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Face it — you know that what you put in your mouth directly affects how you feel and how you perform throughout the day.

 

People have gotten really good at tuning out all those overly emphasized health-related rules that we all know we should follow but never do, because we tend to choose instant gratification over struggle and sacrifice needed for future results.

Terribly strong cravings, in particular, are the worst for derailing your efforts — even if you are motivated and you’ve fully accepted the struggle and time it might take to improve your health.

Really bad cravings will make sure it won’t happen.

I was compelled to write this because last week my cravings were especially worse than usual.

I’ve also suffered from a few extremely bad episodes of binge eating disorder throughout my past thanks to prolonged periods of over-exercising and under-eating, so I know firsthand how hopeless it can seem when you feel like you’re losing your mind to food.

The fact that I felt some subtle cravings surfacing again for the first time in a long time last week was the signal I needed to start making some changes to fix them before they got worse.

On that note, let me state those two points I want to make very clear:

 

  • Giving in to food cravings doesn’t mean you’re weak or lack willpower — it means your brain is receiving the signal to ramp up its need for calories, macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, or other specific nutrients in response to stress.
  • Cravings are all inside your head, and they don’t have anything to do with the “below the neck” hunger you feel in your stomach.
  • You can control your cravings if you can figure out what’s triggering them.

 

Cravings are usually triggered by mental or physical stressors that either throw off your hormones or make you emotional (or both).

In my case, I was experiencing more anxiety with my work than usual and I was also exercising a lot — just the tipping point my stress hormones needed to create the perfect storm for a binge on anything crunchy, chocolatey, salty, or sweet that might be nearby.

I encourage you to take some time to think about what’s going on in your life that may be causing you to crave things that aren’t part of a normal appetite.

 

Your cravings could be caused by:

  • Too much exercise
  • Too little food calories
  • Malnutrition
  • Sleep deprivation or sleep cycle disruption
  • Stress at work or school
  • Stress at home, with your family/friends, or elsewhere in your personal life
  • Boredom
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Mental illness
  • Physical illness/conditions
  • Environmental factors

 

Using myself as an example, I knew that work, exercise, and calorie restriction (a combination of both mental and physical stressors) were causing my anxiety and cravings.

Since it wasn’t as severe as I’ve experienced in the past, I decided to take a three-day break on almost all of those things.

I didn’t work out, I ate as normal as I could without going totally overboard, and I straightened out what I needed to do with all stuff I piled on myself at once for work.

Figuring out what your own craving triggers might be is important if you want to get rid of them, and depending on how severe they are, you may need a longer recovery period and possibly even professional help.

In many cases, however, most people probably just need to find better ways to relax and rest up while they maintain as much control as they can over making proper food choices while the cravings are still there.

 

The more you give in to your cravings for sugar-filled, processed crap, the more your brain gets hooked and sends you the signal to eat more, which is why it’s best to work at breaking the cycle as soon as you recognize it.

 

So, how do you cope when you’re right in the moment, within arm’s reach of a bag of chips of box of cookies that your brain is just screaming for?

Well, if you place more value on how you want to feel in the future than how you want to feel in the present, then you’ll probably search for some type of distraction or healthier substitute.

Here’s a detailed list of my favourites.

 

1. Chocolate

 

 

I’m a hopelessly addicted chocoholic, so 90% of the time, my cravings drive me to grab a handful of chocolate chips, M&Ms, cookies, or anything else that has enough of that magical, delicious ingredient.

Cocoa in its purest form, however, is incredibly healthy for your heart, brain, and blood pressure — so long as you consume it without the added sugar, starch, salt, oils, chemicals, and preservatives — you’re actually doing your body a favour.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Besides the fact that chocolate is simply great for satisfying your tastebuds, it’s also one of the most powerful mood-lifting foods for its naturally-occurring compounds that boost the production of “pleasure” hormones, including serotonin and dopamine.

In addition to that, you also get a nice release of feel-good endorphins too, triggered by the phenethylamine compound that contained in cocoa.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

Go for bars of dark chocolate that are at least 70 percent cocoa.

Alternatively, get some pure cocoa in powder form and make a healthy cup of hot chocolate by adding a tablespoon to a mug, pouring boiled water over it, and stirring in a couple packets of Stevia sweetener.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave chocolate (obviously)
  • Crave sweet stuff
  • Want emotional comfort
  • Need a mood-boosting pick-me-up

 

WARNING:

  • Avoid binging on chocolate if your craving for chocolate is strong
  • Be mindful of calories in dark chocolate bars
  • Cocoa is also an appetite suppressant, so eating or drinking too much can make you quite full

 

2. Lemon, lime, or grapefruit

 

 

Citrus fruits, especially the sour kind, are my second secret weapon for battling a strong sweet tooth.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

When you regularly turn to sour citrus fruits instead of something sweet, over time it’ll have a profound effect on your sugar cravings.

It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes the opposite of what you want is exactly what you need to offset it.

