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January 14, 2011

16 Simple Ways to Curb & Prevent Cravings

I’m pretty sure I have the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I know.  My childhood was filled with sour patch kids, Mountain Dew, rainbow frosting, sprinkles and fluffernutter (PB & fluff sandwich anyone?)–I am surprised I didn’t burn my tongue off with all that insanely sweet, artificial garbage.  Alas!  Twenty years later and I still have a huge sweet tooth but now I take a more waistline-friendly approach to curbing cravings and preventing them altogether.  Here are some quick & dirty ways to let your sweet tooth know who’s boss!

#1  Make the ME Cocoa Drink: 1-2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (baking cocoa) mixed with hot water, add stevia or xylitol to sweeten, splash of unsweetened almond milk–I like this for after dinner as a way to get a sweet taste with few cals and carbs. The best part is that drinking a huge, hot beverage will occupy your mouth for an hour; an hour that you won’t be eating anything!

#2 Do a 1-minute blitz: When I was dieting for my very first figure competition, I did this whenever I got cravings and it helped curb my appetite for a little while–kind of weird but works! Do as many burpees or push-ups or squat jumps, switch jumps, etc as you can in 1 minute.

#3 Minimize long duration cardio–take this from someone who has experienced this–the more cardio you do, the more hungry you get, the more cravings for sweets that you have–on a biochemical level, your body tries to generate the serotonin and dopamine that eating carbs and sweets can provide, even more so when doing long duration cardio exercise.  Keep it short, less then 40 minutes and include intervals like this treadmill & weight combo workout.

#4 Eat preemptively–a key tenant of Metabolic Effect–eat before you ever get hungry to stay ahead of your cravings, appetite and blood sugar swings.  4-6 small meals each day eaten every 2-3 hours, protein + fruit or veggie + small serving of starch to help satisfy and keep cravings under control.  Many experts say “only eat when you are hungry” and unfortunately, we feel at that point it is too late–it is much more difficult to control portions, food choices and inhibition.  Remember, you will never win a battles of wills against your physiology as Dr. Jade Teta says.  Ultimately, eating protein + fiber is your best weapon against hunger and cravings.

#5 Don’t go for long periods of time without eating. During long stretches of no food, the body will release the stress hormone cortisol which can negatively affect appetite and cravings.  Eating upon waking in the morning is key as is eating every 2-3 hours.

#6 And don’t survive on coffee, zero-calorie stimulants and sodas all day. This may be an enticing idea to try and reduce calories, but you will pay for it later in the day–your hunger goes into overdrive as the need to eat real food exponentiates the more you deny it.  Unfortunately in this case, the “real food” usually ends up being the fatty, sugarly, salty variety.

#7 Get sufficient sleep. Metabolic Effect calls sleep the body’s metabolic reset button, and in the case of cravings and hunger, insufficient sleep can have a major impact.  For example, staying up late watching TV or playing on the computer can shorten your sleeping hours and may cause you to wake up later than anticipated, setting the tone for the day–no AM workout, no time to cook a good fat-loss breakfast, etc…you are now on a blood sugar roller-coaster ride for the rest of day: coffee, sugar, soda, salt, etc. Get in bed by 10pm preferably so that you can wake up refreshed with time to prepare and/or workout in the morning.

#8 Load up on fiber. Fiber can have a filling, satiety effect that can successfully last hours after eating.  It slows absorption of nutrients, stabilizes blood sugar and keeps you regular.  The best sources of fiber for fat loss are those from fruits and vegetables because though they may have less absolute fiber than whole grains, they pack very little sugar and a higher water volume, making you feel more satisfied.  Fibrous veggies like greens, broccoli, cauliflower, etc plus low glycemic index fruits like berries, apples, pears, grapefruits, etc.  Aim for AT LEAST 30g per day, and even more if needed to suppress hunger and keep cravings at bay.

#9 Choose satiating foods like nuts, nut butters, voluminous fruit and veggies. Many times for me when I am cravings sweets I choose to instead eat a single huge spoonful of natural peanut butter or almond butter.  The fat and protein in nut butters keeps you fuller for longer and because they are so rich, it is not necessary to eat a ton to feel full satisfied.  Likewise, fruits and veggies with a high water content will help create fullness and satiety in the gut, like most fibrous veggies (see #15) and high volume fruits like apples, pears, etc.

