Food cravings begin in our heads: several specific areas of our brains, actually. Areas of the brain responsible for memory and sensing pleasure are partially to blame for all the unwanted midnight snacking that many of us are guilty of indulging in. For most, cravings kick in when we’re stressed or anxious. Carbohydrates boost the levels of our serotonin hormone, which in turn leads to a calming effect.
Dietary restrictions definitely make cravings worse. So, for those of us who find it difficult to stay away from our favourite foods, our best bet is to have portion-controlled amounts. Here are a few tips on how to satiate your appetite without compromising on the health front.
Make lower-calorie choices when possible
Go for low-calorie, low-fat brownies that taste just as yummy; they’ll satisfy your fudge brownie craving and save you those extra kilos. Likewise, if you crave soda, drink half a glass of diet soda mixed with half a glass of the real deal.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry
What happens when you skip a meal, or refrain from eating when you’re truly hungry? Sooner or later, you get so hungry that you end up overeating to compensate. It’s in this state of extreme hunger that we tend to crave quick-fix foods like candy bars. Eating several meals through the day may help to control cravings and binge eating.
Start a cravings journal
Maintain a cravings journal for a month; see how it goes. List the times during the day when you have cravings; your emotions at the time; the foods you crave, and how much you end up eating. When flip through your journal, look for patterns, if any, in your hunger cravings.
Strange as it may sound, some people really love chewing ice. But if you find yourself craving the cold stuff it might be a sign of anemia. Ice cravings are a form of pica—a desire to eat non-food items like dirt and laundry soap—and are linked to low iron levels. Researchers feel that it might be because chewing ice temporarily increases blood flow to the brain, counteracting the slowdown caused by iron deficiency. Feeling tired all the time is another common symptom of anemia.
If you find yourself constantly reaching out to chocolate, you may be depressed and trying to self-medicate with sweet. Cravings for chocolate may actually be a need for magnesium. If the craving is too much, opt for dark, milk-free chocolate that contains at least 70 per cent cocoa. The intensity of dark chocolate makes it easier to feel satisfied with less. In addition, chocolate contains magnesium and theobromine, two compounds shown to reduce levels of stress hormones and promote muscle relaxation.
Both at physical and emotional levels, sugar is often more satisfying than any other type of food. Sugar has the ability to lift energy levels and moods quickly; it even alters brain chemistry and increases your serotonin and endorphin levels. Sugar cravings can be easily satisfied with whole fruits, such as peaches, cherries, or melon. Keeping dried fruits, such as prunes or raisins handy may also be helpful for combatting cravings on the go.
Cheese is a star ingredient in many comfort foods—and for good reason. Cheese contains l-tryptophan, a compound that improves mood and promotes relaxation. So, if you find yourself craving a cheesy pizza or a gooey mac-n-cheese, it may just be that you’re in need of a little TLC. Indulging in a reasonable portion can be a good way to de-stress and feel better.
Craving potato chips?
Potato chips and their hot cousin, French fries, are two of the most commonly craved for foods. And, downing bags of the fatty junk may be a signal that you’re low on healthy fats. Our bodies don’t manufacture fatty acid so to get our daily requirement we have to eat it in foods like salmon and other fatty fish. Or it may mean you need more healthy fats in general and you’re not getting enough foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. You can replace chips with a salty snack that is rich in healthy fats and protein, such as cashews and walnuts. Nuts are high in calories, however, and people should eat them in moderation. Popcorn is also a good replacement for potato chips.
Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food!