This can be a struggle for many who are trying to eat healthy, and lose or manage their weight. There are many reasons why we eat but only 1 that is necessary. We should eat to live, but most live to eat. The obesity epidemic reveals that most are not just eating from physical hunger, it goes beyond the basic needs, and becomes a familiar habit or emotional comfort. “More than 2/3 or 68.8 % of adults are considered to be overweight or obese, and 35.7 % are considered to be obese,” according to the National Institute of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We know when we are physically hungry... our stomach gurgles, or feels empty, and our energy levels dip. Also, maybe it has been 3-4 hours since our last meal or snack. This would definitely be the time to eat. Sticking to a schedule keeps you on track and controls the appetite. If we go too long without eating we risk losing control and overindulging somewhere else. Have a plan for your food including snacks to stay on track. Controlling our appetite is a definite bonus and will help to reduce cravings and mindless eating! Think protein and fiber, both fill you up, give an energy boost, and control the appetite.
Cravings are an intense desire to consume a specific food, which is different from normal physical hunger. Usually a craving is impulsive, or in the moment, and it can lead to reoccurring cravings. This means the more we give in to them the more often we will have the craving. Cravings come from a brain response for pleasure and reward, associating a food or foods with a temporary mood lift or enjoyable feeling. That’s why Fats, Sugars, and Salty Foods are typically desired during a craving. Carbohydrates boost levels of serotonin along with the combination of fat have a calming effect. In times of Stress…Cortisol levels go up increasing cravings causing us to eat more & store calories.
Mindless eating is more of an unconscious response or trigger when food is around or from a habit that has formed over time. For example many people eat in front of the TV at night. It is usually not because they are hungry, but the habit has been conditioned that watching TV triggers eating. This type of eating is mindless because we are more tuned into the TV and not our body’s cues for hunger/fullness. Another example of mindless eating is when someone sees food out like in a candy bowl, and starts eating not because of hunger, but in response to the visual temptation of food present. This can lead to excessive calorie intake, beyond our needs.
So how do we deal with cravings, and mindless eating? Working with a nutrition coach can help keep you on track and accountable. Tuning into your body cues for hunger and fullness can also make you more aware. Awareness is the first step but it takes time to overcome or eliminate these habits that are holding you back from reaching your health goals! Here is my Top 10 strategies to avoid mindless eating and cravings:
Janet Brancato is a Registered Dietitian based out of Glen Rock, NJ. She works with clients online, over the phone, and face to face.