#10 Drink adequate water. Many times if you are dehydrated, you will feel hungry when you are actually thirsty.  Furthermore, you can be dehydrated without even feeling thirst, so your best bet is to first drink 16-20 oz water whenever you find yourself craving.  This will create a fullness in the stomach that may put cravings and hunger to bed.  If you are still craving 20 minutes later, try something else on this list! :)

#11 Implement evening rituals that get your mind off snacking. So many of my clients relate to the scenario of getting home from work and eating straight from 6pm to bedtime. Metabolic Effect calls this “continuous meal” and it is very common, and I have to admit do this at times when I don’t take care of my cravings/hunger earlier in the day.  To help break this habit, create different evening rituals, like sipping a large cup of tea, making a big cocoa drink, brushing your teeth after dinner, getting in bed and reading or sitting on the couch with your partner and talking or by yourself quietly and reflecting on the day.  When in trouble, see #16 :)  Check out more about evening & sleep rituals here.

#12 Find a yummy fat-loss protein bar. It is ideal to use real food first in the fat loss lifestyle, but to be realistic, bars and shake will act sometimes as necessary convenience foods, and other times they will act as craving-coping mechanisms.  The protein bar industry has come a long way in terms of taste and many of today’s high protein, lower carb bars actually taste like candy bars.  Check out my favorites and eat one after dinner if you get stuck, at 3pm if you want a sweet or out at a social function instead of the prepared dessert.  Most fit gals don’t leave home without a protein bar or two in their purse JIC!

#13 Destress. There is no doubt that stress plays a huge factor in cravings, hunger and lack of fat loss.  Hormonally, stress creates a similar scenario as #5 above, leaving you reaching for the closest chocolatey, sugary item. And frequently during times of elevated stress we feel badly enough for ourselves that we indulge without thinking–as if we earned the right to eat whatever we want :) I have been there!  Take a step back and plan, practice and implement pre-emptive eating strategies to better balance hormones to reduce the likelihood of this happening (see #4), and if you really need a taste of sweet, see #12.

#14 Avoid situations of temptation or make a plan in advance. It is easy to live the fat loss lifestyle in the privacy of our own homes, as evidenced by the fact that most figure competitors in prep mode rarely eat outside their house.  But for the rest of us, we are constantly getting our eating plan thrown off by other people, events, and circumstances that come up.  Jade and I love eating out but we always have a plan in mind for what we are going to get before we get to the restaurant.  Lean protein and veggies. If we are starving, we will get a protein-based appetizer like seared ahi tuna.  Hard & fast rule–no bread basket, ever.  At the movies, I bring my favorite protein bar, road trips I bring plenty of fruit. Have a plan and don’t get caught off guard!

#15 Eat veggies like it’s going out of style. Ever try to eat 1 lb of broccoli?  How far do you get?  Probably not that far–the volume of fibrous vegetables is insanely filling and can be used to help with hunger and cravings.  I tell my competition girls, if you get hungry, eat as much green veggies as you want–broccoli, spinach, kale, asparagus, celery, etc.  They are filling, healthy and even when overeaten have very little effect on fat loss efforts.  Still hungry after dinner? More veggies please!

#16 Use sugar-free gum and candy as an absolute last resort. This is reality and sometimes you just want chocolate.  Though it is not ideal, it is ok to use sugar-free items like candy and gum to help quell cravings.  However, BE CAREFUL!  Like Jillian Teta always reminds us, RESPECT THE MALTITOL!  Maltitol is a sugar alcohol used in sugar-free items that is not fully absorbed and thus can lead to insane gas, bloating and abdominal pain if abused.  If you have ever experienced this, you know how terrible this can be.  My advice is to use trial and error here–try 1 piece of sugar-free chocolate and see how you respond.  Be prudent!  See our favorite options here.  Also, sugar-free gum can also definitely lead to gas and bloating so try to do no more than 3-4 pieces/day.  I am loving the new Extra Dessert Delights in Mint Chocolate Chip!

Or, if all else fails, just make these!
Let me know how you guys do! ox Jill

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