Cravings...What Do I Do?
I get a lot of questions about cravings and how to handle them. They are a very real thing and sometimes hard to handle, that’s why I wanted to write this brief article to address how I think about cravings and how I suggest handling them.
First things first, everyone is going to have different cravings for different things. A lot of people crave sweet stuff - at least that's’ the most popular one that I get asked about. Is this you? Or do you crave more savory and salty snacks such as chips? Either way, the principles that I will discuss here can be applied to any sort of craving.
Where I’d like to begin is with discussing what is known as “Flexible Dieting”. Flexible Dieting focuses on the energy balance of calories in vs. calories out and the fact that calories are...well, calories. Sugar doesn’t magically contain more calories than whole grains, each source of carbohydrates contains 4 calories per gram. That’s it, end of story. There are all these diets that promote eliminating a certain food source - such as carbs - because they are what’s making you fat, or containing more body fat than you would like. The fact of the matter is, this just isn’t true. If you want to learn more about the science about this and what the research has to say, check out my eBook on the very nutritional program I use and use with my clients. With Flexible Dieting, you are allowed to give in to your cravings because it doesn’t demonize foods and eliminate them from your diet. You’re craving a Snickers bar?? If it fits into your daily allotment of calories, then eat the damn Snickers! That’s where flexible dieting is superior, if you can learn to manage your cravings and not binge eat 6 Snickers, your overall caloric load will be lower. There have been a few studies that look at the intake of someone who allows for these so-called “bad foods” into their diet during the week and manages them, compared to someone who eats a very strict diet and then “cheats” on the weekend and they show that the people who allow themselves to give in to their cravings and manage it better have a lower overall intake of calories for the week.
Pretty crazy to think about right?
It just goes to show that there is no superior diet that changes how your metabolism works, but that the way to make actual changes is to stick to a diet that allows you to create enough of a deficit for your body to use the energy stores that it has (i.e. fat). So you have to find something that you can adhere to and be consistent with.
With that being said, if you are someone that has strong intense cravings, Flexible Dieting and changing the way you think about how to manage your calories might be the way to go.
What I suggest when it comes to your cravings is to learn to give in, but give in intelligently. If you are unfamiliar with how to track your calories, I suggest getting an app like MyFitnessPal and a food scale such as this one and weighing out your food so you can track it. After you have done this for a while, you get pretty good at guesstimating your calories based off portion size and this gives you an idea of your total amount of calories. With this information, you can have a better idea if you still have enough room in your calories to give in to your cravings.
Another thing to consider is switching out some calories for whatever you are craving. So for example, if I come home and I’m craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I maybe will have that instead of my normal late night snack of some greek yogurt. This way I’m trading out calories for what I’m craving and as long as your calories are within range of what your calculated daily intake should be, you’re good. Another way to approach this is to allow yourself “a little” of what you’re craving. For example, the other day I was craving something crunchy and salty, I opted for some honey mustard and onion pretzel pieces (super good if you haven’t tried them). I could have easily eaten the whole bag in one sitting but instead, I decided to have just a little portion to satisfy my craving. I ate what I deemed was able to fit into my calories and I saved the rest for later.
Not only does this allow you to consume what you’re craving without blowing too many calories, but it also allows to you save some for a snack for later if you experience that craving again! Remember, you don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time, that’s not a great way to live your life. If you can eat “good” 80% of the time, you’re doing great and that will lend to you progressing towards your goals. So find what works for you and apply it 80% of the time, and you will be good to go.
I challenge you to check yourself and ask yourself questions each time you have a craving:
How intense is my craving?
How many calories have I eaten today?
How many calories do I have left?
What is the minimal amount of food that I choose to satisfy my craving that I can have before it adds too many calories to my intake?
It’s not easy, but with practice, it can become easier. You just have to commit and commit to yourself. Understand that the first few times you do it and go through this process, you won’t be perfect and that’s okay. If you work at it, you will get better and better and then you will be able to manage your calories and intake much better.