Hands up if you’ve tried pretty much everything to kiss goodbye to cravings and had no luck whatsoever?
With mindful eating, you don’t need to spend heaps of time and energy on crushing your cravings completely.
Telling yourself that you absolutely can’t have a particular food can work against you in the long term.
Think of it this way: if I tell you not to think about a pink elephant, guess what immediately pops up in your mind? No matter how hard you try, it’s super hard to shift the mental image of the pink elephant!
Your cravings can be a little bit like this too. Denying yourself completely often means that they don’t magically go away, even if you take tons of action to distract yourself. It’s pretty common for them to actually get stronger … a lot like the thought of the pink elephant.
It can also encourage a “now or never” way of thinking if you do give in to the craving. Often, this means that you’ll eat far more than you intended. After all, you’re not supposed to be eating it again seeing as it’s off-limits, right? In reality, it will most likely happen again and you’ll carry on feeling bad about it.
There’s another problem with craving ultra-processed food: according to research, it affects hunger hormones and makes it harder for your body to recognise when you’re genuinely full. Unsurprisingly, this means eating a lot more calories than you would otherwise … usually involving other unhealthy foods.
Another finding from the study involved the speed at which food was being eaten. The group eating the ultra-processed food tended to eat more quickly, leading researchers to question whether this was a big factor in the brain being able to recognise signals that they were full.
How mindful eating turns the tables on cravings
Mindful eating can really come into its own in several different areas. In a nutshell, it puts you back in control of your food choices, which can often feel impossible when you’re constantly trying to beat your cravings into submission.
A few reasons why mindful eating can work so well:
You’re not giving in to your cravings and letting them take control but you are allowing yourself a little bit of what you fancy and taking the opportunity to relish it. Your mind knows that there will be other chances to satisfy the craving so the “now or never” mentality isn’t a big issue. The end result? It’s a whole heap easier to bring your cravings in check.
The trick is to be super-mindful with how you eat. When you take that first bite of something you’ve been craving, resist the urge to dive straight into the next one. Put your fork, knife or spoon down in between bites or keep putting your food down if you’re eating with your hands. The more you can chew each bite before swallowing, the better.
Take the time to really notice the taste and texture as you chew. This bit might surprise you, especially if you’re used to eating quickly on autopilot. If you’re eating junk foods, being more mindful with your eating might flag up how salty, sugary or just plain processed the taste truly is. And chances are, it’s going to be a whole lot less appealing once you get clued into this.
Even if this doesn’t happen, taking more time to savour your food helps you to enjoy it more and sometimes, you’ll realise that your cravings weren’t quite as strong as you thought and feel satisfied after just a few bites.
It can also lift the lid on why you’re getting cravings in the first place. Sometimes, you’ll know exactly what’s behind it but it won’t always be this obvious. Being more mindful with your eating can get to the bottom of what is triggering your cravings and the emotions that may be a factor.
It’s not always easy to get to grips with mindful eating, especially if you’re used to eating quick and not tuning in to your body’s hunger signals. Over time, it gets a lot easier to overcome unhealthy relationships with food, including cravings, overeating and emotional eating.
According to the results of a 2014 study, a mindful approach to eating can help to build a healthier relationship with body image and curb “disordered eating” such as binge eating. And from a cravings perspective, many of the women who took part in the study also reported that they spent less time yearning for high fat and sugary treats.
If you’re struggling with cravings, mindful eating could be the lifestyle change that helps you to get back in control of your eating habits and spend more time enjoying what you eat.
If you notice your weight starting to creep up once you hit 30, your lifestyle could be having more effect than you think. We all know the obvious triggers such as eating too much and not doing much exercise but there are some sneakier factors that can play a big part in weight gain. Here are some of the most common ones to avoid so that you can keep your tummy trim and within a healthy weight range.