I’ve heard of real cases where people who consumed lemon juice instead of sweet stuff ended up killing their sugar cravings permanently in a matter of weeks.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

  • Squeeze it into a cold glass of plain water or a hot cup of herbal tea
  • Add it to a fruit smoothie for an extra burst of citrusy flavour

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Have an unshakeable desire to eat sweets
  • Want a more complete and natural source of vitamin C
  • Could stand to up your water intake

 

WARNING:

  • Citrus fruits are acidic, so be aware that if you’re digestive system is sensitive, consider sipping it through a straw to protect your tooth enamel

 

3. Plain Greek yogurt

 

 

The best thing about plain Greek yogurt is that it’s packed with protein, calcium, and probiotics — and there are so many different things you can do with it.

(And yeah, my preferred, slightly more expensive brand of choice is Oikos — thanks, John Stamos!)

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Greek yogurt is high in vitamin B12 — a natural energy booster and beneficial for brain function, too.

Calcium has also been linked to the regulation of cortisol (a stress hormone) and Greek yogurt is full of it.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

The most common way to enjoy Greek yogurt is with fruit, but you can add it to smoothies, mix it with your favourite protein powder, or even use it as a substitute for sour cream.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave something creamy
  • Crave a bit of fat (go for the 2% plain Greek yogurt)
  • Could stand to up your protein intake
  • Need a healthy substitute that still tastes like dessert

 

WARNING:

  • Avoid flavoured types of Greek yogurt, which usually contain a ton of sugar
  • Consider looking for lactose-free types if you’re sensitive to dairy products

 

4. Apples

 

 

Have you ever bitten into a really ripe, fresh apple with such an incredible flavour and the perfect crispy texture that it just kind of took you by surprise and satisfied you in a way that refined sugar and corn syrup just can’t pull off?

If not, you need to start hunting around for better apples.

Might I suggest your local farmers’ market?

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Apples are full of water, full of soluble fibre, packed with naturally-occurring fructose, and they’re wonderfully crunchy.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

Eat it raw and whole!

Skin and everything.

Cut it up into sliced wedges if you’re not a fan of biting into the sides with your teeth.

It’s also delicious with a tablespoon of natural nut butter or some cottage cheese.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave something sweet
  • Crave something crunchy
  • Could stand to up your fruit and veggie intake

 

WARNING:

  • Apples are part of the “dirty dozen” group of fruits and veggies, so if you can afford it, aim to buy organic apples to avoid consuming pesticides

 

5. Berries

 

 

Honestly, I’d choose berries over regular candy any day and if that makes me lame or boring, I don’t even care because at least I’d be healthy.

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries — you name it, they’re all delicious.

And now that summer’s coming up and they’ll be in season, you’ll have no excuse not to stock up on those large, discounted packages of berries (or grab them locally grown from the farmers’ market while you can).

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Despite being sweet like real candy, berries are low on the glycemic index — making them the perfect go-to snack for satisfying a sweet tooth.

Like apples, berries are full of water and fibre — so you can gorge on them without making much of a dent in calories and you never have to worry about experiencing a sugar crash later on.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

My favourite way to eat berries is with plain Greek yogurt, or with oatmeal for breakfast.

You can even buy them frozen so you don’t have to worry about them spoiling, and then add them to your blender with some ice and other desired ingredients to make a smoothie.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave something sweet, especially candy
  • Need to get more fruit in your diet
  • Need to keep your calories on the low end

 

WARNING:

  • Wash them really well or buy them organic to avoid consuming harmful pesticides

 

6. Nuts

 

 

Opposite to berries for sweetness and juiciness, nuts are great for satisfying any craving for saltiness or crunchiness.

They’re also portable and have a longer shelf life than fresh produce, so you can keep them in your cupboard for months and throw them in a small bag any time to take with you wherever you go.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Anyone who doesn’t get enough good fat in their diet will probably start to crave it, and nuts are a number one source where you can get it.

Popular types of nuts like almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, and chestnuts nourish your body with all sorts of good stuff including calcium iron, selenium, magnesium, B vitamins riboflavin and niacin, vitamin E, vitamin C, and tons more nutrients.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

Eat them raw, or even lightly salted.

Sometimes I like to add one tablespoon of semisweet chocolate chips for a sweet and salty snack, as long as I’m not eating 1,000 calories in a single serving.

Organic nut butters are another fabulous option.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Aren’t getting much healthy fat in your diet
  • Crave crunchy, salty foods
  • Need a portable snack
  • Have a good amount of room for more calories

 

WARNING:

  • Since nuts are high in fat, they’re also high in calories, so mind your portions
  • Avoid nut mixtures that contain tons of salt, tons of oil, dried fruit, or sugar-filled candy/chocolate pieces

 

7. Pickles

 

 

I know what you’re thinking: pickles are a weird thing to put on this list.

But I’m a pickle lover, and I often turn to them when I just feel the desire to gnash on something.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Unlike most other foods I’ve listed here, pickles are pretty devoid of nutrients.

But they’re full of vinegar, and the active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid, which has the power to control ghrelin (a.k.a. your hunger hormone).

The fact that pickles are both ridiculously crunchy and vinegary may be enough to offset those cravings.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

Eat that pickle right out of the jar — there’s really no other way.

