Caving to a Craving


Fight the urge and stick with your weight loss goal

Ever notice that your good intentions to eat healthier come to a sudden end when you come face to face with that gooey chocolate cake piled high with whipped cream and topped off with dark chocolate shavings? “Sugar triggers certain receptors in your brain,” explains Holly Herrington, RD, Center for Lifestyle Medicine, Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “The more sugar you have, the more you want. Despite what some might think, a craving doesn’t come from a diet deficiency. It’s a habit. You want to eat chocolate, you made the decision to eat it and you turn into a 12-year-old again.”

Whether it’s a food craving or wanting to satisfy those inner demons, the word ‘craving’ itself conjures up a slew of emotions. And while the emotional side of food cravings has long been examined, there are true physical reasons why we crave something we probably shouldn’t. Medical studies even confirm circuits in our brain release a feel-good chemical when we indulge in a food craving, a similar feeling as one might experience while drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco.

“Caving to a craving is a way to get an immediate fix,” says Sarah Kinsinger, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It’s important to take a look at the need the craving fills in order to better control it. If the desire to eat fills an emotional need, you might want to find a healthier option.”

Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, CPT, lifestyle director, Rush University Prevention Center, Rush University Medical Center, adds, “Eating can take the pain away for a short period of time, but if eating is just a manifestation of other things, you need to address that.”

A recent trend to combat food cravings has been the push for truly mindful eating. Instead of adding the act of eating to your multitasking lifestyle, nutrition experts suggest taking the time to experience the texture and flavor of the food that enters your mouth, then stopping once satisfied. “No one pays attention to what they’re eating these days, but you must pay attention to every bite you eat,” explains Ms. Herrington.

Another way to fight food cravings is to know how your appetite reacts in certain situations. For example, food cravings are known to hit the hardest between 3-8pm, so make sure you’re prepared. Have healthier food options easily accessible at those times, or come up with a distraction. A craving will pass in 10-20 minutes, so find a way to sit and reevaluate the food craving before you give in to it.

“If you’re faced with a food craving every day after work, it will start becoming a crutch,” insists Ms. Ventrelle. “You must restructure your environment. Keep a dish of fruit out on the table instead of the candy dish, or distract yourself by doing another activity like taking a hot bath. But most of all, treat the true source of the food craving. Are you eating because you are really hungry, or perhaps using food for emotional comfort?”

It’s also important to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, so don’t wait a long time between eating, leaving you to crave sugar and carbohydrates quickly. “If you go long periods of time without eating, all it will take is some sort of stressful environment for those food cravings to pop up once again,” explains Ms. Ventrelle. “It’s about truly resetting your body rather than simply listening to your body. Try to eat at the same time every day, even if you don’t consider yourself hungry at that exact moment, in order to avoid a drop in sugar, which will inevitably lead to overeating and giving in to cravings.”

Once a craving becomes habit, it can be tough to break it. Prepare for setbacks and don’t expect to tackle it completely in a short period of time. Ask for support from family and friends, and pick food choices wisely. Make a legitimate plan to enjoy every morsel of your food and your life.


About Tricia Despres

Tricia Despres is a graduate of Northern Illinois University Journalism and has worked for seven years in Chicago’s advertising community before becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2001. For the next seven years, between changing dirty diapers and drying tears, she began writing again. She covers a variety of issues for TCW, including health and fitness, dining, and business and workplace trends.