the craving makes you feel less controlled by it. Finally, once you have the treat your brain knows that it is not a scarce resource and it will be there again in the future and don’t have to eat it all now. Once you eat the cookie, or bowl of ice cream put it away and clean up your mess. This will trigger your brain into knowing you are done with the food and it is time to move on.
Understanding the basis of food cravings won’t help prevent the craving, but it will equip with the knowledge necessary to address it and move on. One slip up won’t ruin your day. Start making healthy habits and decisions and remember that everything is fine in moderation.