In this article I break down real reasons why you can’t stop eating for stress or emotions, and how you can start behavioral strategies with healthier alternatives.
You know that chocolate or other high calorie snack is not ideal for your goals but you still end up snacking a way more often than you should?
Have you ever stared leftovers from chocolate bar with a belly full of shame, and you ask yourself, “how could this happen, again?”
I can relate. Because almost everybody can relate.
You just feel that you needed that piece of high calorie snack in order to feel better.
It is driving you crazy because you feel like you are not under control and you end up overeating.
I get you.
You are not powerless against these urges, even if it seems that way.
It would be too easy to say that you must eliminate your cravings. It is also not about your willpower. You know how it will end up if you try to rely on your willpower. It is just a matter of time before you are not strong enough.
The way how you can overcome cravings is to be smarter than your brain.
You must understand why, when and where your cravings appear and create an action plan before it happens.
Think it is like learning a new sport
Learning new things is challenging, it won’t be perfect from the beginning but you are learning all the time. If you are ready, start today.
Here are simple strategies that will help you to get off eating junk food.
Where it all starts
No one is hating on themselves craving salad or grilled chicken breast.
But that is not your case. Most your cravings are related for junk food and that usually have nothing to do with hunger.
Every time you fell on these urges you go through some behaviour what is creating cravings.
It works like this:
First comes the urge, followed by the behaviour (you find a food that makes craving satisfied) and then you get rewarded by eating food you wanted.
Your brain needs portion of dopamine (feeling of pleasure) what you release by eating.
Dopamine can turn out to be a real problem because more often you reward your brain, stronger that craving can become. You know that feeling when you always want more and bigger?
You must find your trigger
You know the feeling when you are walking by and smell something you really love? Or you see somebody eating ice cream and suddenly you must get ice cream even if you swore that you will not eat ice cream?
Cravings occur often in environment you are. Sight, smell, taste, location or company.
Start tracking when and where it happens and it will help you to figure out what triggers them. When you know situations it happens, you can start to adjust your environment and habits to break the cycle.
- Where are you? Not only location but also smells and sight what are around you.
- What are you craving? Is it specific food or flavour?
- What are you doing? Are you watching TV, driving a car or working?
- What you feel emotionally? Disappointed? Angry? Happy? Stressed?
- What you feel physically? Tired? Nervous?
- What are you thinking? For example : “ It doesn’t matter anymore, I screwed up my diet already…”
- Who is with you?
Remember that this is not “do-it-once” exercise. Follow your actions for a couple of weeks and you can see when you are in need of some food you know is not good for your goals.
Trust me, you will find that there is almost always the same patterns lead to cravings.
You will make it easier for yourself to recognize situations from your diary and get started with process to overcome stress eating.
Notice and change your patterns
You realize that after a hard day in the evening you feel like you need to eat chocolate when you are watching TV. Or you are passing every day ice cream shop after lunch and you suddenly want ice cream.
Now after realising when you are grabbing unhealthy foods, it is time to start implementing some strategies how to break your behaviour.
Strategy 1: Give yourself 5 minutes
Next time you want to snack something, wait 5 minutes without eating it.
Remember that this is not about practicing willpower. It is all about to show your mind that I am in charge here. Additionally you have a couple minutes time to evaluate your options, and make a rational decision over reactionary.
You can ask yourself. Am I really hungry or am I bored or stressed?
Does a steak or yogurt sound good or is it just a chocolate bar?
After 5 minutes, you can still decide and eat what you wanted, maybe you are truly hungry or maybe you just don’t have the best day. And that is totally ok.
You did not fail.
If you want to break your patterns, you don’t need to be perfect. In the end you are making experience to learn more about yourself to understand better for next time.
Remember that it is not black or white: it is not about your final decision between eating or not eating.
There is a grey zone where you can really break cycle of cravings.
Strategy 2: Try different activity
Have you recognized that when you are working on a project what you are passionate, you don’t feel the need to eat something? Or when you are calling a friend? Cleaning? Exercising?
Cravings are often rather psychological than physical. By doing some activity long enough, craving will usually disappear. Mostly it won’t take longer than 15-20 minutes.
Once you sense a craving, try some different activity like doing to do list for the next day, cleaning, playing an instrument, gardening or exercising. Whatever you like. Remember that watching TV probably won’t work 😉
Strategy 3: Make an experiment
It is lunch time and you get hungry at the same time? But if you had to skip lunch, you were not hungry a bit later?
Hunger and cravings arise and fall many times during the day.
I recommend to try fasting for 24 hours to understand how it feels. You must drink a lot of water though!
You might think that you will be “starving” all day long but it is not what usually happens.
Yes, you will get hungry and cravings. These feelings come and go. It can be really helpful to understand how cravings happen and accept it is ok to be hungry sometimes.
You will not collapse and you will survive even if you will not eat for a day.
Remember that this is not a test of your willpower or denying all foods. It will give you another perspective when you feel the moment of hunger or when cravings arise.
Strategy 4: Eat well during the day
The most common time when cravings happen is in the evening.
If you like skipping breakfast or eating light lunch or low carb in the evening and it is working for you, that is totally fine. We are all different and you must find a way that works for you.
But through my experience, most people who feel like snacking late in the evening, are often restricting their food during the day and it is no wonder that they feel snacking later in the evening.
Fiber, like low-calorie vegetables, will help fill you up and enough protein will help you to stay full between meals.
You can try some small adjustments for your eating habits by adding some protein and vegetables for your breakfast or some reasonable amount of good carbs for your dinner.
Don’t make it complicated, if you have often night-time appetite, look what you are eating during the day and try to make some small adjustments until you won’t feel cravings when you are about to go to bed.
Strategy 5: You can eat what you want if…
Are you really need of chocolate bar? If yes, set some conditions before eating it. For example: I can eat chocolate only after walking for 15 minutes. Or I can eat whatever I want until I have made it myself and it is fresh. Like chips need to be done from real potatoes and roasted in an oven.
Sounds stupid and really impractical? I get you but that is the point.
Remember that everything you have in your house, either you or someone from your loved ones will end up eating it.
Shortly, make everything what you don’t want to eat hard to get access and not visible. That is the reason why I never buy some foods I don’t want to end up eating.
Strategy 6: Healthier snack options. It is not the same but…
It would be easy to say that eat carrots when you crave chocolate. We both know that it won’t work.
Actually there is evidence that people who often choose “healthier option” will end up overeating later.
But there is an idea how choosing better your snacks could actually help you. If you consistently try to choose better, your taste preferences start to change. I can relate to this.
Instead choosing sugar filled products from supermarket, you choose self-made low-sugar option, after a while you might realize that you crave that low-sugar option instead.
Maybe you are able to change sugars to fresh fruit and later you will crave fruit. It is still craving but you have made progress prioritizing healthier foods.
Craving fruit is not mostly too big problem.
These are reasons why choosing home made and not extremely high calorie food is the best diet option for you.
Decide if you want the real thing or alternative?
Whatever your goals are, you can choose real cookie instead of alternative low calorie option what will not taste good.
But before choosing ask yourself:
- Am I actually hungry?
- When I had last time it?
- Can I enjoy it and stop after I am almost full?
- Will eating it make me feel good or am I feeling guilty after?
If you decide to eat the real thing, enjoy it. You don’t need to feel bad for eating it.
If you think that it is not worth it, eat some alternative. Remember that you can always make yourself tasty low calorie alternatives. I have in my page couple options to get some ideas. I add below links in case you have missed them.
Remember that it is ok to not eat anything. You can try to do some activities like I mentioned above to relieve your cravings.