Cravings show up for many people, especially when they are trying to make healthy changes in their nutrition. For some, focus and grit can help get them through cravings, but for others, it can be helpful to have a plan to tackle them. Here are some of the ways we recommend getting through those cravings to stay on track.

1. Protein, Fat, and Carbs (High in Fiber) at Every Meal.

The first thing in combating cravings is to make sure you’re getting food that stabilizes energy levels so you’re not on a blood sugar roller coaster and having your body craving quick energy (i.e. usually sugary foods).

Make sure your meals include healthy sources of protein (lean protein sources), fat (avocado, olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds), and carbs (sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, red potatoes, fruit etc.). Healthier sources of carbohydrates helps raise your blood glucose levels without the spike and drop that less healthy carb sources do. And when paired, protein helps to make you feel full, while fat helps you stay full between meals. Including them in a meal together gives a perfect balance of quick and sustainable energy.

2. Get Ahead of Hunger

While hunger itself is not a bad thing, there’s a difference between normal, healthy hunger before a meal, and extreme hunger that occurs from lack of planning or by unintended things that throw off your schedule.

It’s challenging to stay focused on fueling your body well when ravenous. Once you reach a certain point, it’s so easy to forget your goals and grab that bag of chips.

Get ahead of hunger by intentionally having some “rescue foods” you keep on hand. These foods or snacks don’t have to replace your meal, but they can help get you through the intense hunger until you can get to your normal meal without sabotaging your goals.

Some ideas:

  • Big handful of veggies
  • Small handful of pistachios
  • Quest bar (you don’t even have to eat the whole thing at one time)
  • Greek yogurt (Oikos Triple Zero is a great option)
  • Sugar snap peas and a cheese stick
  • Popcorn cake with hummus and red pepper flakes
  • Popcorn cake with 1 tbsp peanut butter

The important thing here is to stay AHEAD of intense hunger.

3. Prioritize Sleep

We always hear how good sleep is for us, but many people still struggle to put the phone down and get quality sleep. Unfortunately, sleep is not only important for energy levels, but it has a big impact on our cravings. When we have poor sleep, our hunger hormones aren’t as on point as when we get good, quality sleep.

Ghrelin (a hunger hormone) has been shown to increase when we get poor sleep, while leptin (our fullness hormone) is reduced – essentially making us more hungry and less full. So we end up being hungrier and it takes more food to make us feel full.

And it’s not just cravings; it’s also about blood sugar control.

There have been studies showing that sleep-deprived people have less insulin sensitivity (meaning the body is not processing glucose very well) to the point of having pre-diabetes. The good news? These people saw their numbers reverse out of the pre-diabetes range once they returned to healthy sleep levels. So put down that phone and take quality sleep seriously.

Also, your body knows that the quickest form of energy is fast-digesting carbs (a.k.a sugary treats), so when you’re tired, it’s not uncommon to crave sugar treats. Best thing to do if this consistently happens? Go to bed. Your body needs the energy and rejuvenation provided from sleep.

4. Include Craving Foundations in Meals

If you’re consistently battling sugar cravings after eating, and needing a “dessert”, try to get ahead of it by adding some sweetness and overall balanced of the five basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami) in your meals. The combination is very satisfying.

Think of when you have something really salty, most people then crave something sweet after. Same concept, but you’re just getting ahead of the craving by including it!

To reduce or combat sweet cravings try adding in:

  • Sweet potato with cinnamon and nutmeg
  • Gala apples sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Add some mango bite-sized chunks to your plate (or any other fruit)
  • Toss in some berries into a salad
  • Cook with ginger
  • Have a little honey mustard sauce
  • Add a little cranberry sauce to your plate

The key here is to GET AHEAD of your cravings, not try to replace it with the healthier option. Often, once the craving hits full force, it’s likely not going to be satisfied with anything other than what it wants. Ever had a craving for something then tried to satisfy with something else, and when it didn’t work you still went for the original item to satisfy that craving and eating more overall?

5. Learn to Differentiate Physical versus Emotional Hunger/Cravings

Sometimes it’s a little unclear whether our cravings are truly hunger or not.

When you aren’t sure, the best question to ask yourself is “what and where are the physical sensations I am feeling?”

Although individual differences exist, true hunger is often seen through the following common symptoms:

  • Feeling of emptiness in stomach
  • Gurgling, rumbling or growling in stomach
  • Dizziness, faintness or light-headedness
  • Headache
  • Irritability, easily agitated (hangry)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Nausea

Also, when experiencing true hunger, we are more (or equally) open to choosing a full, satisfying, balanced, and generally healthy meal rather than only craving a specific food (usually an unhealthy sweet or salty food) like what we often crave during emotional hunger.

It’s understandable to want to turn to food while needing emotional comfort. Food can promote pleasurable effects from our brain and help us calm down or comfort us in the moment – but it’s usually short-lived and out of control leading to overindulgence and not true satisfaction, because it doesn’t satisfy the reason the craving is happening.

If you do find that your hunger is rooted in emotion, try drinking a glass of water and try to identify what is triggering your emotional hunger –journal about it or even take a quick walk.

6. Change Your Patterns and Environment – Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success is to set your environment to support you and your goals.

Sometimes, just seeing certain foods can make you crave them. Take control of your environment the best you can by keeping away the foods that don’t serve you.

Also, your craving might be conditioned. If you’re always eating a bowl of ice cream in front of the TV after dinner, it’s going to be more challenging to skip the ice cream and watch TV than to just completely change up your habit. Instead of sitting and watching TV, do another activity that will help to uncouple the need for that daily ice cream habit.

These are the top ways we start the conversation on cravings when coaching, but as with everything else, there are always other reasons why cravings may show up and other ways to deal with them through nutrition coaching. Do you have another way you like to deal with cravings? Let us know in the comments below!