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Guest Blog: How Can I Manage My Cravings?

Posted Aug 07 2009 11:08am

Are you constantly craving sweets and want to understand why? Get your cravings under control without deprivation, dieting or denial.

Hi everyone; I am Amie from The Healthy Apple blog. It is truly such a pleasure to write a guest post for Tina’s blog. As a Nutritionist in Manhattan, I love helping people achieve their best health by exploring new healthy foods. After years of struggling with lactose and gluten intolerance, I strive to educate clients on appropriate diets, with an emphasis on nutrient density and cleaner, healthier eating!

It’s 3:30 P.M and you’re ready to pounce out of your cubicle and into the vending machine or possibly hit up the local Starbucks for a mocha frappuccino—extra whip, please! Or maybe it’s 8:30 at night and you find yourself raiding the cabinets (and freezer) lusting for treats! Sound familiar? Probably too familiar; it seems these cravings tend happen at the same time every day when your blood sugar drops and you reach for the closest, most convenient ‘sugar-laden’ nibble. This fix may provide instant gratification, but it can cause your blood sugar levels to spike sky high and then collapse hours later. When you find yourself in similar situations, take a moment to deconstruct your cravings by understanding their source. I work with numerous clients who face strong cravings and it’s my job to help deconstruct and modify their lifestyle so these cravings disappear. Cravings do not come from lack of willpower or discipline and it’s important to understand that cravings are not a sign of weakness on your part; they are simply a sign that the body needs something to balance it out.

Yin / Yang. Your craving for a juicy burger may denote your need for more protein, or perhaps your desire for sweets may signify a blood-sugar imbalance. If you listen to your longings for foods, they present valuable clues about what your body really needs. Take a look at your foods, shortfalls and behaviors that are the principal causes of your cravings: is your diet too yin or too yang? Certain foods have more yin qualities (expansive) such as refined white flour and sugar, while others have more yang qualities (contractive) such as salt and animal proteins. Eating foods too yin can cause you to crave yang foods and vise versa. For instance, eating a diet too rich in protein (yang) may cause a craving for sweets (yin) and eating too many raw foods (yin) may cause cravings for cooked and dehydrated foods. Your goal is to find balance for your body through a happy medium between yin and yang.

Eat Less, More. It’s quite possible you experience cravings because you aren’t eating enough at meals or your daily diet is missing valuable nutrients. If you are lacking nutrients, your body knows it and is not afraid to let you know. For instance, did you know that inadequate iron and magnesium levels may stimulate chocolate cravings? Another culprit of cravings is low blood sugar. You can easily avoid this by eating small, well-balanced meals every few hours and keeping your office, home, car and gym bag stocked with healthy foods. Doing this will help keep your blood sugar level stable and eliminate your body’s craving for a sugar fix.

Get Creative. Jazz up your meals and snacks; the same old, same old day in and day out can be mundane and lead to cravings for sugary treats. Opt for whole grain crackers with a mashed avocado and lime juice; mocha; a baked banana with chilled almond butter; a smoothie (in a blender add ice, diced melon, Greek yogurt and chia seeds) or try whipping up a nutty ball (in a blender add oats, almonds, lemon juice, cinnamon, sesame seeds, brown rice syrup, poppy seeds and dates; form a ball with your hands and refrigerate).

Reduce Processed Junk. I always suggest my clients reduce excess refined carbs such as white flour pasta, donuts and pastries; instead reach for sprouted and whole grain options. When we eat less ‘added’ sugar, our bodies are able to maintain its natural balance and we are less likely to crave those processed sweets. Furthermore, I recommend eliminating fat-free or low-fat foods, both of which contain high amounts of sugar to compensate for the lack of flavor and fat; these products will only set you up for a roller-coaster ride of sugar highs and lows. It’s easy to reduce the processed foods in your diet by filling your plate with lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

Sugar Leads to Cravings. It’s everywhere these days and you can’t hide from it. Aside from ice cream and chocolate there is hidden sugar in canned foods, ketchup and salad dressings! Don’t be tricked by the labeling on your packaged foods; sugar can be disguised with terms such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, fructose and dextrose. Being aware of sugar content can help you avoid high-sugar foods and kick the addiction. As an alternative, sweeten your dish with dried fruit, raw honey, stevia, agave nectar, date sugar, brown rice syrup, birch sugar (xylitol), birch syrup, maple syrup, or molasses. Furthermore, experiment with tasty spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and coriander to naturally sweeten your foods and reduce your cravings.

Non-Food Sources. Did you know cravings can stem from non-food sources? Food is only one source of your energy; take a look at all areas of your life to find any imbalances before addressing the foods you eat. Nutrition is simply one component of the dynamic of a healthy lifestyle. Sweetness can come from many sources; slow down and find it in non-food ways! Get more sleep and R n’ R; rest and relaxation are key to toning down your cravings. When you’re sleepy or stressed, your body will naturally crave energy in the form of sugar. Take a look at the foods you’re eating, perhaps you eat too much or too little animal protein, which can certainly lead to sugar cravings. I teach my clients to focus on self-care habits and tell them to try simple activities such as walking, yoga or pilates.

Analyze all non-food sources in your life. Ask yourself if you’re bored, stressed, upset, dissatisfied with a relationship, uninspired by your job or engaged in an inappropriate exercise routine (too much/too little/wrong type). Are you feeding your feelings and not your soul? Maybe you’re yearning for those childhood comfort foods. But there’s no need to worry, it’s easy to modify your favorite recipes with healthy alternatives! By simply changing up a few things, like trading in sour cream for Greek yogurt and swapping those greasy, processed potato chips and fries for homemade chips and fries using naturally sweet veggies like winter squash, beets, onions, parsnips, yams, carrots, sweet potatoes and rutabaga, you can have the flavor without the empty calories. Surprisingly, many of my clients’ cravings naturally disappear when they add sweet veggies and fruits to their diet. Unlike processed foods, natural sugar is found in fruit, beans, veggies and grains. These also contain a variety of proteins, enzymes, minerals and vitamins. The sugars in these foods are digested differently than the empty calories of white sugar in many processed foods. Furthermore, their high fiber content allows for slower absorption, which ensures you will not get the sugar rush and that you would from a candy bar.

Intentions / Reflections. I encourage my clients to begin each day by writing down morning intentions and end it with reflections on what they’ve consumed: how many whole grains, veggies and fruits, how much protein you ate, and jot down how you felt before and afterwards in terms of cravings, mood, energy and digestion. This food-mood journaling encourages you to look for associations between what you consume and how you feel immediately after eating and hours later.

Overall, it’s important to understand that cravings are not ‘bad’ and we are not ‘bad’ for experiencing them. Every one of us is incredibly different; a lifestyle and diet that works for one person will not necessarily work for another. For overall satisfaction, we need to tailor our way of life to our unique needs. This includes factoring in foods, relationships, exercise and anything else of importance to you. Listen to your longings for food, they carry valuable clues about what your body really needs. Remember to relax and let yourself enjoy a treat every once in awhile- deprivation will only increase your cravings.

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