Salty or Sweet: How to Beat Food Cravings

Reading Time: 6 minutes 54 seconds


Date: 2022-04-07

All of us experience food cravings from time to time. Sometimes they are selective and other times they are non-selective. Selective cravings would be like women craving very specific foods during pregnancy like pickles or ice cream. Non-specific cravings are when you are craving something sweet or salty rather than a specific food. 

Food cravings are relatively harmless. However, sometimes food cravings start to dictate what and when you eat most of the time. An article in Frontiers in Psychiatry discusses how food cravings may be of particular relevance to individuals with obesity and eating disorders such as binge eating. As food cravings start to get out of hand, your clients may experience weight gain and other associated health issues. The following tips and tricks may help kick those cravings to the curb. 

1. Healthy Stress Management

Have you ever heard the phrase stress eating? Well, it isn’t simply a lack of willpower or mental toughness. In the very short term, stress can often suppress appetite. A stress signal is sent to the body to pump out adrenaline. This hormonal release triggers the body’s fight or flight response, which temporarily puts eating and digestion on the back burner. This is a very natural and healthy response in acute stress situations. If you need to run away from a bear, you probably don’t care that you missed lunch. However, most of us don’t experience many extreme stress situations. Most of the stress we experience is a lower level of lingering stress.

The body’s fight or flight response is designed to be switched on and off when needed. Yet, the chronic stress we experience has many of us living in constant fight or flight mode. Our body starts to think it needs to always be on high alert. This constant state of high alert takes its toll on the body. The adrenal glands start to work overtime. They start to pump out adrenaline in excess along with another hormone: cortisol.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that plays a necessary role when present in healthy levels. However, when cortisol is in excess, it begins to have a negative effect on the body. The American Institute of Stress found that high levels of cortisol induce abdominal fat distribution. Aside from its unsightly location, abdominal fat has been shown to secrete high amounts of inflammatory molecules associated with cardiovascular complications. In addition, cortisol is known for causing the body to crave high-fat salty foods. Can you say, french fries!

So how do we remedy this chronic stress wreaking havoc on our bodies? Reducing stress is not a simple overnight fix. It will take time and intentionality. Encourage your clients to find activities to help them unwind at the end of a busy day. Exercise can be a great way to destress after a tough day at work. Whether your clients are hitting the weights at the gym, going on a run, or dropping into a local yoga class, finding a healthy outlet to deal with stress will help to curb their food cravings. 

2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

We all know that sleep is important, and we probably don’t get enough of it. But did you know that sleep can affect your appetite and even increase your food cravings? Inadequate sleep causes the body to change the way it releases the appetite-controlling hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Each of these hormones sends very important messages regarding your body’s appetite. 

  • Ghrelin: Hormone released from the stomach to tell your body you are hungry.

  • Leptin: Hormone released from adipose tissue sending a message of satiety, telling your body you are full and satisfied.

When the body experiences sleep deprivation, it releases ghrelin in larger amounts and leptin in smaller amounts. Not only do you feel hungrier (due to increased ghrelin), but once you are full, your body cannot recognize that it’s time to stop eating (due to decreased leptin). This can lead to increased food cravings and consumption resulting in unwanted weight gain. 

Additionally, lack of sleep influences the reward center of the brain. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and when you are tired, increased activity in the amygdala can lead to emotional eating. These changes to the reward center of the brain cause the body to crave chocolate, cookies, candy, and high-fat sugary foods.

So how do we remedy our lack of sleep? With life being so busy, sleep is one of those things that gets put on the back burner if we aren’t careful. Yet, sleep is just as important as getting regular exercise and consuming a healthy diet. Encourage your clients to make sleep a priority and make a habit of getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. 

3. Drink Water

We’ve all heard the advice to drink more water. Have a headache, drink more water. Feeling a little under the weather, drink more water. The human body is mostly water.  The brain and heart alone are each composed of 73% water! Water is important for regulating body temperature, aiding in digestion, helping with nutrient absorption, and so much more. 

