Sometimes it may seem as though our cravings are running the show. From the moment we get up to the time he hit the sack, it can feel like we are being led in so many directions by some unseen tempter. Whether we crave salt, sugar, alcohol, nicotine or a myriad of other enticers, it is possible to adopt a few ways to help lower their frequency or to replace these not-so-good-for-us habits with healthier, more life-affirming choices, at least some of the time.
Before we talk about swapping out some of our usual go-to cravings for healthier options, let’s look at what actually makes up a craving.
According to Merriam-Webster, a craving is “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing”¹ We can crave everything from food and alcohol to nicotine and even certain experiences. About 90% of humans experience cravings so that’s almost all of us.
If we talk about food cravings specifically, we tend to crave foods that are, well let’s just say, not so good for us like those that are high salt, sugar or unhealthy fats. What makes cravings so perplexing is that they can seemingly come out of nowhere or can be triggered by our senses, something we smell, see or hear about.
Our cerebellum, the part of our brain that is responsible for memory and pleasure, is a big reason we experience food cravings. And sometimes, a hormone imbalance of leptin and serotonin, could be why we crave so intensely. For women specifically, their menstrual cycle and its varying hormonal fluctuations is often the culprit.
Tips to Reducing Those Nagging Cravings²
Drink water throughout your day
Staying hydrated can provide feelings of satiety and help reduce the frequency of cravings.
Get the right amount of zzzs
A healthy amount of sleep can keep hormones in check and cravings at bay. Aim for 7-8 hours a night.
Pack in some protein
Including lean protein in your daily eating habits has been shown to temper a person’s cravings.
Bring down those stress levels
Finding ways to lower your daily stress is key to lowering cravings because stress can lead to emotional eating which often culminates in eating not-so-good-for-us comfort foods.
We have a tendency to crave things to which we are consistently exposed. If there is a great ice cream shop on my way home from work and I pass by it every day, it won’t be long before I begin making it part of a weekly or daily habit, especially if I can justify that I deserve it after a particularly difficult day at the office. Try finding an alternate route home to avoid this type of temptation or say to yourself, “I’ll park the car 2 miles from the ice cream shop once a month, walk there, get a small soft-serve then walk back to my car.
When we reach for a bag of potato chips, it’s often because we are craving a salty snack that gives us a satisfying crunch as well. Opting for salted almonds, cashews or peanuts could be a healthier choice, albeit unsalted nuts would be a healthier option. Homemade kale chips can also be a great substitute as they will provide that ever-so-important crunch factor.
Have some sweet and ripe fruit on hand, cut up and ready to eat. Those of us who have a sweet tooth or crave sweets every once in a while, need to be ready with a plan of action when tiramisu or chocolate chip cookies seem to be calling our name. At least once a week, stock up on a variety of fruit. In order to ensure maximum flavor and sweet satisfaction, cut it up when ripe and mix together. This will ensure that your sweet tooth’s happiness. Hard to always find fresh fruit? Keep some dried fruit in the pantry and snack on a handful with a couple squares of dark chocolate.
That morning cup of joe might be the most regular of cravings as it tends to show up every morning. However, when a craving becomes a daily habit that repeats itself several times during the day, it might be a good idea to find a healthier alternative. We may not realize it but sometimes the most important thing a cup of coffee provides is the ingestion of a hot drink first thing in the morning. With a little bit of conditioning, we can easily swap at least one of our morning coffees with an easy option such as hot water and lemon. One study has shown the benefits of lemon polyphenols (LPP) in that they demonstrated to have “anti-aging effects not only on host health but also on the intestinal environment”.³
Whether we want to eliminate alcohol all together or simply cut down on our alcohol consumption, there are some satisfying mocktails that will leave you feeling refreshed and energized without the ill effects of alcohol. A mock Margarita made with some frozen margarita mix or even frozen lemonade added to some ginger ale or tonic water, is a great summer option. Infusing some sparkling water with your favorite fruit and served over crushed ice is another great option. If you really love the taste of wine or beer, there are numerous tasty non-alcoholic options for you to try.
Smoking could be one of the most devastating cravings we can experience as it often results in a panoply of health issues, many of which can be life-threatening. If giving up smoking is one of your life goals, we commend you and want to say we know it’s not easy. Long-time smokers especially may require the aid of a nicotine patch, gum or spray to help butt out for good. Since smoking is an oral habit, the Mayo Clinic recommends “chew(ing) sugarless gum… or munch(ing) on raw carrots, celery, nuts or sunflower seeds — something crunchy and satisfying”.⁴
So, as we have seen, cravings are a normal part of life and while some may have more negative repercussions than others, many simply have to be kept in check and experienced in moderation. Implementing even small changes to your “craving” framework, can go a long way to making them more manageable in your life.