CHALLENGE FIFTY-TWO: Kick the Craving Challenge

We all have cravings at one time or another. It can be salty or a sweet craving. Most often the craving is for some sugary snack.

Sugary products contain simple carbohydrates that when consumed, give you a quick pick-me-up and a feeling of satisfaction, but these effects are short lived. Due to the short-term effects, you are left with wanting more and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Research is only just beginning to shed light on why so many of us have and succumb to cravings. Even though not all the data is in on what exactly happens when you get a craving scientists are sure that every craving has a trigger.

Triggers can come from our emotional state (see Challenge 49 -Identifying Triggers), from our senses, or even from a routine. If your mother used to keep you quiet in church by giving you a stick of gum you may feel the need to chew gum in a meeting or similar situation. If you smell a cinnamon roll baking you may feel the need to get one. If you are in the routine of having a treat before bed you may find yourself having trouble going to sleep without it.

These triggers activates your brain’s pleasure center, which releases a powerful neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, that makes you feel really good. Over time, this experience rewires the brain so that you’re more likely to crave the food again in the future as you seek to get that feeling again.

Relying on sheer willpower to curb cravings may not be the way to work and may actually be more harmful to your efforts. Instead of trying to suppress the craving you need to address the craving. Research suggests when you actually spend time acknowledging the craving, recognizing the trigger, recalling past experiences, and feeling the craving, you may be more likely to resist it than if you’d tried to suppress or ignore it.

One of my group leaders once told me that the best way to beat a craving was to recognize if the craving is coming from your head or your stomach. True hunger, your body’s biological request for nourishment, comes from the stomach. When you need energy, your stomach releases a hormone, called ghrelin, to the hypothalamus, which regulates your metabolism. As a result, you look for food. Then, when you’re full, your fat cells release leptin, which signals that it’s time to stop. Learning to know whether you are experiencing hunger or a craving comes from telling the difference between signals from your head or signals from your belly. If you eat something and your craving is not satisfied it is most likely coming from your head.

Here are some other ways to help kick the craving:
1. Try to cut down the craving by having a smaller portion of what you crave to satisfy it without going overboard.
2. Try to balance good foods with bad foods. Consider nuts, apples and carrots as snack alternatives in between meals.
3. Chew sugar-free gum. Chewing gum may help to reduce cravings, but also gives your mouth something to do.
4. Keep busy. Consider taking a walk, working on a jigsaw puzzle, or doing some chores. A few minutes of distraction can make a huge difference. The objective is to rewire the brain to disable the craving.
5. Make sure not to skip meals. In fact, eat smaller meals and healthy snacks more often so that you don’t get those hungry cravings. Sometimes when you go without food for too long, blood sugar levels drop, which can cause poor food choices because you’ll want that quick and easy fix. Try to eat every three to five hours to keep your body stable.
6. (Caution!!!) A woman told me that she has sexual relations with her husband when she has a food craving. It is a distraction and trades one good feeling for another. I can imagine it keeps hubby happy as well! (Good luck with that one!)

Your challenge this week is to address your cravings and kick them to the curb.

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