You think quietly as you stare at them across with the room with a side-eye: "Ugh, someone brought those cupcakes into our office AGAIN..." You shift your brain back to your work, tapping on the keyboard, knocking one task after another off your to-do list, when a client calls and interrupts your focus.
You hang up, sit back in your chair and think..."Maybe I'll go get a snack... Those cupcakes aren't THAT bad, right? Maybe I'll just take a look and if they look good, have half." Conclusion: cupcakes always look good (but they never taste as good as they look).
This scene sound familiar? If not, maybe this does...
Finally home, the day is done, that latest This Is Us episode locked and loaded, and you think to yourself, "I think we have leftover popcorn from that party last weekend…”
Are you this person ever?! Because, I think these thoughts EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And yet, I am health & nutrition coach (how's that for a confession?).
I know I am not alone in this. In fact, it’s been documented that 100% of women and 70% of men experience frequent cravings in a one year period.
No matter what you know and who you are, cravings are just a part of life. The only difference between myself and the regular person is that I've made a living out of figuring out WHY these pitfalls are so common, and how we can circumnavigate them.
It's funny that most of us experience this issue and yet we ALL beat ourselves up about it. Cravings and the giving in to cravings not only leads us astray from our best intentions, but they are also the catalyst for many of us feeling LESS THAN, like we are not capable of self control. Should this pattern continue, it could lead to genuine hopelessness and depression, believing we will never find true happiness living in the skin we are in, or will never feel 100% comfortable around food.
But get this: You should NEVER FEEL BAD for cravings, or what follows them… It’s a condition as common as cellulite (i.e. even fitness models are victim to it). So instead, what can we DO about it.
What am I going to say that you've never heard before?
First thing’s first: Navigating this battle is a FOREVER TASK. It gets easier, but the struggle is always there if this is a battle of your past. Second of all: This task will revolve solely on your brain...not your midsection.
Think of this analogy. The neurons in your brain that trigger our everyday behaviors are like horses pulling carts through a field. The path they take is heavily utilized, so it is clear. The sides of the path, however, are overgrown with brush and rocks. Giving in to cravings is the easy, clear path, the one that comforts us. What we need to do is train the horse to make a new path. At first, it won't feel natural, it won't feel as satisfying, and it will even feel a bit like work. But over time, the new path taken will begin to tamp down. The old default path of "giving in" will become overgrown and eventually, the new path will become the more automatic one.
This is precisely what happens when we retrain our brains to think differently, and to NOT give in to food cravings. But it takes TRAINING. So next time those Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Pretzels (my personal downfall) start calling your name, try one of these tricks FIRST! And then try them again and again and again.
With a little patience, you'll be winning the battle over pesky cravings 90% of the time. That will turn into a million other wins in life, from being a good example to others, to wearing that dress that makes you feel like a million. You'll also be better able to enjoy REAL SPLURGES in life that are more worth it than the bag of cookies you barely noticed, because Game of Thrones is THAT GOOD!
Cravings Hack 1 - Do something different.
Most of the time when we have cravings, it simply is our body getting tired: tired of the task we are working on, tired from lack of sleep, tired from staring at a screen too long… We simply need to re-energize and change the scene. While our body's first reaction is to request simple sugars that break down quickly (aka any processed snack or pastry), your body doesn't understand that the solution it’s requesting can harm it long-term. But guess what? YOU DO!! So what can you do instead?
Maybe you need to take a walk or head over to that tea shop for a hot cup of something. Perhaps you just need to look at something other than a monitor, so pick a different task you can do instead that will also lead you feeling productive.
Make a list of 3 things you can do, and run through the list before you decide a craving is worth indulging in. Chances are the craving won't win.
Cravings Hack 2 - Drink some water.
Many times when what we think is hunger is actually a little dehydration. Our body is 60% water, and just dropping 1% or 2% is enough to trigger mild dehydration. So when we don't drink water often enough, our body simply gets tired. We also begin to exhibit many of the same symptoms also associated with hunger: headaches, sluggishness, trouble focusing, and low energy. No wonder our brain gets confused and we end up reaching into the snack cupboard instead of the Brita!
Next time you think you are hungry outside typical meal times, try having a glass of water or tea first. Give your body 20 minutes to register the change, and THEN see how you feel! I guarantee this will ward of extra unnecessary calories from entering your diet at least half the time.
Cravings Hack 3 - Ask yourself this series of questions first!
Cravings usually have NOTHING to do with food at all, but more to do with fulfilling a feeling. The hard part is digging deep and figuring out that feeling, and then looking it square in the face!
So follow this series of questions:
1) Why do I want this [insert food craving]?
2) What does that [reason you want the food] give me?
3) How does [having that thing] make me feel?
4) What other than food would make me feel that same feeling?
The solution will likely come to you. The funny thing is, it’s usually an answer we already know, it's just that it's buried deep.
Cravings Hack 4 - SLEEP IT OFF!
What is it about sleep that we LOVE it and can't get ENOUGH when we are awaking from it, but are so stubborn that we won’t DO IT when the proper time arrives to lay our heads down?! I am talking to you fellow Netflixers!
The fourth and final solution I have for you isn't necessarily appropriate for the middle of your work day, but it is for the times most cravings happen--when we are home, staying up past our bedtimes, filling our mouths with mindless goodies.
Let's face it, when we are tired, our brains will signal to us to give it whatever is the fastest energy source. This usually comes in the form of refined carbs, processed foods, and sweet treats that break down rapidly into our bloodstream. What our brains and body chemistry don't know, though, is with these quick bundles of energy also come hard crashes and feelings of being even more tired.
What we REALLY need is MORE SLEEP! So if this feeling hits you in the middle of the work day, instead of grabbing for the cupcakes someone brought in for their birthday, look forward to treating yourself to an early night's sleep instead.
And lastly, when you're home for the day...I know it is super hard!! But fight your stubbornness and get that cute (or strong) butt to bed! Do whatever you need to do to entice you: spoil yourself with an essential oil diffuser, make a sleep music playlist, invest in some super schnazzy pajamas! WHATEVER WORKS!
With more energy the next day, you'll be more likely to have even hormone balance and fewer cravings. That means more of your energy can be put towards the things that really matter. Tomorrow will come, whether you sleep early or sleep later, so let it come with you feeling like a champion!