OH WAIT!

You can also slice them up and throw them in some tunafish with mayo. (My favourite!)

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave something crunchy and salty
  • Have zero or very little calories to work with
  • Need a quick and healthy way to feel fuller

 

WARNING:

  • Pickles can be pretty high in sodium, so try maybe going for the cans of pickles marked “1/2 the salt” instead.

 

8. Cheese

 

 

Cheese!

I love cheese.

Who doesn’t love cheese?

Not you, I hope.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

Just like Greek yogurt, cheese is rich in calcium, protein, fat, and other nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin B12.

Since you can get a variety of different kinds with all sorts of flavours from mild to strong, they do a great job at satisfying cravings for almost anything — especially sweet stuff.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

Depending on what type of cheese you choose and what form it comes in, you can eat it with almost anything.

I personally love cottage cheese for being higher in protein — eaten with berries, apples, or a couple tablespoons of salsa.

I also love to sprinkle grated parmesan over pretty much everything (salad, chilli, pasta), and I often spread light Laughing Cow Cheese over rice crackers, celery, or toast as a cream cheese substitute.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave sweetness, saltiness, or creaminess
  • Need more fat or protein in your diet
  • Need something with a strong, pungent flavour

 

WARNING:

  • Not all cheeses are equal, so be careful of types that are very high in fat, lack nutrients, and contain lots of mysterious ingredients or chemicals.

 

9. Whey protein isolate

 

via GIPHY

 

 

Keeping your protein intake on the higher end is often a good idea, but sometimes doing that can be difficult with regular food (unless you’re fine with eating an entire chicken every day and like eight servings of egg whites).

For those who don’t know, whey is a protein supplement you can buy in powder form, and it’s actually a dairy byproduct derived from the process of cheese-making.

My brand of choice is Optimum Nutrition and I almost always have the three main flavours on hand — Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

You can get whey in all sorts of different flavours, so that’s the main reason why it works to fight off cravings.

If you get a go for a good quality brand like the one I suggested, you’ll get a nice dose of healthy amino acids too — maybe something that doesn’t have a direct impact on cravings, but it keeps you young and strong, at least.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

I usually create my own smoothie concoctions with whey, which is generally how most people consume it.

Mixed frozen fruit thrown in a blender with strawberry whey is best, and chocolate whey is perfect when mixed with a banana and a tablespoon or natural nut butter.

If you don’t want to drink your whey, you can mix the strawberry flavoured type with plain Greek yogurt and add some optional fresh fruit.

Another big favourite of mine and my ultimate secret weapon for a super decadent, high-protein chocolate indulgence (that’s actually super healthy) is to mix together half of a really ripe avocado, a scoop of chocolate whey, and one tablespoon of cocoa until it has a creamy, pudding-like texture.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave something sweet
  • Crave chocolate
  • Need more protein in your diet
  • Need something to make you feel fuller

 

WARNING:

  • Whey can disagree with some people’s digestive systems and may cause bloating, so keep that in mind — especially if you are sensitive to dairy
  • Whey causes a spike in insulin, so if you feel like crashing shortly after consuming it, you should consider using it only around the time you workout, and consider decreasing your servings by at least half if you decide to consume it any other time
  • Whey digests fast, so if you feel hungry an hour later, consider switching to a slower digesting protein supplement like casein.

 

10. Hummus

 

 

Last on this list of beautifully delicious food hacks is of course, hummus.

I know worshipping hummus probably makes me the biggest millennial white girl cliché in the world, but that doesn’t even matter to me.

What can I say?

Smooshed chickpeas are totally my thing.

 

WHY IT WORKS:

First of all, hummus is one of the healthiest alternatives to dip, so if you want to mimic the taste and feel of scooping a greasy potato chip into a container of fat-filled garlic dip, then this is something you should try if you haven’t already.

Hummus is richer in protein and nutrients than any old bucket of artery-clogging dip, often having less fat and less calories too.

You can also get it in a variety of flavours, which is perfect for satisfying exactly what your tastebuds want.

 

HOW TO PREPARE IT:

Dip some rice crackers in hummus, spread it over toast, or eat it with fresh veggies like cucumber, celery, bell peppers, carrots, or broccoli.

 

CONSUME IT WHEN YOU:

  • Crave something flavourful, yet crunchy
  • Crave junk food, like potato chips

 

WARNING:

  • Hummus can still be pretty high in calories, so make sure you stay in control of limiting your portions to a couple tablespoons

 

That’s it.

 

When I need to deal with a strong food craving, like immediately, these are my go-to choices.

Some of them, like the berries and the pickles, you’ll be able to get away with eating loads due to their low calorie content.

Others, not so much.

Practice good portion control when opting to go for some of the others with higher fat and calories — including chocolate, nuts, cheese, and hummus.

 

Don’t forget to try and identify the root cause of your cravings, especially if they’re pretty persistent and starting to drive you crazy.

 

Make a list of everything that’s causing you stress or impacting your health if you have to, and get your doctor to go over them with you.

Cravings suck.

The good news, at least, is that you don’t have to suffer forever.

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