With so much temptation in sight as Halloween approaches, cravings for unwholesome and highly processed treats can plague even the healthiest eaters. And because our bodies are hardwired to crave salt, fat, and sugar, even one taste of the candy you avoid during the rest of the year can spark a desire to binge, say experts. Rather than giving in, heed these tips to dodge overindulgence.
Walter Crinnion, ND, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, Tempe, Arizona
Supplement for mood. Many people crave sugar because it allows more of the amino acid tryptophan to reach the brain and bind to endorphin receptor sites. When this occurs, the body produces serotonin, a chemical that makes you happy. This is why sweets can be addictive—they make you feel good. Taking the mineral chromium can stabilize blood sugar levels. Supplement with 1,000–1,800 mcg per day.
Aid digestion. Food cravings often stem from adverse food reactions, and an underlying symptom of food reactions is poor digestion. Two to three capsules of a full-spectrum digestive enzyme product with each meal can efficiently break down foods. When you absorb proper nutrients, you’re less likely to crave unhealthy foods to make up for this insufficiency.
Identify the cause. Food cravings often aren’t about food at all. If you are craving something, try to identify the reason and take action. If stress is the issue, try to alleviate it with exercise; even just 20 to 30 minutes a day can boost serotonin levels and keep you from craving a sugary snack.
Jessica Crandall, RD, Sodexo Wellness and Nutrition, Centennial, Colorado
Get enough z’s. The most commonly craved foods are simple sugars like candies and white carbohydrates because they provide short bursts of fuel, serving as stimulants when you’re tired. Combat this by getting enough sleep, at least eight hours per night.
Eat a balanced diet. Eating a balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats prevents vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can cause food cravings. A lack of both iron and vitamin D could contribute to cravings, so incorporate foods like lean red meat, beans, whole grains, and dark leafy greens such as kale and chard into your meals.
Modify and moderate. If you do experience food cravings, don’t binge—just modify. If you crave ice cream, choose frozen yogurt. Want french fries? Cut up sweet potatoes and bake them for a healthier snack. Control portions when you are eating “bad” food. If you want something sweet like jelly beans, put them into a smaller container instead of a bag to avoid overeating.
Brian Wansink, PhD, Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Ithaca, New York
Condition positive food cravings. It’s possible to “rewire” yourself to want foods that are good for you. For example, if you associate strawberry sundaes with happy occasions, slowly start to connect fresh strawberries and light whipped cream with events like birthdays and parties.
Combat the urge. There is little empirical evidence to suggest that giving in to a food craving satiates hunger. Rather, it may ignite an appetite. So when you crave something unhealthy, occupy yourself with another activity to focus your mind elsewhere.
Resume healthy eating habits. At some point, everyone has given in to a craving and binged on an unhealthy food. The best thing to do after eating too much bad food is to return to your normal, healthy eating habits as soon possible.