Do you ever have that feeling like you really need something to eat, even when you’re not hungry?
Your stomach isn’t growling, but still, all you can think about is the experience of donuts, a sundae, fried chicken, or chocolate. Maybe you catch yourself standing in front of the fridge after having a fight with someone, ready to reach for something that will make you feel better.
Remember eating apple pie at your grandmother’s house or the taste of ice cream after a game? Food has so many emotional associations. Many foods are connected with memories and feelings, and eating them has the power to trigger all of those good sensations.
Or maybe it’s a habit that you have developed – an association with an experience, like “I always eat dessert after dinner because that’s what I did growing up.”
Even when you’re not “hungry” you can still override those feelings of fullness because emotion, and the memories we have associated with our emotions, are often far more powerful than logic or reason and can trump your body’s biofeedback.
I read in a book once that craving sugar is sometimes just craving sweetness – not food – but a “sweet experience” like love or joy because eating something sweet is so pleasurable that it activates our brain the same way that feelings of love can.
The difference between being hungry and having a craving is that when you’re hungry, you need food, and when you’re craving, you need a feeling.
The thing about that “good” feeling we get from eating when we’re not actually hungry is what I’d call the “band-aid” effect. It doesn’t actually solve the thing we’re really missing.
I know that’s some good “food for thought,” and I’m sure you’ve got some insights about what could be behind the feeling type of cravings you may experience. I would definitely suggest journaling about what comes up for you, and if it’s helpful get a resource to talk to about it – either a friend, or a professional.
You deserve to have the body and the life that you want – and the only person who is going to get it for you is you.
That’s the truth.
If you already feel strong in your nutrition game but you’re still struggling with CRAVINGS or not seeing the VISUAL RESULTS you want, check in with these 7 things that can trigger cravings, and what to do about them….
7 Hacks to Crush Food Cravings
1. Eat Plenty of PROTEIN
It’s needed for everything from hormone regulation, enzyme production, and regulation of body fat.
For example, did you know that eating protein leads to a release of glucagon, a hormone that helps encourage fat out of your fat cells so it can be used up by your muscles? And it helps your fat cells become less receptive to storing fat.
Additionally, protein is satiating, even more satisfying than fat or carbs, so if you’re skimping on it, you’re missing out on that full, satisfied feeling your body enjoys while the digestive system does its thing.
2. Consume Complex CARBS
When you eat carbs, two things can happen.
The carbs are either:
- broken down into glucose and used for energy immediately, or
- stored in the muscle tissue and liver as glycogen for energy later.
Keep in mind that exercise builds muscle, and the more muscle you build, the greater your glycogen-storing capacity becomes, which is why highly active people (such as professional athletes) have greater carbohydrate needs when they’re training.
But if you max out your body’s capacity for glycogen storage – easy to do with today’s rampant availability of empty calories from sugar-heavy carb sources like soda, candy, and processed food – then the extra glucose from the carbs is stored as fat instead.
Consider this – if the gas tank on your car can hold 15 gallons of gas, but you try to put 20 gallons in, the gas is going to spill out everywhere. Not ideal. Similarly, if you fill your body with all the carbs it can possibly handle at one time and then you try to add more, it’s also going to spill over and most likely be stored as body fat.
Cravings (specifically for carbs and sugar), are often caused by a lack of adequate energy stores in the body. Your body needs those nutrients to function, and if your reserves are low you’re going to get “hangry.”
When we eat those simple, processed carb foods, it causes our blood sugar to spike, and our metabolism eventually gets used to the short bursts of sudden energy those foods deliver. But just as quickly as that energy arrives, it disappears, and when our blood sugar takes the inevitable crash, our bodies start frantically searching for the next hit. That’s when you experience cravings and often times mood swings, too
Fruit is a great whole food carb to enjoy, just don’t overindulge in it. It’s high in fructose which will trigger your “store fat for winter” mechanism when eaten with abandon. When eaten in moderation, it’s an excellent source of quick energy and will complement many of your other dishes.
- Click Here to Read my post about Carbohydrates 101 and find out the best ways to use them to your advantage.
3. Get Your GREENS Going
Greens are awesome for the fiber and micronutrients that your body needs for cell function and optimal metabolism, and one of my go-to favorites when cravings hit – I will literally eat a handful or two right out of the refrigerator to give my body an instant boost of goodness as I figure out what my craving might be telling me.
They’re also a perfect hack for damage control and late night cravings (see below).
