Life, thankfully, isn’t quite so difficult these days, at least in terms of getting hold of food. In all but the poorest of third world countries you can eat a lot on a very low budget. It might not be quality, but there is a lot of it. Food is never far away, and most people have the luxury of never being forced to go hungry.
Only our brains haven’t cottoned on to this. The brain still believes we need to eat everything in sight to ‘save up’ for famine. Nowhere else does this mechanism kick in stronger that when we’re in a calorie deficit trying to lose weight. That clever primal brain of yours thinks you’re being, quite frankly, rather stupid not eating, and will do everything in it’s power to make you eat, not realising you would actually be healthier if you were a bit slimmer. THis is all about guarding against famine and, lets face it, for most of us that isn’t really a threat.
It all makes for a rather miserable and challenging dieting experience. So how can we ‘trick’ our brains to stop craving food?
1. Eat more
Yes really! But I mean more volume not more calories. Eat smaller portions of calorific foods and fill up with low calorie vegetables, salad and fruit. You can eat a huge salad with some lean chicken for about the same calories as some ‘healthy’ snack bars, but a cereal bar doesn’t fill you up nearly as much as a large salad.
2. Eat more fibre
Choosing higher fibre options of foods will fill you up more than low fibre ones. Eat the skin on fruit and vegetables where possible, don’t drink juices (where the fibre has been removed), and always opt for whole foods and wholegrain varieties that have not been stripped of their fibre during processing.
3. Eat more protein
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient so if you want to keep hunger at bay, eat more of it. As well as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, swap starches like white rice and mashed potato for higher protein quinoa and mashed chickpeas.
4. Sleep and relax more
When we don’t sleep enough our bodies produce more of the hunger hormone ghrelin and less of the ‘full’ hormone leptin. Stress can be both an appetite suppressant and stimulant but most people find their cravings for sweet and fatty junk foods increase when they’re stressed.
5. Avoid foods that trigger cravings
Though a small selection box of chocolates or tsp. of peanut butter might not add a lot to your calorie intake, some people find that certain foods are ‘once they start they can’t stop’ foods! Know yours and avoid them until you manage to get a hold of this all or nothing consumption.
6. Try certain supplements
Try using cocoa, green and black teas, fibre supplements, vinegar (which decreases the GI of a meal), natural calorie free sweeteners like stevia, coffee only in moderation, stimulating or relaxing herbal teas, and consider BCAA supplements. All these can be useful in combating cravings, but – N.B. try the food and dietary strategies first, supplements are always the last strategy to implement in any goal.
7. Pre-emptive eating
Eat before you get too hungry so that you prevent the release of stress hormones to raise blood sugar, and to prevent you from overcompensating later and ultimately eating more overall.
8. DON’T eat fat free!
I know this goes against the first point of eating larger quantities of lower calorie foods. But adding (or including) fat in a meal is more satisfying than a fat free meal for most people. Almonds are high in fat yet have been shown to decrease hunger, while many fat free foods are high in carbohydrates and sugar which can set off a hunger and craving rollercoaster.
9. Stick to a schedule
Some people feel best on three meals and three snacks a day. Others like two large meals a day. Some people even utilise intermittent fasting and go several hours without eating. Most people do best spreading their daily food intake across 3-5 meals a day. But work out what keeps your hunger to a minimum and help you personally to stop craving food.
10. Work out if it’s physical or emotional hunger and cravings
Genuine hunger starts in the stomach, and responds well to being filled, even if that’s low calorie vegetable sticks or even a hot drink. Cravings start in the brain and can be due to feeling low, lonely, angry, bored or any other emotion, even happiness! If you’re genuinely hungry you’ll eat anything even a boring plain stick of celery. If you won’t try eating vegetables or fruit first, it’s probably just a craving.
Whatever you do don’t try and stop craving food by willpower alone – you’ll cave in eventually and possibly overcompensate by eating way more than you intended. Rather try the tricks above and see if you can knock those cravings once and for all.