Food cravings out of control? Knowing why cravings happen will help you fight them – and help you maintain a balanced healthy diet and weight.
When your food cravings hit
You've probably noticed that you feel your strongest food yens at specific times of the day—or month.
1) Mid-afternoon food cravings (from about 3-6 p.m.)
By far the greatest number of cravings occur late in the day, when our blood glucose drops, making us sluggish and in need of a lift. All it takes now is a cue—a fast-food billboard on your way home or a co-worker's candy bar—to bring on major sugar cravings or carb cravings.
2) When we're upset or bored or need stress relief
Bad moods frequently give rise to cravings. We imagine that if we eat a cookie or a chocolate bar, we'll feel better—and often we do. Carbohydrates—sweet or starchy foods—increase the secretion of the brain chemical serotonin, which in turn can improve mood and provide temporary stress relief.
3) Carb cravings and chocolate cravings before your period
Research shows that many of our cravings for chocolate and carbohydrate-rich foods are particularly intense in the days leading up to menstruation. Experts theorize that women may engage in emotional overeating of carbs in an attempt to raise serotonin levels to counter the bad moods and mild depression related to PMS.
Also, we actually need more calories premenstrually, so it would make sense we might experience more cravings if we're short on energy. Although there have been a number of studies examining cravings and the menstrual cycle, scientists still don't know exactly why some women seem to engage in emotional overeating or crave carbs, chocolate and other sugary foods before their periods.
Keep Reading: Find out what else triggers cravings—and how to nix them.
[header = Anticipate sugar cravings and carb cravings so that you can control them.]
Discover when food cravings tend to hit and how to effectively fight back.
Common Craving Triggers:
1) Food cravings are common when it's cold and dark out.
Short, wintry days can encourage carb cravings for foods like bread and pasta. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD, which is depression related to diminished sunlight-exposure) may be especially affected and crave carb-rich foods to help themselves feel better.
2) Food cravings happen at times when we're accustomed to eating.
Our bodies often associate food cravings with happy times we've had in the past. When we're at the ballpark, for example, we might crave a hot dog with the works instead of other more healthy meals; if a summer-night trip to the ice-cream parlor was a family tradition, we may find ourselves nursing sugar cravings for an ice-cream cone instead of choosing healthy snacks when the weather gets warm.
Keep reading: Get the tips and tools you need to control the cravings.
[header = Balanced healthy diets can conquer food cravings. Shape tells you how online.]
How to manage your food cravings
Forewarned is forearmed: If you know a craving is going to strike, you can plan healthy snacks and healthy meals to eat at those times, or find other distractions rather than surrendering. Here are proven methods to help tame your cravings:
Include carbs, protein and a little fat for your healthy meals and healthy snacks.
When we eat meals that are lacking in one kind of food, we may be more likely to crave it later. Those who are on high-protein, low-carb regimens, for example, may have carb cravings later.
When eating a varied balanced healthy diet, you'll feel better and have more energy and better concentration. Protein and fat take longer to digest than carbs do, so including them, along with more fiber, in any meal means that you'll feel satisfied longer. When our meals are monotonous — the same day after day — we're practically guaranteed powerful cravings, even if your diet is nutritionally adequate.
Too often we'll skip breakfast or forget about lunch, only to feel a craving strike later in the day. Think ahead and plan a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner that consist of carbohydrates, protein, and good fats.
Your snacks, too, should be a combination of protein, carbs and a little fat, especially in the late afternoon, when cravings seem most urgent. Any of the following snacks can fend off a trip to the candy machine to satisfy sugar cravings: whole-wheat pita bread with hummus; a pear with lowfat cheese slices; a quesadilla (made with a whole-wheat tortilla); raw veggies with lowfat cottage cheese; whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter.