By: Danielle Houston, RDN, LD
Having worked as a Registered Dietitian for the past year and counseling pre and post op bariatric surgery patients, I have the following statement to make: all people deal with food cravings. There are scientific reasons for this such as hormonal changes and signals sent from the brain, but more often food cravings are related to stress, emotion and physical surroundings. For example, you may notice that you always crave something salty when you are feeling nervous or stressed at work and crave something sweet when you are happy and relaxed. Physical surrounding triggers could be your annual vacation with a favorite restaurant or the Holiday time of year when nothing sounds better than Pumpkin pie! Regardless of what causes your food cravings, there are healthy ways to deal with them.
Understanding why you are craving something is usually the best place to begin. For example, when you feel the urge to eat something you know to be unhealthy, first stop and ask yourself why you want to eat this food. Sometimes taking the time to analyze a craving will prevent you from falling too far down the rabbit hole, so to speak. If you can’t understand why you are craving something, ask yourself when the last time you ate that food was. There is scientific evidence that you can be addicted to certain foods. Let’s say you are craving McDonalds, and you stop and realize that you had that for dinner just two nights ago. It may be that your body has developed an addiction to something in that food and is sending out withdrawal signals. It is important that you not let yourself get drug into an unhealthy cycle of cravings and food addiction. In this case, I would encourage you to not give into this craving and instead find a healthy meal to enjoy. If your analysis turns out something related to stress or emotion, it is up to you to decide if you are going to give into it or make a better choice. If you do decide to give into a craving, it is best to decide to do it in moderation. For example, you decide you are going to give into your craving for chips. Buy one small portion bag as opposed to a large family size so that you have built-in moderation. While this portion will satisfy your craving, you won’t be left feeling guilty about your unhealthy consumption. As a person who has struggled with body weight as well as cravings and food addiction, I know not giving in can be very hard. But I can also assure you that the craving will pass and you will make it out alive!
The second piece of advice I often give when dealing with food cravings is to learn if there are foods that you can substitute and still fulfill a craving, but in a more healthy way. Many people crave crunchy foods and sweet foods. Some healthy substitutes to fulfill a crunch craving include raw carrots, cauliflower, broccoli or cucumber with light ranch, one ounce of walnuts, or even one serving of baked potato chips. Some healthy substitutes for sweet cravings include raisins or other dried fruit, fresh fruit, low fat cookies (vanilla wafers) or graham crackers. Make sure that, even when using a healthy substitute, you watch your portions and don’t binge eat.
My very last piece of advice for anyone is to take time to identify which unhealthy foods you seem to not be able to control yourself around. Some less-than-healthy foods are not so bad if you only consume one serving. If you know that you can’t control yourself around a food, just don’t bring it in the house!
In conclusion I will say that you are not alone in dealing with food cravings and if you are a bariatric surgery patient, I encourage you to attend monthly support groups so that you can share your concerns, thoughts, etc with others and gain support from them as well. And I’m sorry to all of my females out there, but I do not have any suggestion on what to do when you crave chocolate besides eat a small square and savor it!