Too Much Stress
Struggling to keep your stress levels under control? There’s a good chance that it’s affecting your weight – especially for women. Your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol, during stressful periods and this can send your blood sugar levels haywire. According to studies, high cortisol production leaves you craving sweet foods and means you’ll probably eat more calories.
Cortisol also changes how your body uses glucose, makes it harder to burn fat and makes it easier to store fat. Women are more likely to store fat on their stomach but this can also be true for men. Abdominal fat has been linked to health issues so it’s definitely something you want to keep to a minimum!
Falling Into Emotional Eating Habits
Not taking care of your wellbeing can mean that you eat in line with your emotions rather than when you’re genuinely hungry. Feeling sad, stressed, lonely, bored or disappointed can lead you to eat to fill an emotional void and crave particular foods (usually the unhealthy kind!).
You might feel a little bit better in the immediate aftermath but in the longer term, this type of emotional eating can have a big effect on your weight. Most of the time, you won’t get a signal to say that you’re full and it’s all too easy to find that you’ve eaten a lot more than you planned in a very short space of time. And you probably won’t feel any better afterwards. In fact, you may well feel a whole lot worse as it’s common for emotional eating to make you feel guilty and ashamed of your food choices.
Not Sleeping Well
Poor sleep quality makes you more likely to eat more calories and gain weight. This is because it disrupts hormones that control your appetite. Lack of sleep increases production of ghrelin and decreases leptin levels, which means it’s harder to manage your appetite.
Sleeping well is one of the underrated ways to keep your weight in check as your levels of these hormones will be a lot more balanced.
Not Building Muscle Mass
If you spend a lot of time sitting down and aren’t very active, you probably don’t have much muscle mass. This might not seem like a big deal but it’s a common weight gain trigger.
Lean muscle boosts your metabolism and makes it that little bit easier to burn calories. If you don’t have much lean muscle, your metabolism doesn’t get this benefit and it’s harder to burn calories.
One of the best ways to build more muscle mass is through strength training. Don’t worry- you won’t end up looking like a bodybuilder! The idea of strength training is to build a toned body with minimal body fat rather than the bulky look we often associate with weights.
Not Eating Enough
Being on a diet more often than not means you’re definitely going to lose weight, right? Not always! Restricting your calorie intake too much slows down your metabolism and encourages the body to go into “starvation mode” so that it can run on fewer calories. This also means you burn fewer calories too as your body uses most of your intake to survive.
These kind of diets are very hard to stick to in the long term. Chances are, you’ll go back to a less restrictive way of eating but your body can still be more likely to store fat. This is why many people find that they gain weight after coming off a low-calorie diet.
Eating “Low Fat” Foods
Just because a food claims to be “low fat” doesn’t always mean that it’s going to help you to stay in shape. A lot of supposedly “low fat” options are often high in sugar and salt to make them tastier and can also contain a lot of calories. Eat too many of these “low fat” foods and you’re probably going to put weight on!
Tips for Avoiding These Triggers
So, what can you do to avoid these common triggers and get your body in the best shape?
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that isn’t too restrictive on calories and stay away from “low fat” foods that can promote weight gain
- Be physically active and help your body to gain a bit more muscle mass
- Get plenty of sleep to keep appetite hormones in balance
- Make stress reduction a big part of your self-care routine and finding healthier ways to manage your emotions that don’t involve emotional eating
- Adopting a more mindful approach to eating so that you don’t eat on autopilot
I have made the decision to share my personal journey with you all. This wasn’t easy to write as I am a very private person but as a coach, I feel it is important to be able to relate to my client’s struggles and be able to offer support and encouragement from a place of personal experience. I see so many people struggle with their own health and weight loss issues for lots of different reasons. Healthy eating and managing your weight isn’t just about what we put in our mouths. It’s so much more than that.