Because we live in the day and age of cheap, processed, fake foods and less-than-stellar environmental situations, our bodies can easily get overloaded with toxins from the things we eat and drink, and sometimes even just from the air we breathe.
This is why it’s super smart self-care to support your internal systems with delicious, wholesome foods that have cleansing and detoxifying benefits, especially when these same exact foods can ALSO….
….boost your immune system,
…..support a glowing complexion,
…..activate healthy digestion,
…..decrease inflammation, joint pain, and stiffness, and
…..improve your energy and mood.
Add greens to your smoothies, salads, soups, breakfast scrambles, or anywhere at all! And when you’re on the go, try Organifi!
4. Eat Enough HEALTHY FAT
5 ways eating fat keeps us lean, and will keep your cravings at bay:
1. Some Vitamins your body loves and needs – like A, D, E, and K – need Fat in order to be absorbed and utilized.
These are known as fat-soluble vitamins, which means fat must be present in order for them to be absorbed and processed by the body. Wholesome, healthy fats provide your body with the ability to do this by first shuttling and then dissolving the vitamins, micronutrients, and phytochemicals they supply into your body.
2. Eating healthy fat promotes weight loss and kills cravings.
Healthy fat is very satiating, especially when paired with foods that don’t irritate your digestive system. This means you feel fuller faster, which means you are less likely to overeat!
3. Eating fat prevents weight gain by stabilizing blood sugar levels.
The consumption of fat before or with any carbohydrate meal slows the rate at which food exits your stomach. This stabilizes blood sugar levels, preventing harmful insulin spikes that trigger fat storage and lead to weight gain.
4. Eating regular amounts of fat gives you consistent energy for your workouts, focus for a long work day or anything you need lasting energy for.
Along with glycogen (your body’s glucose stores), fat is burned during exercise to spare precious protein in your muscles.
5. Eating the right kind of fat reduces inflammation in the body.
Healthy fats like Omega-3s help stimulates the production and secretion of leptin. They also reduce inflammation throughout the body, help prevent cancer cell growth, prevent excessive blood clotting, and inhibit thickening of the arteries.
- Click Here to Read my post about Healthy Fats 101 to get more insight into how to use them to your best advantage.
5. Eat Enough, PERIOD.
Skipping meals (within your total daily needs) does NOT equate to losing weight. In fact, the opposite happens. When you deprive your body of its energy source, it figures it ought to conserve the energy you have (stored in your fat cells) for later.
That means it HOLDS ON to fat, making it harder to lose.
And skipping meals also sets you up for cravings -because your body just needs energy, and reaching for the fastest source of it, sugar, is a handy way to get some. But that has consequences, as you know.
6. Set Yourself Up for Success with an idea or plan for what you’re going to eat in advance.
I know, easier said than done, right? The easiest way to get started is to focus on the 4 main nutrients I talked about in 1-4 above and make your food choices from whole foods that contain these.
Here’s one way to do that in my 5-Step Food prep and recipes guide.
It’s also helpful to have some shortcuts, so use my healthy eating shortcuts guide right here.
You just really want to watch out for processed foods as staples, and the added sugars they contain. They really set us up for more cravings.
Sugar is more addicting than almost any other substance because it literally causes a chemical reaction in your brain.
Your body might be seeking the next energy spike if you’ve been eating foods with too much sugar. And skipping meals also sets you up for cravings because your body just needs energy, and reaching for the fastest source of it, sugar, is a handy way to get some.
What’s more dangerous, though, is that eating a lot of sweet or salty foods on a regular basis – which will happen with processed and packaged foods, restaurant and fast-foods, etc. – puts your body in a constant yo-yo of trying to balance your blood sugar, your energy, and your hormones.
You have to really watch out for processed foods – the ones that come with a food label. Read that label. It’s far too easy to be eating what we think are “health foods” or “convenient snacks” or “shortcuts” that have sugars added to them that cause this constant erosion of our intentions to actually consume less sugar.
Over the course of the day, between regular whole foods and those types of foods, you’ll be way over your sugar intake needs and your body will happily package up the extra to store as fat for you.
Immediately after eating a sugar-laced meal, you’ll feel energized and zooming, but in 30 minutes you’ll be crashing. Your brain will tell you to eat more sugar because that will give you more energy. Vicious cycle.
Just like the Dark Side, negativity feeds more negativity and addiction to momentary pleasure becomes dependency and the easy way out.
Sugar isn’t entirely bad when used correctly. It’s a flavor enhancer, a wonderful palate stimulator, and can really add enjoyment to many a meal.
