How to Deal with Food Cravings

Four Ways To Finally Kill Your Food Cravings

You’re sitting at your desk going on and about your daily activities when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re overwhelmed with the need and urgent desire to devour a full plate of salty French fries. Your mind couldn’t stop thinking about the treat. So you think “maybe I’ll have just a bite. Or maybe I’ll eat all of it and skip dinner later tonight”. Life will be a lot easier if our mind is wired to crave healthy food, but it’s a daily struggle to hold ourselves from junk food. The problem arises when you have little to no control over your craving on a daily basis, you’re basically setting yourself up for serious health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, etc. Every time you give in to a craving you re-enforce the neural pathway to eat this way. Meaning, it makes it more difficult to stop giving into the cravings. You don’t have to go down this road, food cravings do not have to rule your life, and there are scientifically backed methods to deal with cravings effectively.  There are four schools of thought on dealing with cravings and I suggest you implement parts of them all.

#1 Distract Yourself

The first is to distract yourself with another activity (walking, reading, TV, etc.). TV usually isn’t the best choice if you associate TV with mindless eating. You can also take a series of deep breaths, do a quick workout, dance to an upbeat song, take a brisk walk or even jog. Exercise has been shown to release Dopamine the “feel good” hormone that can actually help suppress the craving.  To be honest with you, this is more of a short term tactic and doesn’t often create lasting results BUT it can still be useful.

In a study recently conducted, researchers found out that spending at least 10 seconds thinking about something else apart from the cravings actually works effectively in getting rid of the craving altogether. Moreover, cravings usually last about 10 minutes, so distracting yourself by engaging in a visually interesting game interferes with the mental processes that support that craving. Jackie Andrade a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth pointed out that such visually engaging activity like playing a game on your phone can actually reduce your carving levels to about 20 percent. He concluded by saying it’s difficult to think about something vividly while simultaneously engaging in another mentally stimulating activity.  Just distract yourself with anything. The activity does not matter, what does matter is engaging in an activity that takes your mind off the craving.

#2 Mindfulness

The other, and in my opinion, more important and effective route is to actually sit with the discomfort of the craving without running away from it. This is a mindfulness activity. While this experience can be uncomfortable, it has been shown in research to be very effective and have long-lasting effects. Mindfulness is generally the practice of been self-aware and being in the present and it can be used to effectively deal with food craving. A research study at Indiana State University focuses on the effect of mindfulness before eating when or when cravings occur. The focus is on an individual’s awareness of beliefs, behaviors, and emotions associated with food intake. There are several ways by which you can practice mindfulness. My favorite way of doing this is to grab a pen and paper and write out the following:

  • What am I noticing about my emotions right now?
  • What am I noticing about my thinking right now (what thoughts am I experiencing)
  • What do I notice in my body (what sensations might I be experiencing)
  • What does my intuition tell me (the gut check)

Then observe. Watch how these things shift and change, become acutely aware of the shifting and changing and notice that by not giving in to the craving that the world is okay. At first, this will feel very difficult, but with regular practice, you can turn these cravings into milli-second automatic responses and move onto healthier choices.

In other words, do not rush through the cravings and or ignore them but rather be with them, make friends with your cravings. Just like an enemy, keep your friends close but your enemies’ closer. The more you know your cravings the less control they have over you and the less myterious and unexplainable they become. Then if your cravings still persist ask yourself the questions contained in this article:

https://healthytransformations.ca/4-important-questions-to-ask-yourself-before-eating-anything/

Remember, just because you have a craving doesn’t mean you need to act on your thoughts. It is also important to have healthy alternatives to suppress cravings. You can develop different strategies to overcome the urge to eat. For instance, you can think about the long-term negative effects or the immediate reward you gain by sticking to healthy food choices. Focusing on both your long-term and short-term health goals can also effectively help to curb the cravings.  I would suggest creating a plan around cravings. For example,

“When I am craving popcorn I will do [fill in the blank with lots of ideas of what you can do, including the two suggestions above].” Writing plans out has been shown to be more effective than thinking about them.

#3 Bacteria in the Gut

It is also important to note that cravings can also be caused by the imbalance in gut bacteria. Gut bacteria are known as “microbiome” and they are a critical part of the digestive system. These bacteria play an important role in the body by contributing to your overall well-being. However, not all bacteria in the body are harmless, specifically, there are some strains of bacteria that can cause you to crave what they need to survive such as sugar, carbs, candy, etc. that can be easily broken down and absorbed.  To deal with these harmful bacteria, you need to starve them off by minimizing the intake of sugar and carbs in your diet while consuming a probiotic supplement regularly to keep off the harmful bacteria.

#4 Tracking & Planning

I have found out that planning and tracking your food in a journal can be an effective way to curb food cravings. Endeavor to write down everything you eat throughout the day in a food journal. Most times we tend to consume food quickly and forget about them especially if we’re motivated to eat by cravings. But remembering that you’ll have to come back to your food journal may actually reduce your desire to eat it in the first place. With constant practice, you will find out that your ability to resist cravings will become stronger over time— just a muscle that is consistently trained. Think deeply about your habits and nutritional needs to find out whether there are some observable risk factors that can be eliminated to curb cravings and have a more satisfying appetite.

References

http://www.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/~ahsu/papers/Chi_iCrave_PostReviewFinal.pdf 

More Questions?

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More About Christopher James Lawrence

Christopher James Lawrence is a Co-Founder of the Healthy Transformations Programwith Dr. Mike Breen.  He is also the Chief Value Officer and Founder of Change My Life Coaching and Co-Founder of Change My Business Coaching — a fast growing whole-life, leadership and business coaching company, and the only one of it’s kind.  He is also the author of “Go Beyond Passion: Discover Your Dream Job”.  Christopher is a Certified Master Coach Practitioner (CMCP), trainer and facilitator, and a passionate public speaker that truly cares about the success of each and every single person he comes into contact with. You can reach him here.

