When was the last time you thought, “I could really go for some chocolate right now”? Oh, it's happening right now? I'm not surprised.
When you crave that chocolate, what does it feel like? What happens to your body and mind? If you think of an addict fiending for a "fix", you're right on target!
When I talk to patients and friends about eating healthy, the biggest barrier that comes up is cravings. So much so, that I needed to look into the science behind cravings to help them (and you).
Of course, studies have found many different reasons why people crave certain foods. Some involve our evolution as humans, others are more linked to our modern lives. For example, we tend to crave foods when we're deprived of them (hello, dieters).
One recent study involved participants eating a bland diet. Then they were asked to imagine a food they typically crave — how it looked, tasted and smelled — while having their brain activity measured.
When people thought about those foods, areas of the brain related to drug addiction lit up.
Another study of cocaine-addicted rats found that when they were given sugar, over time, they preferred it to the cocaine. So a sugar addiction could possibly have a more powerful hold on the brain than cocaine.
The scientific evidence is fascinating, but how do we actually use this knowledge to quell the cravings?
Here are 5 tips that could help:
1. Mindfulness meditation
A recent study found that a 7-week meditation program designed to get participants to accept and work through their cravings, helped them stop obsessing about them.
Another study found that just thinking about something else — in this case it was a favorite activity (like doing yoga) — was enough to get the brain to stop its incessant thoughts about craving.
A 15-minute brisk walk is enough to dampen the urge among chocoholics to grab another bar. Just 15 minutes!
It should be noted that fasting is different from dieting (which actually contributes to cravings). But both short and long term fasting lowered cravings and cravings didn’t return when people in the study resumed eating. If you want a safe way to do a fast, check out my Gentle Intermittent Fast.
5. Lowering your stress
A small study gave people a choice of foods that included salty, sweet or bland options. One group thought they had to deliver a speech after the meal, while the control group didn’t expect to do anything stressful.
Guess what? The people who thought they were giving a speech were stressed out, which led them to eat more of the less-healthy food options.
Try one or all of these suggestions the next time you feel a craving and tell me what works for you!