Cravings – we’ve all been there – that growing desire that feeds into a need that morphs into an obsession. What gives rise to these cravings? Where do they come from? And, most importantly, how can we control them? It may not surprise you to find that most experts, despite mountains of research, have very little idea of where our cravings come from. But even so, as it turns out, the go to excuses that most of us use – PMS, stress, etc. – may be more old wives’ tales than any of us ever thought. As far as researchers can tell, cravings come from the same part of the brain that would house a drug user’s addictive tendencies. So when you say you need a piece of chocolate, as far as your brain is concerned, you really do.
But how do you get through a craving without giving in to it completely?
As it turns out, there are a few ways to make it through without losing your grip on your diet or your sanity. The first way might surprise you – talk about your craving. What researchers do know is that, in one study, participants who were specifically told not to talk about their craving for chocolate ended up eating one and a half times as much chocolate as those participants who were allowed to talk about chocolate freely. The idea of the forbidden fruit may have some merit after all. The more you try not to think about the craving, the more you crave it and, in the case of this study, the more you give into it. So talking might keep you from eating.
The second way to make it through your craving is to find a substitute that works for your diet and your craving. One thing researchers have found is that the craving often combines taste and texture, so you need to cover both bases. For instance, if you are craving gummi bears or other chewy candy, try substituting dried strawberries. If you are craving the crunch of salty chips, try a small amount of baked chips – all the crunch and a lot less fat. You can compromise your ice cream craving with a low fat or low sugar alternative.
Another strategy is simply to give in. That’s right – give in, but with limits. Studies have found that it’s the first few bites that are the most satisfying. So take those first few bites… and then stop. The key of course is portion control. Only prepare or buy a small amount. That way, you get the taste to satisfy the craving and you also practice the self-control you are trying to build. If simply limiting the size of your portion doesn’t work for you, try the financial approach. If you’re craving chocolate, find some really good chocolate – you know, the kind that you would never even think of buying – and buy it. You’ll treat it like gold and, hopefully, conserve it by eating only small amounts at a time.
No matter which strategy or strategies you try, take your time to enjoy yourself. If your diet or nutrition plan becomes a burden, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. If you keep yourself balanced and not only acknowledge your cravings, but work with yourself to find a solution, you’ll feel better and be less likely to binge on candy bars or brownies.
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