Could you be addicted to food? 5 secrets to controlling your cravings
I’ve had a few recent run-ins with dark-chocolate M&Ms. Here’s what happens: I’ll grab a few of the candies then sit down at my computer to meet a writing deadline. Type a few words, then walk back the cabinet for more M&Ms. Two sentences. Three M&Ms. The more difficult the subject matter, the less I’m able to focus on writing and the more overwhelming is the pull of the M&Ms.
In the March/April issue of EatingWell, science writer Rachael Moeller Gorman tackles the topic of food addiction—the idea that food can overtake the same brain circuits involved in drug and alcohol addictions. Could I be addicted to chocolate? I could be: people who chronically crave food aren’t so different from people who suffer drug or alcohol addiction, say some experts, including Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But I’m not addicted to chocolate. For me, overeating M&Ms is situational—the latest manifestation of a chronic procrastination problem that gets worse when I’m under the gun and low on sleep. And, in fact, dealing with issues like stress and too little sleep can help “cure” food cravings, Volkow told Gorman recently. Here are her tips to stave off overeating*:
1. Anticipate moments of weakness. “You preset yourself [to say], no matter what, you’re not going to allow yourself to be tempted by the food,” says Volkow. “It’s much easier to control your urges if you do it beforehand than if they take you by surprise.” For example, if you tend to binge on candy while working at your computer, cut up melon and keep it on your desk so you’re less likely to visit the vending machine.
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2. Take one flavor at a time. “If I give you just one item, say, apples, you will get saturated with the flavor of apples,” says Volkow. “But if I mixed different alternative flavors, you actually can go from one to the other,” eating a lot more than if you only had one type of food on your plate. So keep your meal relatively simple.
3. Ban eating in the car and in front of the TV. “Set up a space for eating so these other activities and spaces don’t get conditioned with the food,” suggests Volkow. Then eat only at the table, using a plate and doing nothing but eating and talking to your tablemates.
4. Don’t skimp on shut-eye. “It has now been recognized that sleep deprivation increases the risk of overeating and obesity,” says Volkow. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night for adults.
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5. Keep your cool. “When a person is stressed, that decreases their ability to exert control over desires,” says Volkow. Squelch your stress with exercise: you can schedule daily workouts for a natural high. Volkow also recommends keeping your workout bag packed and ready to use during high-pressure times. “If I am in a very stressful condition,” she says, “I go and I run.”
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*Note: If thinking about food (and/or overeating) is overtaking your life, seek help from a professional. Find one at NationalEatingDisorders.org.