Does this sound familiar - you've resisted, and resisted, and resisted and then given in to an overwhelming desire to dive into a bag of chips or tub of ice-cream. Well, you’re not alone. Nine out of 10 people experience cravings at one point or other. "Cravings are completely normal," says dietitian Lauren McGuckin. Allowing yourself to enjoy a food that you really fancy is healthy. People who treat themselves every now and then tend to be more successful at staying on track with a healthy eating plan.’ But if ‘every now and then’ has turned into ‘every day’ and it’s affecting your diabetes, health and weight, it’s time to act.
How to... tune into your hunger signals
The first step is to learn how to tell the difference between cravings and genuine hunger. According to experts, it helps to remember that when you’re actually hungry, any type of food will satisfy you. Cravings, however, are more specific – you want to munch on something in particular, like chocolate, chips or a big bowl of creamy pasta. "Think back to when you last ate a meal," says McGuckin. "If you didn’t eat breakfast and find yourself craving a biscuit at 11am, there’s a good chance you’re genuinely hungry. Think about what you ate at your last meal, too. If lunch was just a piece of toast, you’re unlikely to make it to dinner without craving a snack in between."
And drink up, she adds. "It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger. Whenever you feel peckish and have ruled out genuine hunger as the cause, have a big glass of water and see how you feel 10 minutes later. Rehydrating could be what you needed in the first place." Similarly, learning how to tell the difference between a craving and low blood glucose levels is crucial. "The telltale signs of hypoglycaemia are a good place to start. So, if you feel sweaty, weak or dizzy then, instead of just fancying a treat, it’s likely that your blood glucose levels have fallen too low," McGuckin says. "If in doubt, test your levels and treat accordingly."
How to... get ahead of cravings
Thinking ahead can go a long way towards fighting the urge to overindulge. According to US scientists, eating breakfast bumps up your levels of dopamine – a brain chemical involved in moderating food cravings – which means you’ll be less likely to crave sweet foods later on. If your brekkie contains protein (like eggs or yoghurt), you’ll minimise cravings for savoury foods, too. Swapping high GI for low GI can also help. Not only do low-GI foods keep you feeling fuller for longer, but also, research reveals that eating high-GI foods actually triggers feelings of hunger. Plus, the stimulating effect of high-GI foods on blood glucose activates a brain region that’s involved in addictive behaviour – hello, cravings!It’s important to remember that even if you’ve filled up on satiating foods, you may still hear the siren song of the biscuit tin. If you don’t want to answer it, distract yourself by doing housework, going for a walk or calling a friend. Cravings typically last for only 10 minutes, so by the time you are finished, the feeling should have passed. Too easy
How to... indulge the smart way
Yes, you can have a treat – and keep your weight and blood glucose levels in check. Follow these easy tips:
1. Make the switch: "Look for foods that offer the same flavour hit, with less fat and kilojoules," says McGuckin. "If you’re dying for chips, choose air-popped popcorn, with a little bit of salt, instead." Want chocolate? Choose dark. It contains less sugar than white or milk and is rich in antioxidants.
2. Use portion caution: Sometimes, nothing will satisfy except the actual food you’re craving. "And that’s okay," assures McGuckin. "Just limit yourself to a small portion by buying lunch-box sized packets of savoury snacks or share packs of confectionery, which come individually wrapped."
3. Stick to the good stuff: "If you really want a glass of wine or some cheese, splash out on a good-quality bottle or brand, which you’re far less likely to guzzle or eat quickly," suggests McGuckin. "Enjoy it when you’ve got the time to really appreciate it."
4. Plan ahead: If you want a tipple, ensure you eat enough as alcohol increases your hypo risk for up to 24 hours afterwards. "Planning ahead is important for food cravings, too," says McGuckin, "so you can ensure it makes less of a dent on your blood glucose levels."
By Karen Fittall