The Microbiome and Your Health

Some of you reading will see the title and think “This is going to be interesting”.  Others will see the title and think “What on earth is a microbiome?”

Let’s start with the basics. The microbiome refers to the collection of micro-organisms that travel around with you 24/7/365.  What kind of micro-organisms you might ask?  Well  . . . bacteria, virus, molds, yeasts, parasites.  And, there are a lot of them!  Different interpretations have been made about the number or volume of micro-organisms that reside in or on the body and this is a bit of an academic argument – however it has been postulated by some that an average human body has about 10 trillion cells.  The amazing thing is that the number of micro-organisms are greater by 10 times! Yes, 100 trillion micro-organisms living in us or on us.  Furthermore, these micro-organisms have their own genes, and the total “genetic pool” of these organisms represents 99% of the genes that we carry around.  That is, your own genes represent only 1% of the total genes that are looking at this article.  This astounding information has led some science editorial writers to ask the question, “Who is in charge here?”  Well, the answer may very well be “the bugs”.  The influence that the microbiome has on health and physiology is constantly being re-evaluated – thousands of peer-reviewed articles are published every year on the relationships that exist between “good” microbiota and “good” health, as well as “bad” microbiota and “bad” health. And when I say health, I mean the health of the heart, lungs, gastro-intestinal tract, immune system, skin, and the brain – really, there are not any tissues in the body that are not affected by the collective influence of the microbiome.

These “bugs” inhabit every square centimetre of our skin, but the bulk of the awareness of the microbiota are toward those bugs that exist in our gastro-intestinal tract. (Note:  Some academics in this field refer to the bugs as being the “microbiota” and the gene pool of the bugs being the “microbiome”.  This is correct from a terminology perspective, and yet most people use these terms interchangeably – you may find me going back and forth – for the purpose of this blog, both terms are being used to describe the bugs and not the genes, unless stated).  The bugs in our GI tract perform all kinds of functions – from producing enzymes and vitamins, to aiding in the digestion of food, to being the “gatekeepers” of the intestinal tract, to stimulating the immune system and a host of other functions.  Now, this is when the bugs that exist are “good guys”.  When the bugs that we have are “bad guys” there are a host of bad things that they contribute to including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, poor digestion, food intolerances, food allergies, autoimmune disease, skin disease, hypersensitivity reactions, and brain disease – particularly mood disorders as well as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  The “take-home” message is that the microbiome has a very significant influence on whether we live healthy or sick lives.

Another interesting point is that every single person on earth has a unique microbiome.  The microbiome is as individual as we are. It has been determined that there are in the range of 1000 different species of bacteria that can inhabit the human GI tract, and each one of us houses 200 to 600 of these species.  Even members of your own family have different microbial flora than you.  The science in this field has been moving at an accelerated pace for 10-20 years and yet there is still a great deal to learn.  One of the more recent findings has been in the area of what makes the microbiota function poorly and what makes it thrive.  What has been known for quite a while is that the use of antibiotic medications wreaks havoc on the flora.  Using antibiotics when they are truly necessary is still an important thing – in some cases, lifesaving.  However, the over-utilization of these drugs is a major issue.  Frustratingly, many people are unaware of the volume of antibiotic medication that is used in food production (animals) and ultimately gets into our food supply, ultimately causing issues with our microbiota.  The simple message is that antibiotics are non-discriminatory – they kill the bad bugs that make us sick and they kill the good bugs that keep us healthy.  With the increasing knowledge about the importance of our intestinal bugs, we are starting to seriously question the use of antibiotics in circumstances other than infectious emergencies.  Other chemicals also have negative effects on the GI flora – these include the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, herbicides, pesticides, food preservatives, and the list goes on.

What can we do to preserve or improve the microbiota in our gut?  Certainly the utilization of “probiotics” or good bacteria has been a strategy in place for a few decades.  Recently, there has been some debate in the scientific circles about just how much benefit is derived from the consumption of probiotics.  The uniqueness of our flora suggests that there should not be a “one size fits all” probiotic strategy.  This being said, what, then, is the right probiotic for you? Quite honestly we don’t know. What we do know (or at least what the current consensus is) is that we need to promote diversity of the flora. This can be achieved through probiotics by ensuring that you consume as many different species of bugs as you can. Most notably, this includes the consumption of fermented foods.  The other way to create diversity in your microbiome is to consume large volumes of plant material and as many different types as you can.  You see, the best bugs love to eat plants – so, when we eat plants, they (the bugs) eat plants.  When we eat ice cream, the bugs eat ice cream.  Bottom line is this – we have the capacity to influence our own microbiome and therefore to influence our own health.  The microbiome has remarkable effects on how well (or poorly) our body functions and what we put in our mouths has an enormous influence on what type of microbiome we carry around with us.

Dr. Michael Breen is the co-owner of the Chiropractic Family Care Centre and has been in Private Practice in Calgary, Alberta for over three decades.  Dr. Breen graduated from the University of Calgary Faculty of Kinesiology in 1981 (Honours) and from Palmer College of Chiropractic – West in San Jose, California in 1986.  His foundational clinical work is in the field of Health Optimization.  He uses his background in athletics and chiropractic to aid his patients in recovering physical capacity and uses his background in nutrition and functional medicine to aid his patients in the recovery from chronic illness.  He is the co-founder of the Healthy Transformations program.  Dr. Breen can be reached at mbreendc@telus.net