After having my second child I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and generalised anxiety. I lived in a constant state of fear. I can only describe it as living with that same sensation of that split second a car pulls out in front of you. You slam on your breaks, you get a fright, your heart is thumping, you can’t breathe and your legs are shaking. Depending on how big a fright you get this sensation of panic will pass. However, for me, I lived in this constant state of ‘fear’ day in and day out. I stopped leaving the house and was utterly terrified my kids and I would be killed in a tragic accident. We stopped going to the shops, I stopped walking with the buggy and we stayed in the house all day long. I lived like this for around 6 months before getting help.
Help for me came in the form of antidepressants, a particularly nasty kind because I was breastfeeding. After about three weeks the sense of impending doom lifted and I was able to function again. I went back to work a few months later and things were good. I was a bit of a zombie and gained a lot of weight which I couldn’t shift on my medication. Looking back now, I wish I knew then what I know now about the true powers of exercise and good nutrition.
When I was well and feeling better I weened myself off the antidepressants. My diet at this time was poor, highly processed and I consumed a LOT of sugar! I tried various diets and they worked for a few weeks but were unsustainable long term. I would lose some weight then put it back on, or I would reach my ‘goal weight’ then revert back to my old ways and pile it back on and feel like a failure. A common story for so many people. That diet treadmill is a horrible cycle to be stuck in.
Fast forward one year and I fell pregnant with my third child Charlie, he was a pleasant surprise, however, I was scared post-natal depression would rear its ugly head again. Fortunately, it didn’t. In fact, I felt amazing. I had three gorgeous boys and I felt really good. This came as a big relief to me, I was more sociable, outgoing and generally a much happier mummy. I believed my days of depression were behind me at last.
Five months later my world was turned upside down in a split second when I discovered my husband was having an affair with someone I viewed as a friend and had been since before I fell pregnant with Charlie.
My husband and I separated almost overnight and I found myself a new place to live. Due to the situation, I also made the decision to move my kids to a different school and nursery. (This all happened in a matter of weeks, 2 weeks to be exact!) This was such a difficult time for me mentally, I was terrified of the thought of being a single mum, bringing up three wee boys all by myself. It wasn’t how I thought my life was going to turn out. Silly things would sadden me, like family holidays, how would I ever manage two weeks on my own in Spain with three kids, silly I know but I felt like my dreams of a family life had been taken away from me.
At first, I muddled on the adrenaline got me throw the first few weeks but as the dust settled I could feel myself slipping down ‘that’ horrible road again. I just couldn’t go through all that again, my kids needed me more than ever! They needed a fully functioning, happy, loving mum. They also needed me to support them through this sudden change to their family life. Everyone I confided in about my concerns for my children, told me how resilient kids are and to not worry about them too much. How right were they, thank goodness!
After several trips to the doctor, I was prescribed another course of antidepressants. I reluctantly accepted them as I felt it was my only option. After arriving home from the doctor’s surgery clutching my prescription, I sat at my kitchen table staring at them, not wanting to take them but also not wanting to feel this bad either, I wanted the old me back.
I knew deep down this depression was caused by a situation in my life that I knew in time would get easier. I made the choice to researched how to help improve my depression and anxiety without medication. It became very clear quickly, that exercise was up there as one of the main ways to help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Nutrition also played a massive roll in alleviating the symptoms of depression. So that was it I was hooked! I threw my anti-depressants to the back of the cupboard and decided to get myself through this with healthy eating and exercise and it worked, it worked fast. I am not saying anti-depressants are bad or should be avoided because they helped me in the past. This time I wanted to help myself in a way that I knew would benefit me long term. I would not recommend coming off medication without consulting your doctor first.
So my journey to a happy, healthy Christy began nearly 5 years ago. I started walking every day with the buggy, then running and I started training weights, lifting heavy weights made me feel strong, with no man around the house I needed to be strong physically as well as mentally. I cut sugar from my diet and cut out alcohol Monday to Friday. I started my journey by eating clean, cutting all processed food from my diet, including flour, sugar, bread, pasta and avoiding preservatives, colour additives and fat replaces. I felt amazing, strong and above all HAPPY. At a time where I could have easily gone in the other direction, I managed to help myself through self-care and love. I nourished my body with everything it deserved. I was so passionate about how wonderful I felt I wanted to support others through their own struggles and help them make positive changes to their diet and lifestyle. I knew I could do this because I had gone through the changes myself. I 100% do not view this type of eating as a diet but as a lifestyle approach to food.
