How Do I Control Food Cravings and overeating?
Why do we get food cravings?
Studies have shown that when cortisol is released due to stress, the brain’s response can lead to lower dopamine levels and increased cravings. The hormone ‘ghrelin’ is the hunger hormone and stress produce more of this, again leading to more cravings.
Why do I crave food at night?
Most food cravings happen at night. It’s easy to be ‘good’ all day, and then as soon as we sit down at night, all we want to do is get comfy in front of the tv and snack! Why? We associate night time with unwinding, relaxing, watching tv and catching up with family members, all things that we associate with eating. We also use eating sweet things (things associated with treats) to mask unhappiness, boredom, anger, loneliness, stress and to make us feel better, but all we are really doing is filling those emotional needs rather than our stomachs. We may see those treats as a reward for the busy or stressful day that we have had, use them as comfort foods or simply the habit that we have when we sit down to relax. It’s very easy to overeat as your concentration is on what you are watching and not on what you are eating. The problem is that we often feel stuffed, and guilty for eating all those extra calories that we didn’t need.
Why do I overeat?
Have you ever opened a box of chocolates with the intention of only having one or two but, instead, polished off the box almost without realising? It’s almost like you stop tasting the chocolates in an effort to eat them as quickly as possible. Then, when you’ve eaten them all, you immediately regret eating so many and feel disgusted with yourself. Have you questioned why you eat food that you know has very little nutrition and can, instead, make you overweight, sluggish and affect your teeth? Next time you reach for a sugary snack, stop and ask yourself if it’s nutritious, if it will fill you up and if you really want it. Make a conscious effort to stop after one or two chocolates or a handful of crisps rather than mindlessly finishing the box or packet.
How can I stop craving food and overeating?
There are lots of things that you can do to help you stop craving food and overeating. Try the following tips:
- Try to eat smaller meals more often so that you have less chance to become hungry and really taste and savour every mouthful of what you are eating. Add protein into every meal to help stabilise blood sugar levels, control appetite and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- Drink more water. Drinking enough water and staying hydrated can stave off the munchies (thirst is often mistaken for hunger). It also helps to flush toxins from the body, helping with the processing and absorption of food.
- Ask yourself if you are actually hungry? Sometimes this can be enough to make you realise that you don’t need anything to eat.
- Don’t keep chocolate, crisps or whatever your trigger food is, in the house. If you only have healthy snacks in the house, then that is all you can eat. But it’s important to remember that completely abstaining from a certain food can make you feel you want it more, so make sure you have a balance and don’t cut ties with a food completely. If chocolate is your downfall, you could not have it in the house, but enjoy a chocolate dessert when out.
- Keep yourself occupied. Rather than sitting and watching television, find something else to do. Go for a walk, do a fitness class, do the ironing or some cleaning. Yes, although this is sensible advice, I do know that it will be very hard to follow when all you want to do is sit down, relax and watch tv, and that’s absolutely fine, but think about why you want to stuff yourself full of unhealthy snacks when you know that you’ll wish you hadn’t eaten them afterwards. Try to choose nutritious snacks with vitamins and minerals that your body needs and which will fill you up. You can still do an activity that is relaxing, such as sitting and doing a puzzle, a jigsaw or reading a book.
- Try to break the habit. There are three parts to every habit: what is your trigger, what do you do about it and the acknowledgement that your brain likes it and wants to do it again. A lot of night time snacking is purely down to habit. It’s what you do every night. You sit down, put on the tv (the trigger), reach for a packet of crisps or the biscuits (action), you enjoy them and want to replicate that feeling (you feel relaxed and comforted). Try to break the habit by separating the two behaviours, so try to eat away from the television or turn off the television, do something with your hands whilst you’re watching tv that can distract you such as painting your nails, knitting, crochet or puzzles – I’m a big candy crush fiend 😊 If you really feel that you can’t do without a snack then try cutting up some cucumber and carrot to have with a pot of hummus or have some fruit or nuts instead.
- Fast forward through the adverts. We are bombarded with food adverts at the same time as that cravings monster comes to visit us so if you can watch programmes that have been recorded and fast forward through the adverts, or ‘on-demand’ programmes with no adverts you will be doing yourself a favour by not being tempted by the goodies on show.
- Use different rewards. If you feel that you have earned that chocolate bar, giant cookie or bottle of wine because you have had a tough day, try replacing those things with different non-food rewards. How about a long hot soak in the bath with your favourite bubbles and a good book, a massage with a foam roller, follow along to a fitness class such as Zumba, use a face mask and deep cleanse your skin, dry rush your skin, clear out and declutter a cupboard, have a power nap, try an acupressure mat, ask a friend round (we don’t tend to eat as much in front of other people) or go to bed early😊 Look at the difference between the food and non-food rewards. The chances are you will feel guilty for choosing the food reward as well as probably feeling tired and sluggish whereas every single one of the non-food rewards is good for you either mentally or physically or both. Why do we keep rewarding ourselves with things that are bad for us?
- Get enough sleep. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep as this regulates the hormones that affect metabolism and appetite. Lack of sleep disrupts those hormones, increasing hunger and making you eat more through the day. Try relaxation techniques before bed, turn off any tech equipment at least an hour before you go to sleep and use breathable bedding such as bamboo to aid a good night’s sleep.
- Keep a food diary. This is one of the simplest things that you can do and also one of the most effective. Write down everything that you eat and drink as this will make you realise the amount of food that you are eating. Simply having to write down that extra biscuit or chocolate bun can make you think twice about eating it. Try this for a week or two then stop as you don’t want it to become obsessive.
Take a look at the following blogs for some healthy snack and evening meal ideas:
Cravings are a normal part of life; they are things that we desire intensely, and are absolutely fine in moderation, but it’s when they start to take over our lives and make us feel like we are out of control that they become a problem, however, with a little adjustment we can curb the cravings or change what it is that we crave 😊
Caroline & Hannah xx