How to deal with cravings when dieting
What are food cravings?
When dieting, it is common to experience the desire to eat particular types of food and more than 90% of people deal with food cravings throughout life. Most often, these food cravings are linked to calorie dense foods like chocolate, in combination with other sweet, salty or savoury foods. Cravings can also relate to specific textures or chemical additives like artificial sweeteners or caffeine. It is common for food cravings to involve excitement when imagining how the food will taste or how eating the food will make you feel. In this blog we’ll explore why food cravings occur, the causes of food cravings, how they can be managed and also how they can be avoided with Mediweight.
Food cravings differ from feeling of hunger, in that they are related to specific types of food and can be far more intense than generalised feelings of hunger. Unsurprisingly, research shows that food cravings increase when selected foods are restricted, however when following a sufficiently varied but energy restricted diet, food cravings are not increased. At Mediweight, our experts develop diet plans that follow this principal of providing variation at the same time as a calorie deficit to facilitate weight-loss whilst preventing food cravings.
What causes food cravings?
When certain foods are consumed, neurons connecting to the reward centre in the brain are stimulated. This can create a sense of pleasure when these foods are eaten and can cause an increase in how regularly these foods are desired. Some of these foods can increase the release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in cravings such as leptin, dopamine and cortisol.
Some studies have shown that when following a high fat or high sugar diet there is an increase in the release of hormones that relieve stress. This can lead to the development of habits involving these foods as they become a form of stress relief.
There are a number of factors that are involved in how often food cravings occur, and they include:
If you are going through a particularly difficult time in life emotionally, whether that be stress relating to work or personal life, a loss of some kind or if life has changed unexpectedly, levels of the stress hormone cortisol can increase. Cortisol can interfere with other hormones that control appetite and can subsequently increase food cravings.
The sensation of thirst can often be misconstrued as hunger. When the body is dehydrated, the brain can stimulate cravings for food in an attempt to obtain water from the diet.
Sleep is central to the body’s internal clock mechanism and is crucial in controlling metabolism and regulating hormone levels in the blood. It has been found that in people that don’t have adequate sleep, there is increased hunger and calorie intake and a preference for late night snacking.
The hormone leptin is involved in feelings of satisfaction following a meal and providing a sense of fullness. People that are sleep deprived sometimes have decreased leptin levels and can also become more resistant to the effects of leptin. This means that satiety is reduced after eating and feelings of hunger may persist.
How to stop cravings?
It is important to be able to distinguish between feelings of hunger and food cravings. This is a crucial step towards being able to reduce the cravings. Next, the identification of the triggers causing food cravings is essential if these triggers are to be managed. These might include timing throughout the day, particular mood changes, boredom or tiredness. Once these steps have been completed, strategies can be implemented to minimise cravings in a personalised way.
- Eating a balanced diet consisting of regular meals with high protein and fibre content will help maintain feelings of fullness and prevent hunger and food cravings.
- As mentioned above, thirst can often be confused for hunger. One way to prevent this is to ensure adequate hydration throughout the day. Typically, between 1.5 and 2L of fluid are required per day and can come from drinking water, sugar-free drinks and lower fat milk.
- Having sufficient sleep can help minimise food cravings and most adults need between 6 and 9 hours sleep per night. Clearly it is not always possible to achieve a perfect night’s sleep, and this can be accounted for my paying extra attention to the diet and fluid intake on days where sleep has not been perfect.
- Distraction – when experiencing a craving, if attention can be shifted to a different, healthier activity such as exercise, listening to music, reading a book or speaking to a friend, this may lead to the craving becoming diminished.
- When experiencing a craving for sweet foods in particular, it can be helpful to satisfy the craving by consuming a healthy alternative to high-sugar foods such as sugar free jelly or piece of fruit with a low glycaemic index.
You can read more here about how the Mediweight plan can help you achieve your weight-loss goals whilst keeping food cravings to a minimum.
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