A Nutritionist's Guide To Satisfying Food Cravings
Fad diets telling you to ignore your food cravings? Have your cake and eat it too with expert tips on how to get your nutrients in without avoiding your favourite snacks.
Have you ever wanted a particular food so bad that the idea hijacked every other thought? The concept of a food craving is multidimensional, subjective and culturally specific. It can be an effect of inadequate food intake, but it is completely different from being hungry.
A 2020 paper in Current Nutrition Reports says that "hunger refers to the absence of fullness, that is, feelings of hunger are brought about by an empty stomach. Food craving can be differentiated from feelings of hunger through its specificity and intensity. That is, while a food craving can usually only be satisfied by consumption of a particular food, hunger can be alleviated by consumption of any type of food. Moreover, while hunger and food craving often can co-occur, being hungry is not a prerequisite for experiencing a food craving".
According to Manchester-based nutritionist and fitness instructor Dr. Nikita Suresh, food cravings are triggered by specific regions in the brain—usually pertaining to highly calorific and hyperpalatable items that are heavy in sugar or sodium. These stubborn urges can result from a variety of reasons, from nutritional deficiencies to memories of happiness and satisfaction. While it is ill-advised to not indulge in your cravings at all or quit cold turkey, it is also important to make sure that you aren't addicted to certain ultra processed or nutritionally hollow foods—treating them as substitutes for full, well-rounded meals.
Food cravings can result from:
1. Imbalance of or low blood sugar
3. Skipping meals, starvation or malnutrition
4. Lack of whole and nourishing meals including fruits and vegetables
5. Excess intake of ultra processed foods
6. Stress or anxiety leading to emotional eating
7. Happy memories associated with a particular food (for example, Indians may associate sweets with special occasions, festivals and celebration with friends and family)
Related story: 7 Nutritional Deficiencies That Can Wreck Your Mental Health
What's a healthy approach to satisfying food cravings?
Whether it's doctor's advice or simply to start a more well-rounded diet, getting your cravings under control will take time, just as any new change cannot become a habit overnight. As Dr. Suresh believes, "You can stop if your willpower is strong, but it is absolutely okay to enjoy a treat once a week or occasionally—whichever suits you best." Moderation is always key and the goal is to mix things up. Eat your greens, drink your water and get your workout in as much as you comfortably can, and mix things up every now and then with whatever you're craving. You can also try healthier alternatives instead of overindulging in ultra processed snacks. Dr. Suresh suggests:
1.Swap your bag of salted chips or deep-fried snacks every once in a while with a handful of salted nuts and seeds. This also doubles as a perfect pre-workout snack.
2.To satisfy your sweet tooth, enjoy a few pieces of dark chocolate, date-based energy balls or bars and jaggery.
4.Coffee is fuel, but to make sure it doesn't become an addiction, you can split two full cups into four smaller cups throughout the day. Or, if you want to try new flavours, opt for herbal teas or infusions.
"Never deprive yourself of your favourite foods," reads Dr. Suresh's mantra. Demonising sugar or other food groups or excluding your favourite dishes can trigger a negative diet mentality. Make sure to eat for nutrition, satiation as well as satisfaction.
Related story: How To Resist Toxic Diet Culture
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