I missed my Friday Fit Tip so today I’m making it up. I’ve been on a fitness journey for some time, off and on for years, especially after 2007, when I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis. Thankfully I do not need medication, but it further put things into perspective. While I knew I could be at risk to have some of the health conditions my parents had, I now had my own and didn’t need to get theirs. So I started working with a nutritionist and trainer.
But with life changes, I fell off the wagon, or shall I say I was on the wagon, but the road was long because I wasn’t in alignment, thoughts and deeds. After my mom passed, I was all over the place, but once I moved to my temporary location in Oct., I knew I wanted to get into a better routine, start eating healthier and get my mind in alignment because it’s a lifestyle. I’ve always been active, but I wanted to be at an optimal weight and fitness level.
The weight started coming off even though I wasn’t doing any particular thing, then I realized I was moving more, particularly walking and eating less. My surroundings and current circumstance aren’t conducive to much more, but something was happening. So I say God got me started when I didn’t know how and though I know He still has me, I need to be a conscious part of the program.
I say all of this to say, that though I’ve always known better ways to eat, those cravings do arrive. I believe in moderation, but even sometimes I have to leave moderation at the door along with the craving because it becomes more than moderation. Such is the case of this weekend. I did well with my eating but caved in bought my favorite M&M’s saying I’d spread it out between 2 days (yeah right) and boom, there went the bag. It was the regular size bag, but still it was very late in the evening and I didn’t need to eat them anyway. I don’t have a snacking problem, but I sill have miles to go and snacking and cravings will only slow me down.
So what causes those cravings and what should we do with them?
Cravings are normally a sign that your body is not getting something that it needs. The underlying cause can vary greatly from person to person, but a lack of minerals in the system is the most common cause for those who crave sugar or carbs. If your blood pressure is normally low (below 112/78), that can be a strong indication that you may not be getting the minerals your body needs. When minerals are too low, you can buffer the need for those minerals by raising your sugars. (Hello cravings!)
Poor digestive performance is the most common cause for mineral deficiencies. Digestion needs to be working optimally in order for us to pull needed minerals out of the food we’re eating.
If you’re craving sugar, here are some ways to tame those cravings.
- Give in a little. Eat a bit of what you’re craving, maybe a small cookie or a fun-size candy bar, suggests Kerry Neville, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman. Enjoying a little of what you love can help you steer clear of feeling denied. Try to stick to a 150-calorie threshold, Neville says.
- Combine foods. If the idea of stopping at a cookie or a baby candy bar seems impossible, you can still fill yourself up and satisfy a sugar craving, too. “I like combining the craving food with a healthful one,” Neville says. “I love chocolate, for example, so sometimes I’ll dip a banana in chocolate sauce and that gives me what I’m craving, or I mix some almonds with chocolate chips.” As a beneficial bonus, you’ll satisfy a craving and get healthy nutrients from those good-for-you foods.
- Go cold turkey. Cutting out all simple sugars works for some people, although “the initial 48 to 72 hours are tough,” Gerbstadt says. Some people find that going cold turkey helps their cravings diminish after a few days; others find they may still crave sugar but over time are able to train their taste buds to be satisfied with less.
- Grab some gum. If you want to avoid giving in to a sugar craving completely, try chewing a stick of gum, says nutrition advisor Dave Grotto, RD, LDN. “Research has shown that chewing gum can reduce food cravings,” Grotto says.
- Reach for fruit. Keep fruit handy for when sugar cravings hit. You’ll get fiber and nutrients along with some sweetness. And stock up on foods like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, says certified addiction specialist Judy Chambers, LCSW, CAS. “Have them handy so you reach for them instead of reaching for the old [sugary] something.”
- Get up and go. When a sugar craving hits, walk away. “Take a walk around the block or [do] something to change the scenery,” to take your mind off the food you’re craving, Neville suggests.
- Choose quality over quantity. “If you need a sugar splurge, pick a wonderful, decadent sugary food,” Moores says. But keep it small. For example, choose a perfect dark chocolate truffle instead of a king-sized candy bar, then “savor every bite — slowly,” Moores says. Grotto agrees. “Don’t swear off favorites — you’ll only come back for greater portions. Learn to incorporate small amounts in the diet but concentrate on filling your stomach with less sugary and [healthier] options.”
- Eat regularly. Waiting too long between meals may set you up to choose sugary, fatty foods that cut your hunger, Moores says. Instead, eating every three to five hours can help keep blood sugar stable and help you “avoid irrational eating behavior,” Grotto says. Your best bets? “Choose protein, fiber-rich foods like whole grains and produce,” Moores says.
One of the best ways to manage sugar cravings is to stop them before they start. To help you do that:
- Skip artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners may sound like a great idea, but “they don’t lessen cravings for sugar and haven’t demonstrated a positive effect on our obesity epidemic,” says Grotto, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.
- Reward yourself for successfully managing sugar cravings. Your reward could be large or small. Remember why you’re working on it and then reward yourself for each successful step.
- Slow down. For one week, focus on your sugar cravings and think about what you’re eating, suggests Chambers. Diet mayhem often results from lack of planning. So slow down, plan, “and eat what you intend to eat, instead of eating when you’re desperate,” Chambers says.
- Get support. Many people turn to sweet foods when they’re stressed, depressed, or angry. But food doesn’t solve emotional issues. Consider whether emotions are involved in your sugar cravings and whether you need help to find other solutions to those emotional problems.
- Mix it up. You may need more than one strategy to thwart sugar cravings. One week you may find success with one tactic, and another week calls for an alternative approach. What’s important is to “have a ‘bag of tricks’ to try,” Gerbstadt tells WebMD. To tame sugar cravings, you really need to “figure out what works for you,” Neville says.
Here are some other tips offered by professionals:
“Depriving a sweet tooth is a recipe for disaster. Don’t cut things out so you binge later. Instead, try allotting up to a fifth of your daily calorie allowance to the sweet of your choice. Every day I have a small package of Paul Newman’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups; they’re 180 calories for the pack—and I don’t feel deprived.”
—Jillian Michaels, trainer on NBC’s The Biggest Loser and author of Master Your Metabolism
“Instead of throwing away a wrapper after you indulge in something sweet, keep it in a jar. It’ll help you be more aware of how much you’re eating.”
—Susan Albers, PsyD, author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food
“Make a collage with pictures that represent you reaching your goal—and look at it when a craving hits. Then ask yourself if having that doughnut will bring you closer to your goals.”
—Chris Downie, author of The Spark and founder of SparkPeople.com
“Cut out distractions. When your attention isn’t diverted, you can truly savor what you’re eating—and that satisfaction will help you control mindless snacking or overeating.”
—Lillian Cheung, RD, co-author of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
“On a 3×5 index card, write a check every time you successfully say no to a craving. You need to do this 15 times in a row before you’ll be able to conquer any craving. On the reverse side of the card, write down some affirmations to remind yourself why you should resist.”
—Judith Beck, Ph.D., director of the Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy and Research