Honestly, I can say I felt amazing almost instantly, more energy, alert, I was losing pounds every week, my hair and skin started to glow. It truly did change my life and relationship with food forever. I was so pleased with my results and keen to learn more I went onto to study Nutrition.
It was at this point I decided to create Lose It and Love It, I wanted to help others achieve what I had with my health goals. My mission was to help my clients feel fabulous by nourishing their bodies with wholesome foods. My approach to weight loss, nutrition, my one to one coaching and accountability helps clients make lasting changes to their diet and lifestyle. I feel so privileged to have helped so many women make the change.
Life throws so many curve balls and that’s what life is about, right? I hope my personal journey has shown you that things have not been smooth sailing for me and that I struggle sometimes but I always know that if I focus on a healthy balance of exercise and good food I will feel better again very quickly. If you are struggling just now my biggest piece of advice is to start taking good care of YOU.
Wishing you health and happiness,
I used to suffer from really bad food cravings, I was addicted to sugar and didn’t realise that what I was eating was impacting my life so much. I was moody, tired, lacked focus and energy and my general mood was low. I was going through a massive change in my personal life and found myself a single mummy of three wee boys under 5. It was a scary time but I knew I had to keep strong and take care of my babies.
This was when I started focusing on my nutrition and how it was impacting my life and so much more than just my weight. I became so interested in my health and well-being I went on to study nutrition and sports nutrition. I implemented everything I learnt and I transformed my health. I am realistic in my approach and live a balanced life, I am not 100% good all the time and I certainly enjoy my treats and a vino or two.
Finding that balance has set me up for a life of healthy eating and no more yo yo dieting. I eat without the guilt and all the other emotions we feel while we follow horribly restrictive diets. It has been a really positive journey that I now feel so privileged to be helping lots of other people make some positive changes.
So, what can we do to reduce cravings? By adopting the following eight practices, you can reduce your cravings for sugar or other unhealthy foods and drinks.
1. Don’t skip meals.
It’s super important when it comes to eliminating cravings. When we skip meals, we may think we’re reducing our calories for the day. The problem with this is that by mid-afternoon, hunger hits with a vengeance, we give in to the temptation and then we get mad at ourselves for failing. This often leads to eating even MORE empty calories, more sugar, more processed food, because now we again feel we are starving and we’re stressed from failing. It’s easy to just start to shovel in the closest food you can find when you’re “starving.”
When you can spread out your meals as evenly as possible throughout the day, ensure that your meals are based on whole foods, and add a healthy snack when needed, your blood sugar is likely to be more stable. This mean no more energy crashes which result in a craving for sugar to get your energy level back up.
Often, sugar cravings are our body’s response to needing energy. By eating balanced meals throughout the day, our energy levels stay up, thereby reducing cravings.
2. Don’t bring temptation home
This sounds simple, but it’s oh so true.
If you want to make good choices, only keep good choices in the house. I like to keep the veggies and fruit at eye level and up front for my kids. When they see healthier choices first, they go for what’s within easy reach. Keeping washed, pre-cut veggies with a pre-made yummy dip means healthy snacks are all ready to eat.
Plus, if the junk food, sugary cereals, cookies, cakes, ice cream, crisps, etc., are not there, you can’t eat any, right? Stock your kitchen with whole foods that fill you up, satisfy your hunger and give your body the nutrients it needs. This greatly aids in the reduction of cravings, because you don’t feel so hungry.
