A cringe worthy word!
Dealing with cravings can sabotage your best efforts on your Paleo diet. They are insidious, nasty little thoughts and feelings that seem to appear out of nowhere and aggressively destroy your most well affirmed intentions.
It might also feel like those cravings are contagious. At work, a colleague, driven by her cravings, leaves the office, only to return with her latest affliction (a freshly baked cookie from a favorite coffee shop), for you to see and smell, playing with your resolve and toying with your emotions. All of sudden all forms of self-discipline and words of conviction have disappeared out the window
Cravings come from four root sources: bacterial, nutritional, emotional, and physical.
- Bacterial imbalances in the digestive system can cause sugar cravings to feed the yeasts and fungi that need these carbohydrates to survive.
- Mineral and vitamin deficiencies lead the body to crave foods that provide a burst of energy, or a reliable dose of some missing or depleted nutrients.
- Emotional cravings for joy, connection, and relaxation often result in yearnings for sugar and fat to help calm the physical manifestations of fear, anger, and anxiety.
- Humans instinctively seek physical pleasure. Modern sedentary, physically disconnected lifestyles are deprived of physical touch and connection, or finding joy in movement and exercise. The mind-body connection has weakened and there is societal shame around desires and cravings. The overlap between the sensual pleasures from food and companionship creates confusion and food is often a replacement for intimacy.
7 Strategies To Crush Your Cravings
If you’ve been following a Paleo lifestyle for a while, the following strategies might not be as useful. However, even some veteran Paleo followers, can find themselves going through a temporary backslide during random life events or transitions. For those who are transitioning or returning to a Paleo lifestyle and for those who have been Paleo but still experience cravings, these might be helpful.
Before you close this window and stop reading, take a moment to humor the explanation: One of the biggest mistakes people make when they change their eating habits or even when they have been following a Paleo diet for a while, is eating too little. This means too little food overall, or inadequate protein combined with insufficient fats and Paleo-friendly carbohydrates (the newest villain on the scene) for their individual needs. Too little fat in the diet is directly correlated with increased sugar cravings and eating too little food in general is not sustainable over the long term. Eventually the body will begin to break down. The body is left depleted and desperate and the mind begins to focus on everything it believes it is being deprived of.
Eat real food, and enough of it, including some nutrient dense carbohydrates and naturally occurring saturated fats. This will build up defenses against the body fighting to get more nutrition, providing the fuel to prevent cravings appearing out of nowhere, or at least staving off their attacks.
Include Fruit & Dark Chocolate
When removing processed foods from your diet you may experience severe cravings for something sweet. Worrying about the consequences of a ‘healthier’ treat option (some good quality, dark chocolate or a real food based baked treat), or some extra fruit often results in throwing caution to the wind and over-indulging.
The problem here is not just setting yourself back in that moment by eating something which negatively impacts blood sugar levels and possibly results in a less than optimal physiological response, it is also beginning the cycle of wanting and cravings these foods all over again. This can often last for several days. The best solution for something sweet is a real food-based treat or, ideally, a piece of fruit, even if fruit may feel like a poor substitute for chocolate.
A few squares of dark, high quality chocolate will also do really well to crush a craving, especially when eaten slowly.
For more on choosing your best chocolate options (or making your own), read here
Note: If you are struggling with major sugar cravings, do not turn to fruit to try to satisfy those cravings – because it won’t. Fruit can really enhance the flavor of meals and be a great dessert once your cravings have lessened. A good way to figure this out is if you are eating fruit but not feeling satisfied, you probably still need more time away from the processed and hyper-sweet food before you can fully enjoy fruit in all its glory.
Eliminate Processed Foods
This may seem completely opposed to the first strategy and not what you want to hear but it is important to remember how your body responds to real, whole foods. Processed sweets, sugar substitutes, and foods that are definitely sweeter than they should be (lots of added sugar) taste that way because they are designed to make you crave more. This also includes healthy, even Paleo versions of processed foods and baked goods which are generally way sweeter and more stimulating to your taste buds than food in its whole form. If you want to stop craving you have to eliminate these foods and drinks completely. You probably already know which ones you’re eating that are “addictive.” The list includes cookies, candy, sweet and savory baked goods, you know, all the “good” stuff.
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To really stop craving sugar, water is absolutely essential. Drink lots of plain (unflavored) water throughout the day when you remember and you will be even less likely to crave sugar. Sometimes when you have a craving for something sweet, you are simply dehydrated. Drink a glass of cool water to see if that quells your craving.
Get Enough Sleep
Research shows that sleepless nights can drop levels of the hormone leptin, which signals satiety, and increase levels of ghrelin, which triggers your appetite. No wonder you’re feeling those cravings even more after minimal sleep. The best way to avoid this is to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Drinking caffeine in the morning is a short-term fix, but it will help to curb those cravings too.
Read on here for tips to improve your sleep
The psychological pull toward foods you might associate with pleasure or comfort is often difficult to break free of. Determining and acknowledging the association, allows you to decide whether to indulge the feeling, or not. It is always a CHOICE!
It is also just as important to recognize and understand the difference between ending your cravings to improve your health, and depriving yourself of food with the hope of losing weight. Ending cravings is not about depriving yourself of food you enjoy. Rather, it is about nourishing yourself properly and thoroughly without the distraction of the cookies, ice cream, and other processed and manufactured foods. With this in mind, think about how much nutrient-dense food you eat during the day and if you notice yourself skimping on food, work on adding more fat, protein, and unprocessed carbs into your meals. A happy and well-nourished body and mind is a lot less likely to crave these other foods.
So often your cravings are simply mental. They actively live in your head, a product of your old habits. At 10 am you should be having a snack to ‘keep your blood sugar stable’. At 3 pm the expectation is to have a ‘pick-me-up’ treat. At lunch, dessert has always been some sugar filled substance, and so on and so on. The mind, being a `creature` of habit, will, at specified times start wondering ‘Where’s my (insert treat of choice here)?’ In reality, the need is not there, it is only the want.
If the previous strategies are of no help, try the following:
- Take 5 deep, slow breaths. Take that time to choose what you really want to do next.
- Move your body, go for a walk, do a 3-minute vigorous session of squats in your office or living room. The key is to get yourself out of your current situation and brain space and change locations for a while.
- Talk to someone, call someone, reach out to someone. It could be someone you trust and someone who knows your health goals and who can help remind you why you would not want to cave to your cravings or it could be someone who provides a quick and easy distraction, again, getting you out of your brain space..
Cravings are a painful, frustrating thing. It is really tough to work through them when they decide to rear their ugly heads. Trying some of the above strategies will allow you to determine if and how any of them work for you.
Feeling deprived of previous food staples is unnecessary and re-adjusting or getting used to these behaviours can take a little time. Keep at it and you will be reminded of the benefits of a Paleo lifestyle to shift your behaviour, and your life
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com