This past year I’ve been having cravings – strong, insatiable cravings.
During my pregnancy, my stomach became a bottomless pit, constantly demanding energy to grow my baby. It only got worse after our son was born. I was burning so many calories from the nonstop nursing and sleep deprivation. With no time or energy to make a healthy snack, I just grabbed whatever I could get my hands on: cookies, granola bars, even pastry and desserts.
All that sugar only left me wanting more. Because unlike natural sugars in fruit, starchy vegetables and whole grains, refined sugar contains no vitamins, enzymes and fibres that help to release sugars more slowly into the bloodstream. Instead, it’s just ‘empty calories’ – pure energy that cause a spike in your metabolism, followed by a crash. This quick change in blood sugar levels leaves you feeling tired, cranky and craving more sweets to get another sugar ‘high’.
And we all know that too much sugar wreaks havoc on our health.
Of course I’ve been meaning to curb my cravings. But there always seemed to be a plausible reason to treat myself “just this once”, whether it was a birthday, special celebration or a get together with friends. I’ve gotten used to automatically (albeit enjoyably!) eating the temptations right in front of me again and simply ‘forgot’ about healthier options.
But I need every ounce of energy to keep up with my kids, work and home life, so it’s time to get control over my snacking habits again.
Do you want to curb your cravings and cut down on sugar too? Here’s the plan.
How to Curb Your Cravings in 6 Realistic Steps
1. Get enough sleep.
It may seem unrelated at first, but who hasn’t had the irresistible urge to ransack the pantry after a sleepless night? A lack of sleep causes overeating and junk food cravings – the very thing we’re trying to avoid. So make sure you get plenty of shut-eye when you’re attempting to cut down on unhealthy snacks.
And while we’re at it, also try to manage your stress levels. If you have to use all your mental energy to juggle your work and family life, there’ll be little willpower left to resist temptations and make healthy food choices.
2. Keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
To avoid that vicious cycle of sugar highs followed by a sudden drop in blood glucose levels, try to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day:
- Have 3 main meals and 2 to 3 healthy snacks instead of grazing all day long or waiting too long between meals.
- Replace refined carbs like white bread, white pasta and rice for fibre-rich wholegrain versions.
- Combine consumption of (quick) carbs with healthy fats and protein to slow down the release of sugars into your blood stream. Less blood sugar spikes means less cravings.
- Cut down on soda, fruit juice and energy drinks. Most of these beverages contain 5 to 10 teaspoons of sugar. Unfortunately, diet soda is not a healthy alternative to soft drinks. Artificial sweeteners trick your body into thinking you’re consuming real sugar and that confuses your metabolism, resulting into burning fewer calories while craving even more sweets. So swap the ‘liquid candy’ for flavoured water, pure coconut water, veggie juice or homemade iced tea.
- Be aware of secret sugar bombs. Sugar is added to everyday food products under many different names: high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose – just to name a few. You might think you’re in the clear because you’re virtuously avoiding the sweet stuff, but even seemingly healthy items like granola, fruit yoghurt and soups contain spoons full of sugar.
3. Identify your biggest triggers and pitfalls.
What makes you reach for the cookie jar? A stressful day at work, an argument with your partner, feeling tired, lonely or bored? Becoming aware of moments and situations that often trigger cravings is the first step to stopping unhealthy snacking in its tracks.
If you’re not sure which underlying feelings cause you to eat sugary snacks, keeping a food diary for a week can be helpful to identify your triggers. Hunger is often thirst in disguise, but insomnia, a hormonal imbalance and emotional eating are also common culprits of cravings.
When you’re longing for comfort food, ask yourself: What am I really craving? Am I physically hungry or is there something else going on? We all use food as a pick me up or reward, and that’s fine occasionally. But if you often indulge to satisfy emotional needs, it’s time to curb your cravings with healthier coping strategies.
Also pinpoint in which situations you’re most likely to ‘screw up’ and give into temptation. Do you have a hard time saying no to snacks in social situations? Or maybe you can’t resist ordering a dessert when you’re eating out? Knowing your pitfalls helps you avert them.
4. Have healthy snacks at hand.
We’ve all been there. You’re on-the-go when hunger strikes and there are no healthy options available. Or the afternoon slump rolls around and that chocolate bar is screaming your name.
Instead of hitting the vending machine, make sure you bring healthy snacks with you. Protein-rich snacks like Greek yoghurt with berries, a handful of nuts or roasted chickpeas help stave off hunger and keep you feeling full longer. You could also curb your sweet cravings with fruit or (homemade) naturally sweetened baked goods.
5. Satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier way.
When it comes to snacking, are you an abstainer or a moderator? If you don’t want to give up sweets all together, you can browse Pinterest or your favourite food blogs for healthier takes on cakes and desserts. Chia parfaits, ‘chocolate mousse’ from avocado, banana and raw cacao or homemade popsicles are great places to start.
My 3-year old daughter and I also love to have healthy baking sessions, during which we whip up wholesome banana bread, oatmeal cookies or a decadent beet and chocolate cake. But simple whole fruits, popped corn or a small piece of dark chocolate are just as good.
6. Have a game plan for resisting common temptations.
The problem with healthy eating in today’s society, is that food temptations are everywhere. The smell of pizza greeting you at the train station when you’re heading home after a tiring day. The candy bars staring at you while you’re waiting in line to get your lunch or groceries. The tables full of delicious sweets and snacks at birthdays, celebrations and holiday festivities.
Even with the best intentions, it’s challenging to make healthy choices at every occasions. That’s why it helps to have a game plan with some self-made rules:
- First off: Treat a treat as a treat. You can come up with a million reasons why it’s ok to indulge yourself today – I’m really good at that – but if you want to curb your cravings, let’s save treats for special occasions. How often and how much you snack is up to you. With the holiday season ahead, you could for example make a ‘rule’ of having cakes and desserts on Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s Eve itself, but not the weeks leading up to it.
- Break bad routines. If you always have a biscuit with your tea or dig into a bowl of ice cream when you’re blue, replace it with a healthier snack. You can read more about changing bad habits here.
- Make “If-Then plans” for how you will deal with temptations like eating out, parties and emotional hunger. All you need is one simple formula: “If X happens, then I’ll do Y.” For example, if I’m having dinner at a restaurant, then I will have a coffee or tea instead of dessert.
- Ingrain ‘healthy eating’ into your identity. As James Clear writes: “Your current behaviors are a reflection of your current identity. (…) To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.” When healthy snacking becomes a part of who you are, curbing your cravings will come naturally, not something that constantly requires discipline.
Having your own ‘rules’ about how you will deal with common temptations doesn’t mean you should feel bad when you still slip up. There’s no food police, and feeling guilty about what you did or didn’t eat only messes up your relationship with food, leading to emotional eating, more cravings or worse. You can always make a healthier choice with your next meal.
What’s your game plan for curbing your cravings?
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like:
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