The hypothalamus is the part of your brain that controls the body’s sensation of thirst. It also controls hunger. See the connection? When your body is dehydrated, the hypothalamus sends a signal of thirst. This signal may be misinterpreted, also leading the body to crave those less than healthy food choices. Drinking enough water is one of the easiest ways to keep food cravings in check. Sometimes it isn’t that we are hungry but thirsty, so a glass of water might do just the trick. Encourage your clients to consume their body weight in ounces of water per day to stay fully hydrated and keep those cravings at bay. 

4: Eat More Protein

Protein consumption stimulates the release of a hormone in the body called cholecystokinin (CCK). This hormone inhibits the release of ghrelin (our hunger hormone) while also sending signals of satiety. A University of Missouri researcher found that eating a protein-rich breakfast helped to increase satiety and reduce hunger and food cravings.

There are a lot of different ways to get more protein into your diet.

  • Encourage your clients to replace their cereal with eggs. Three large eggs provide 19 grams of high-quality protein along with other essential nutrients our bodies need. 

  • Choose Greek yogurt over other yogurt choices. Greek yogurt is made by removing whey and other liquids to produce a more condensed, protein-rich yogurt at almost 17-20 grams of protein per serving depending on the brand. 

  • Adding protein-rich foods to salads is an easy way to get more protein in your diet. Bulk up your salad by throwing some chicken or tuna on top, or for those opting for plant-based protein, top your salad with almonds or chickpeas.  

5. Brush Your Teeth

This trick is twofold. 

  • It’s hard to crave any of your favorite foods after brushing your teeth with minty toothpaste. Nothing tastes good after that minty flavor is in your mouth. Ever tried orange juice after toothpaste? Not exactly the peanut butter and chocolate combination anyone is looking for.

  • Brushing your teeth may help trick your brain into thinking the meal is over. You typically brush your teeth at the end of the day when you are getting ready to go to bed. Your body will pick up on this pattern and will begin to associate brushing your teeth with no more food for the day.

If your clients are struggling with late-night cravings, encourage them to brush their teeth. Even if they aren’t heading to bed yet, it may help curb that late-night temptation for ice cream and peanut butter. 

6. Avoid Getting Over-Hungry

Starving your body is never a good strategy for anything…ever. Especially not good for your body’s long-term health as it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and issues with blood sugar levels. The hungrier your body gets, the harder it will be to fight off those cravings. 

Everyone’s nutritional needs are unique to their body and lifestyle. The diet culture heavily encourages eating fewer and fewer calories to lose weight. Although a caloric deficit is important in weight loss, it is also important to make sure your body is getting enough calories and nutrients to support overall health. One popular trend that may help your clients consume an adequate amount of calories is macro-counting. Macronutrients are the body’s main source of energy found in food. The three macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Each macronutrient plays an important and distinct role in maintaining overall health and wellness. Helping your clients determine a plan to eat the right foods in the right amounts will help to curb hunger and keep cravings at bay. 

7. Mind over Matter: Reset your Mindset

Sometimes food cravings can be conquered with a simple shift in mindset. We need to move from thinking “I can’t have that” to “I am choosing not to have that”. When we shift our mindset and see it as a choice we get to make, we feel more in control. We take control of what we put in our body rather than feeling as though our cravings are in control of us. 

Sometimes we walk into situations that make cravings even harder. Take going to a birthday party for example. You know going in that there will be all kinds of salty snacks and a big birthday cake. Planning what you will eat at the party before going can help save undue stress later. Maybe you decide that you will let yourself have one piece of cake and then call it quits. Or maybe you decide before going to forgo the cake this time around and bring along your own healthier snack. Deciding beforehand makes it easier to hold yourself accountable to that choice rather than trying to say no to the craving in the moment. 

Food cravings are a natural thing everyone experiences. But sometimes our cravings can start to get the best of us. Share these tips and tricks with clients who want to regain control and get their cravings back in check. 

To learn more about creating nutrition plans for clients who may be struggling with food cravings, check out the ISSA’s course for becoming a Certified Nutrition Coach.  

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