3. Eat enough protein and healthy fat
The low-fat diet craze caused people to fear all sources of dietary fat, including the healthy fats that our bodies desperately need to function properly. Healthy fat is crucial to providing essential fatty acids, the absorption of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals and are a source of energising fuel. To make up for the lack of fat and taste in their products, the food companies added more SUGAR! Low fat foods are not very satiating, which leaves us hungry again a short time later. This leads to consuming more calories, which is not good if your goal is weight loss.
By eating more whole foods that are packed with the nutrients our bodies need, the less junk food we crave. Our bodies need real food – whole food in its natural state – to thrive. Providing our body with what it needs can reduce addictive cravings.
If eliminating junk food from your cupboards is a challenge for you because your children or spouse have snacks they “have to have,” try replacing one type of snack at a time. For example: Maybe instead of Doritos, which are full of artificial ingredients and MSG, transition to something like organic tortillas. Be sure you have a great fresh salsa or guacamole for the dip and serve with a plate of fresh cut veggies too! Starting with small changes and transitioning little by little can avoid a major mutiny. You don’t have to do a major overhaul all at once. This can take some time. It’s good to introduce new foods and see what everyone likes. You never know what may become a new favourite.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep each night? And do you get quality sleep?
What does sleep have to do with healthy eating and achieving your ideal weight range? A lot!
Think about the difference of how your entire day goes when you wake up tired vs. how you feel and how your day goes after you get a full night’s rest. It’s typical that we make different food and activity choices throughout the day when we are rested and feel energetic compared to days when we are dragging.
Tiredness, stress and exhaustion all trigger food binges. When we’re tired, we get stressed more easily. Studies show how signals from the brain, which control appetite regulation, are impacted by sleep restriction. Our body craves more energy and we get more energy from food, so we end up eating more, and usually end up making less healthy choices.
5. Be a food label detective
We’ve been taught to look at the calories and fat content on labels, but not the actual INGREDIENTS. It’s shocking what our food is made up of these days. When we consume sugar, we CRAVE more sugar, so it’s important to know where it’s lurking.
To eat healthy food, you need to know what’s in it! That means you have to read the label! Sugar is often disguised under different names as well as being listed more than once under the different names.
Here are just a few of the names sugar goes by: high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, sucrose, dextrose, maltose.
Before you put something in your trolley, know what it is that are buying to eat. The front of the package is designed to be an advertising billboard to “sell” you the product and the food manufacturers know how to trick us! They know the buzz words that fool us, don’t they? Words like “healthy,” “natural,” “baked,” “whole grain”, etc. You might think baked would be healthier than fried, right.
IGNORE what the front of the package says and look at the list of ingredients. If it sounds like a science experiment full of names you can’t identify, put it back on the shelf.
6. First eat something healthy
Don’t tell yourself you can’t have something you feel you’re craving!
Instead, tell yourself, “I can have it, but first I’m going give my body something nutritious, such as a banana and a few nuts or a fresh salad with some protein.” This way, by the time you’re done with the healthier choice, you are way less likely be craving the sugar anymore and will skip it. Try it and see what happens. Some of my clients that try this are sceptical at first, but are pleasantly surprised to see how well it works.
Look at what some of your habits are and the food choices that go along with them. Do you pour yourself a cup of coffee and automatically reach for that biscuit? Do you nibble on a cookie before dinner to “hold you over” and then not feel so hungry when you sit down with your family? Does dessert automatically mean ice cream or cake?
7. Are you hungry for food or are you really craving something else?
What do you crave that’s not food?
Sometimes cravings are caused by things we feel are missing from our lives and food fills the void for us. We may be conscious of the void, or not. Stress, feeling bored or being lonely can do this as well. When you feel cravings coming on be real with yourself about whether it’s the food or something else. Get in touch with what you’re craving that’s not food and learn ways to nourish yourself without food.
Ask yourself if you’re REALLY hungry…or is it something else? If you just ate a meal an hour ago and felt satiated, maybe you aren’t really hungry. See if doing something else takes your mind off of mindless munching as a distraction. Boredom can be a big trigger for cravings.
I hope my top tips will help you reduce your cravings….