Long, warm days are often marked with beers on the stoep, chops on the braai and ice cream to cool off. You may enjoy your favourite fun foods this summer, but craving the wrong types of food and snacks can be bad for you. Eastern Cape dietitian Eunice Mpehlo suggests you follow a few rules when the cravings strike.
According to Mpehlo the way you handle cravings largely has to do with your relationship with food, your history of restrictive dieting and behaviours that were modeled to you from childhood.
“A food craving is an intense desire for a specific food; and it typically feels very urgent. Scientists have discovered that cravings are caused by the regions of the brain that are responsible for memory, pleasure and rewards,” says Mpehlo.
Don’t fight it, eat it
Identifying your craving is a key part in navigating how to handle it. “The last thing we want to do when trying to satisfy a craving, is eat around the craving. Instead, we want to pinpoint the craving, eat and enjoy that food – without guilt!”
Eating what satisfies us can improve our health, Mphehlo suggests. “When you eat with making ‘satisfaction’ a priority, it means that at an end of a meal you are not feeling like you are wanting more or left with a feeling of deprivation, which often leads to eating foods or treats that we did not initially want.”
This is called “intuitive eating”, which means shifting focus from diet culture to rather making health choices that are beneficial and sustainable to our well-being, she explains.
“This helps connect you to your body’s needs and wants. Restricting your intake and avoiding hunger signs leads to bingeing. When you practice intuitive eating, you become more aware of what triggers emotional hunger and eating, and learn to make less reactive food choices.”
The saying really is true: “Everything can be enjoyed in moderation”.
How to keep consistent this summer
You need to take time to work on and re-evaluate your relationship with food. Working with a registered dietitian is pivotal in helping you “make peace with food”, Mpehlo advises.
“Food is for nourishment; so, make honoring your health a priority.”
Mphehlo shares eight tips for dealing with cravings this summer:
Keep it balanced: A good balance of nutrients of carbs, protein and fat make a satisfying combination, she says.
“Ensure that you eat well-balanced meals. Including a variety of food groups into your diet helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, thus reducing cravings. Portion control will help you balance your meals and avoid overeating at meals.”
Stay hydrated: Drink 250 – 500 ml of water when feeling hungry after a meal. Aim to drink enough so that your urine is pale yellow. For most healthy individuals this will be about 2 liters per day. “Staying hydrated is vital,” Mpehlo says.
Get good sleep: “A lack of sleep can increase your hunger hormones and increase cravings,” she says.
Never restrict yourself: If you give yourself permission to enjoy your favourite fun foods, you won’t crave them as much.
Avoid food when stressed: Your stress hormones make you crave comfort foods that are typically high in carbohydrates and fat.
Preparation is key: Plan nutritious snacks and schedule them into your days. This will help when you are tempted for less nutritious, unhealthy foods. “Healthy food does not need to be bland. You can flavor your food with lemon juice, fresh herbs and low salt spices.”
Find a distraction: Cravings usually last about five minutes at most, so do something that will take away your focus from unhealthy foods. Mphehlo suggests trying a new hobby like art or exercise.
Temptation is an enemy of progress: Reduce temptation to buy unhealthy foods; don’t do grocery shopping on an empty stomach. “When craving chocolate, often set off by lower moods, opt for a small portion of dark chocolate. When craving salty chips when tired; try making homemade popcorn which is lightly salted.”