The beginning of every new year for many people is a time to reflect on their past year’s behaviour and promise to make positive lifestyle changes. Therefore, January is usually a month for detox. Yet, it’s also the most difficult time to master healthy eating because of the cold weather, making some of our cravings reach an all-time high.
The good news is that there is help available to reach your goals. In her book The Food Effect Diet Vegan, US nutritionist Michelle Braud reveals how to banish cravings, avoid overeating, and master self-control even while not eating less than before.
She gives a few simple strategies to control craving and avoid unnecessary overeating or snacking:
Avoid triggers. You may crave what you should not eat, so change what you’re eating to the right foods to weaken your cravings for the bad stuff.
Throw leftovers away. If you don’t want to eat it, don’t keep it in the house.
Avoid buffet restaurants. These can be a tempting scenario — and a sure ticket to overeating.
Indulge within limits. Practise portion control or indulge in moderation. Try healthy indulgences like a few squares of good-quality dark chocolate or a vegan dessert made with healthy ingredients.
Plan ahead. If you know there’s an upcoming situation where you are likely going to indulge, allocate your calories and factor them into your eating plan that day. But don’t go to the event hungry as you’ll just set yourself up for disaster.
Schedule snacking. Make sure that you never skip lunch or your mid-afternoon snack and try to schedule it before you get ravenous. Buy a healthy snack ahead of time or have something with you in your bag so that you don’t get the urge to go out and buy a giant bag of crisps.
Focus on protein and fibre. Our bodies typically need something to eat about every three to four hours, so for the most satiating and energy-boosting snacks, choose options that contain both protein and fibre like an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter or a handful of almonds, or hummus with carrot sticks. Adding more fibre and protein to your snacks slows digestion and ensures better blood-sugar regulation, making you less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks and junk food.
Go nuts. Nuts are packed with an amazing profile of healthy fats, fibre, protein and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, while satisfying hunger cravings. If you still have a strong urge to snack, drink two glasses of water and eat a 30g serving of nuts and then reassess how you feel. Pistachio nuts are a great choice because they are lower in calories and cracking each one open takes time, allowing you to enjoy them for longer.
Sip something steamy. If you’re craving something sweet, try a hot almond milk or a soya milk latte instead. Caffeine in moderation has health benefits, or you can go for decaffeinated. Herbal teas are another great option for any time of the day as well as in the late evening when the munchies strike.
Stay well hydrated. Often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty, so make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as one or two glasses before every meal or snack you eat. If you have difficulty drinking enough plain water, which should be around two litres a day, herbal teas or green tea and lemon in hot water are just as good.
Take a power nap. If you’re eating due to tiredness, take a power nap instead.
Brush your teeth. Try brushing your teeth and gargling with mouthwash if you’re inclined to eat unnecessarily, especially late at night. You’ll be less likely to go to eat more food with clean teeth and the taste of mint on your tongue.
Distract yourself. Taking your mind off food will help to reduce unnecessary snacking. Read a book or do some exercise to keep your hands and mind busy. Cravings usually last around ten minutes, so find a non-food-related activity to pass the time and take your mind off food. If you can hold off from craving-induced eating for ten minutes, you might well overcome the urge altogether.
Dodge the comfort food trap. This is especially pertinent when winter comes around. Curling up on the sofa and binging on stodgy carbs and sweet treats can leave you feeling tired, lethargic and moody.
Get your soup on. When you crave comfort food, heat up a large bowl of soup made with lots of vegetables and beans. This is perfect to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.