Changing your lifestyle, exercise routine, and diet to be can be both liberating and overwhelming. Breaking habits that have been formed over years is one of the most difficult parts of a lifestyle overhaul, especially when it comes to the delicious food we all love and enjoy. And for those of us who love the sweeter things in life, saying ‘see you later’ to some of our favourite snacks can be a little upsetting.
When you first decide to change your lifestyle and eating habits, the initial part seems pretty doable, but then the sugar cravings kick in. And before you know it, all you can think of is the leftover chocolate bar from Easter.
Ever find that after dinner you’re craving a dessert? Or in the late afternoon you just want a quick chocolate ‘pick me up’ snack? Does the thought of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie get you so beyond excited that you simply just can’t say no? The good news is you’re not alone. And there are certainly ways you can try to break these habits and aim for a sustainable and balanced lifestyle that aligns with your goals.
Help us along, we brought on Accredited Dietician Victoria Matkovic from @_thrive_nutrition to give us her best tips and tricks!
We asked Victoria why people crave dessert or sugar and unfortunately there are numerous reasons as to why this could be happening. The potentials have been broken down for us below:
Sometimes it can be a situation where different levels of hormones within the body alter the desire for certain foods.
The craving could possibly be linked to being cold, tired, or lethargic, meaning that you reach for the foods you love because it provides energy and warmth.
For those that are specifically trying to lose weight, the craving could come from restricting foods that are high calories and sugar. When you can’t/don’t have something, your body wants it more. Additionally, the decrease in energy from not eating as much and potentially feeling the cold more could be another reason. This then turns into wanting sugary food that gives the desired warmth and energy you oh so crave.
Another reason you could have ice cream on the brain is that the bacteria in your gut can manipulate food preferences. This happens when your gut is used to consuming a certain food at the same time regularly. Take dessert for example: if you eat it at the same time each night, your gut bacteria also builds a habit and learns to expect it.
Bored in the house? So are we. Boredom, hunger, seeing food on Instagram (especially when food like this appears on your feed), or even thinking about food could also be a reason why you’re craving it. Sometimes it can be just as much of a mental game as it can be a physical game.
Finding that you love a sugary snack at night time in particular? This could be due to having a habit, or watching TV and eating mindlessly, or feeling more tired as the day comes to a close.
Or sometimes it’s as simple as consuming foods we love releases dopamine and serotonin, meaning we feel happiness and enjoy the taste even more. Sometimes it’s because it’s so darn delicious.
There are so many reasons as to why you could be craving sugary food. To change that, it comes with practice, ridding yourself of unnecessary restrictions, finding alternatives and persistence.
Next up we need to tackle the basics. Believe it or not, sometimes the changes don’t always have to be so drastic and you should never feel guilty for craving food. That is absolutely not the point, but rather advice for those who want control back of their eating.
A good place to start is ensuring you’re having enough water throughout the day. Sure, this might sound simple, but Victoria reminds us that while water is a liquid, it still fills up our stomachs meaning it can potentially reduce the need for food.
Struggle to keep up water intake? Try carrying a water bottle with you everywhere you go. Sitting at your desk working? Have a water bottle in sight to remind you to hydrate. Getting in the car to go somewhere? Take a water bottle. Make it part of your everyday life. And if you’re forgetful like us, set reminders on your smartphone! Practice is key friends!
• Eating fulfilling food
Next up, Victoria tells us that it’s time to integrate filling foods into your diet. Your priority should be to eat foods that will keep you as full as possible in an attempt to avoid snacking and cravings.
You probably hear the word ‘protein’ getting thrown around by gym junkies a lot, but they aren't wrong. Making sure that you have an adequate amount of protein in your diet will keep you fuller for much longer. And no, just because you start to eat more protein, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become ‘bulky’, that's not how it works. It just means that you’ll be fuller for longer.
Want a list of protein rich foods? Check out our previous blog here.
Once you’ve got protein down, it’s time to integrate high fibre foods. Think things like wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans to keep you fuller for longer. These foods take longer to breakdown and can be eaten in high volume while still being low in calories. More food for less? Sounds pretty darn good to us.
But what about those times that the craving is so powerful and nothing is working? That’s okay! We are human and we love sugary food, there's nothing wrong with enjoying something that is delicious.
There are plenty of options that are lower calorie to help with these intense moments, and keep you feeling happy.
For the dessert lovers, consider things like diet jelly, low calorie chocolate mousse, high protein and low sugar ice creams, and no added sugar hot chocolates. You can still eat the things you enjoy that can still work with your goals, and satisfy those cravings.
So now that you have a few more tools to work with, it’s time to talk about integrating this into a balanced and sustainable lifestyle to avoid dropping on and off of your new found habits.
• 80/20 approach
Victoria mentioned the 80/20 approach, that is 80% of your diet and food intake being wholefoods/healthy foods, with 20% being allocated for food that is for your enjoyment. For example, if 80% of your diet is made up of lean protein and dairy, vegetables, beans, fruit and grains, you’ll be well on your way to adequate consumption of nutrients throughout your week.
If the remaining 20% of your diet includes a small amount of unhealthy foods (e.g. a party sized choc bar or couple of scoops of ice cream), it’s not going to be detrimental to your health.
This approach is far more realistic, gives you the ability to enjoy foods that you love without making them into unhealthy habits. It also means you don't have to miss out on social events such as birthdays, date nights or dinner with a friend. You don’t want to have a boring life, and you don't want to binge later on because you’re missing out on good times and food. Make sure to still include things in your life that you love.
It’s not uncommon to crave things that are delicious, especially when you are just getting stuck into changing your lifestyle and kicking unhealthy habits. It’s important to remember that setbacks will happen and the only way to move forward is persistence. Try and make changes that are realistic, non-restrictive, and not all at once!
This article was written in conjunction with Accredited Dietitian Victoria Matkovic from @_thrive_nutrition.