Can’t resist the vending machine or the drive-thru, no matter how hard you try? Don’t panic, you’re not alone! You may be surprised at the things that can encourage you to keep on munching when you know you really shouldn’t.
If you’ve ever been at home or on the job and had a craving that pops up out of nowhere then you know how intense the feeling is and how easily it can strip you of all your willpower. Here’s a look at what your munchies really mean and how to stop them with healthy, practical nutritious fixes.
You’re craving: Sugar
Why? If you’ve got a hankering for lollies and sweets, it’s often a good signal that your blood sugar levels are out of whack. When your energy levels are running on empty, a handful of jellybeans or something similar provides an instant energy boost thanks to their ability to spike blood sugar levels.
However, this quick energy hit has a downside – it’s followed by a crash. When you’re in an energy slump this almost always leads to a loss of self control and a craving for more of the sweet stuff. It’s a vicious cycle and before you know it you’re seeking your next quick fix.
Quick-fix: Load up on (fresh/frozen) berries. It doesn’t matter which kind – blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries – whatever takes your fancy. Packed with natural sweetness, plus fiber to keep you feeling full and stabilize blood sugar, they’re nature’s lollies. Cherry tomatoes are also a great choice. Keep a bowl at home or at work and pop one or two whenever you need it.
You’re craving: Salt
Why? Because you need it! Salt is everywhere in processed foods – biscuits, cakes, cereals, you name it, so even if you don’t need to add any to your food you may still be eating your way through a salt shaker. Just like fat, salt also increase dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain) and when our taste-buds are continually bombarded with salt, you need more and more to satisfy the craving.
Quick-fix: Swap those potato chips for air-popped popcorn and lightly sprinkle on some salt. Slowly reduce your portion size and your hankering for salt will also start to subside. Always read food labels and select varieties with the lowest amount of sodium.
You’re craving: Junk food
Why? Taste aside, one of the reasons may be a lack of (or poor) sleep. In fact, a sleepless night makes use far more likely to choose junk food over nutritious whole-grains and leafy veg. Without our beauty sleep, the areas in the brain responsible for complex judgements and decisions are blunted, while those controlling motivation and desire kick in, making your cravings for high kilojoule foods hard to resist.
Quick-fix: First, make sure you’re getting your 8hrs of sleep each night. If you had a bad night, make a conscious decision the following day to go for nutritious foods that maximizes your energy levels. If you must go for a burger go for wholegrain bread, lean mince, plenty of salad, and hold the fries. You can also add in a slice or two of avocado to help offset a burger patty’s heart-damaging effects.
You’re craving: Chocolate
Why? It’s likely that you’re trying to lift your mood. Phenethylamine (a plant compound) found in chocolate is responsible for it’s mood-lifting benefits, as it helps boost the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and nor-adrenaline in the brain.
Quick-fix: Swap the dairy milk for quality dark chocolate. You’ll find you won’t need as much to feel satisfied. If it’s just hunger, make a conscious effort to eat something more hearty like a banana or a couple of wholegrain crackers with avocado before reaching for a choccy bar.
If you really must have chocolate, try and include nuts (i.e. chocolate covered almonds) as the protein in the nuts will help cravings and keep you full. Sweet red seedless grapes also work well as a substitute or a cup of low-fat cocoa are also good substitutes.
You’re craving: Hot chips
Why? You might think you’re after an injection of fat, but it could also mean you’re looking for comfort. High-fat foods like hot chips stimulate the brains pleasure center, triggering the release of the happiness chemical dopamine.
Because we’re left feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside after indulging, we go back for more next time we need an emotional boost. The problem is, we end up needing more and more to receive the same level of pleasure.
Quick-fix: Instead of swinging by the drive-through, try warming some dry-roasted nuts, or better still, make your own. Toast them in a fry-pan on the stove or bake them in the oven. Enjoying nuts warm brings out their delicious flavor.
A quick word on the ‘bad guys’
It’s important to make it clear that I’m not out to demonize so-called junk foods, you just gotta’ know how to handle them.
Foods like chips, beer, burgers and often get a bad rap, but in reality they’re not so bad, just misunderstood. Treat them as a sometimes and not an everyday staple and you’ll be able to enjoy all they have to offer, guilt-free! Eating right is all about having healthy relationships with food and ‘junk food’ is no different.
Depriving yourself entirely is the fast path to binge eating, yo-yo dieting and other negative emotions – and you simply don’t need to! If you’re getting the basics right (staying hydrated, exercising, monitoring your calories and eating plenty of healthy fats & protein) what you occasionally eat won’t even matter. Need more help? Take a look at our top 25 fat burning foods or our 1500 calorie diet plan here.