Mikki Williden: Nip cravings in the bud
The weather has been warmer lately and warmer weather often means a steady flow of barbecues and social gatherings. About this time of year, many people are also starting to forget their resolutions to eat a little better and our intake of sugar, alcohol and processed carbohydrates can drift upwards. However, by reducing (or eliminating) these foods, you’ll begin to lose the taste for them. Here are a few tips on how to reduce cravings.
1 Build your dinner plate around protein and fibre, with fat for satiety. Any starchy or carbohydrate-based foods are best if they are minimally processed (such as potatoes, kumara, legumes, fruit) to provide more nutrients. And vegetables? Go for gold.
2 Get rid of anything that is your “poison”. If you hear the ice cream calling you from the freezer, it is better not to have it in the house. Any treat foods you do have should be stored above eye level — out of sight.
3 Chew your food properly. Aim for 30 times per mouthful to digest nutrients effectively and feel more nourished. If you haven’t wolfed your meal down you are less likely to be hungry an hour after eating.
4 Do not substitute refined sugars for "natural” sugars. Dried fruit is pretty much just sugar and will continue to drive your sugar cravings. Any additional fibre or nutrients dried fruit provides in the diet is negligible.
5 A teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil can kill a craving in its tracks. While there is not a lot to definitively tell us this, some research has found that people who include more coconut oil in their diet (compared to other types of fat) have reduced food intake overall, particularly in subsequent meals. You have nothing to lose by trying it.
6 Chocolate has long been associated with cravings, but is also known for its cognitive and mood-enhancing benefits. So how about some unsweetened cocoa (or cacao) dissolved in hot water with milk to deliver the chocolate taste you are after? If you really need chocolate, go for the darkest you can stand. Many people find they stop at 1-2 pieces of 90 per cent chocolate rather than 1-2 rows of 70 per cent.
7 Exercise. Any activity done while experiencing a craving will take your mind off it.
8 Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Sleep restriction can lead to increased cravings.
9 Mindfulness practice is useful for reduced cravings and reduced emotional eating and body image concerns. Headspace, Calm and Buddhify are three smartphone apps that may help.
10 There is indirect evidence of a connection between cravings and the type of bacteria lurking in your gut. Gut bacteria can also influence the production of our “feel good” and motivation hormones (serotonin and dopamine), influencing food decision-making based on mood. The regular addition of probiotics and prebiotics through food will help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Do this by including
- Fermented vegetables into 1-2 meals daily, working up to 1-2 tablespoons at a time.
- Unsweetened yoghurt (dairy or coconut) daily.
- Kombucha (a low-sugar variety), at around 100-150ml per day.
- Water, milk or coconut kefir, start with around 100ml per day.
- Raw apple cider vinegar in water, start with 1 tsp in a small amount of water, working up to 1 tablespoon.
- Vegetables, in abundance, to include fibres that feed your gut bacteria.
- Note: Any change to your gut environment can result in unintended (and unwanted) changes to your digestive tract. If you’re new to fermented foods and/or probiotics, start small and work your way up. If you end up spending more time in the bathroom than you like, cut back further.
For recipe ideas to aid gut health, see our fermented foods collection
Through her nutrition consultation and subscription service of meal plans, nutritionist Mikki Williden helps people manage their diets in an interesting way, at a low cost. Find out more at mikkiwilliden.com