Use it like you would a spice – something to be savored, as something you enjoy on purpose on an NSA day or in an NSA meal (see 7) – and you’ll never have a problem.
7. Remove Moral Judgement From Yourself for Enjoying Certain Food
Practice adopting an “NSA” or “No Strings Attached” approach to your treat meals, and include them as a part of your healthy balanced lifestyle.
I have a “No-Strings-Attached,” or NSA relationship with my deviant foods/drinks, and it’s one I enjoy guilt free.
I refuse to call it a “cheat day” because I eat with intention and you should too!
When you focus on giving your body nutrients rather than focusing just on calories, you can step away from restrictive dieting that eliminates foods you enjoy and instead eat them on purpose on special occasions (or a weekend).
I don’t even think about needing an NSA day anymore.
I just really enjoy the food I cook and make for myself, and it’s even become easy to eat out when I know what foods combine the nutrients my body needs.
Stressing about what you ate/drank at a friends’ birthday party is worse for you than the food itself!
Eating nutrients and fueling my body each week really makes it so I don’t have those cravings I used to get, but I do love being able to deviate from my home cooked meals and my plan without any guilt.
That’s how I’m really able to avoid feeling tempted – because I never feel like I’m doing something I shouldn’t.
I always have permission to enjoy myself, and I do – whether I’m eating at home, or eating out.
An NSA attitude means you don’t beat yourself up for drinking some wine, or having cake and ice cream once in a while (the “once in a while” part is key!)
When you choose on purpose, there’s no need to feel guilty; that’s why I don’t call them “cheat meals” – cheating implies you’re doing something bad or wrong. Make most of your free will by making choices that align with the ‘nourishing your body’ goal while keeping in mind that there are other things in life besides nutrients that also nourish us. It’s a balancing act!
All of these things work together to help you build and maintain a lean, healthy, sexy physique, so follow your heart to the fridge and take care of that awesome body of yours – and remember to strive for BALANCE!
How to Handle Late NIGHT CRAVINGS and Do DAMAGE CONTROL
Night cravings can be the worst – I know they can be for me, especially if I’m watching a movie or reading a book. I find that I have associated those activities with comfort and relaxation and that I really want something to eat.
Sugar Snap Peas!
My #1 go-to snack at night – they’re sweet, they’re crunchy and I can eat a bunch of them and just feel awesome.
I always wash my sugar snaps and put them in Ziploc bags in the fridge so I see them when I go foraging in there at night like a little bear haha!
Hearts of Romaine are another one I like too – as I mentioned above, eating plain greens has proved to be an excellent trick to keep cravings at bay!
Hot water with ginger and lemon – and sometimes some fresh mint- just make yourself something nourishing and warm as an act of self-love, which is what this entire post is about really, and what cravings often come down to. How can we give ourselves love?
Another good one is ginger, fenugreek seeds, and a cinnamon stick. Both are great detox blends, immune boosters and sources of anti-inflammatory nutrients. I love it at night and it always makes me sleep better than eating a bag of chocolate or candy ever has!
If you ate something that’s making your head hurt, your stomach hurt, or you just feel over-sugared, you can practice damage control by:
1. Grabbing some fresh greens and eating a few handfuls.
2. Drinking water laced with freshly squeezed lemon.
3. Adding cinnamon to a beverage and drinking it.
All of those will help stabilize your blood sugar to decrease the insulin spike, but your body will still have to process the sugar.
It might be a good time to do some journaling – getting thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto paper (or into your phone) can help you look at them with a different perspective, which can often help you alter an unwanted behavior.
Do your best – I know you will – and leave me your comments and questions below!
I want to know – do YOU experience cravings, late at night or otherwise? How do you handle them? And will you try incorporating these tips? Comment below.
Want to crush cravings? Use the Body Fuel System to get done-for-you guidelines that make eating easy so you can stay on track and avoid the cravings roller coaster!
- Alberts HJ, Mulkens S, Smeets M, Thewissen R. "Coping with food cravings. Investigating the potential of a mindfulness-based intervention." Science Direct. 2010. Web. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019566631000365X?via%3Dihub
- Avena, N. M., Long, K. A., and Hoebel, B. G. "Sugar-dependent rats show enhanced responding for sugar after abstinence: evidence of a sugar deprivation effect." Science Direct. 2005. Web. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938405000065
- Morewedge, C. K., Eun Huh, Y., and Vosgerau, J. "Thought for food: imagined consumption reduces actual consumption. Science. 2010. Web. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6010/1530.long