The mind and the body influence each other according to physical sensations and mental or environmental triggers. These stimuli — whether initiated in the body or from external sources — can cause cravings, make you want a morning donut, send you on an afternoon java run or have you searching the freezer for ice cream after dinner.
A nice treat is fine once in awhile. But when you're trying to improve your diet or manage your weight, these temptation can often get the best of you, derailing all your efforts. If you find that cravings are getting the best of you, it's time for some new strategies.
While the stimuli that drives you to junk food may have a common root (stress, boredom, habituation, low energy, etc), the impetus to snack in the morning can be triggered by something quite different than that of afternoon time, or even post-dinner. Once you begin to recognize and understand situational triggers, you can tailor your approach to choose healthier, mindful alternatives.
Here are a few suggestions for making healthier choices based on common triggers at various times of day.
If you're tempted to supplement your breakfast with a bagel, or see donuts in the office and suddenly get hungry when you weren't before, you're probably not getting enough protein at breakfast.
Protein is very satiating and helps you feel full longer. It provides solid energy to get you through the morning and is full of amino acids that help keep you focused and your body feeling nourished and not needing a carb-heavy snack. So make sure to get ample protein in your first meal of the day.
That period after lunch when energy tends to dip may feel like the perfect time for a coffee break, but be careful. Coffee you drink in the afternoon can negatively impact sleep later that night, and some of the flavored or milky drinks can pack hundreds of calories.
Tea is much better choice, lower in caffeine than coffee and contains L-Theanine for increased focus and mental clarity. Another option is to take a walk outside in the sunshine, taking deep breaths as you go. This small activity reduces stress, helps oxygenate the lungs and reminds the brain that it's still daytime, helping to restore your energy and distract you from any temptation.
For many people, coming home from work immediately throws them from work stress into home obligations, and they don't get adequate time to de-stress and relax. A common yet problematic approach is to eat a cookie or a piece of chocolate for the instant dopamine release: it'll make you happy even if it doesn't truly relieve your stress. As a daily routine, sugar consumption and calories add up and don't support a healthy weight or diet.
As you make that transition from work to home, try to find a few minutes for yourself. Dr. Sara Gottfried recommends 5-10 minutes sitting in Omega pose (an elongated version of butterfly or cobblers pose, with the soles of your feet together about 1-2 feet in front of you). This "safe" pose helps the body drop out of "fight or flight" mode and de-stress. Another option is to meditate for a few minutes to help transition the mind and central nervous system from the cares of the office toward the evening ahead.
If your sweet tooth tends to rear up after dinner, it may be a sign you don't feel satisfied from the day. Perhaps it didn't go the way you wanted, maybe something was left undone or you're still hanging onto stress in some way. Or it could just be you've habituated yourself to having something sweet after dinner.
If you think you're in the latter group, then the simplest way to avoid hunting for ice cream after dinner is to immediately brush your teeth. Who wants sugar and dairy when you have a minty clean feeling in your mouth? To address bigger issues of feeling incomplete or restless while having cravings at the end of the day, EFT Tapping can be a powerful technique as it soothes the nervous system by tapping on meridian points while repeating phrases to help release stress and calm cravings.
Cravings and sugary (or salty) temptation can seem to come out of nowhere and completely overwhelm you, but that doesn't mean you're powerless to deal with them. Recognizing the cause, particularly the stimulus that triggered it and why it happened when it did allows you to choose a more strategic approach.
You can develop new habits and new systems for dealing with any type of craving and feel more empowered, more in control and more successful in sticking to a healthy diet and managing your weight.