When you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy body, it’s important to have options for curbing your cravings so you don’t feel deprived and wind up cheating with foods that throw you off course. Keeping certain “addictive foods” in your house or office can also encourage you to make poor nutritional choices and begin a downward spiral. If you haven’t much self control when food cravings strike, it’s important to keep healthy meal and snack options available at all times. Stockpiling “guilt-free cheats” at home, at work, in your locker or even in your car can help you stay focused even when less healthy foods tempt you. For me, sugar is the enemy. For many, fatty and salty foods are what set off food cravings. In any case, there are good reasons why we desire certain foods over others and want to cheat, but there are also great options for replacing those foods with better choices. When we crave sugar it’s the body trying to tell us we need more complex carbohydrates for energy. The body won’t discriminate though – if it’s running low on carb energy it will take simple sugars instead. When we crave fats, it means the body needs essential fats. When we want salty foods, the body is lacking certain minerals and is usually already dehydrated. Here are some tips for curbing cravings and enjoying guilt-free cheats without cheating yourself or your diet and nutrition program…
Eat a large, healthy breakfast with lots of protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates each day. A veggie filled omelet or frittata with Canadian bacon or turkey sausage is a great and filling option to get your metabolic engines running. It will also give you longer lasting energy til your first snack. Eating about every three hours will also help. Think of having three larger meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and two smaller meals in between (snacks). Like the old adage goes, “Eat breakfast like a king (big), lunch like a prince (medium) and dinner like a pauper (small).” If you don’t have time for breakfast – make time! Prepare options before you have to rush out of the house. I make a week’s worth of steel cut (or Irish/pinhead) oatmeal every weekend. Then it’s there when I need its vital energy source. A filling, energizing lunch can consist of a large green salad with mixed veggies, a cup or two of whole grains, legumes or sweet potato and a portion of fish, chicken, turkey or pork. With any animal protein, a serving size is never bigger than your hand! A small but satisfying dinner can have lots of vegetable-based carbohydrates, a small portion of protein and an even smaller helping of complex carbs like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, lentils or whole grain pasta/bread. Eat your carbs at the end of your meal, too. Your brain will think you’ve had dessert and the corresponding shot of serotonin it produces will keep you from snacking later. Remember, eating only one really large meal a day and picking at food the rest of the day is a recipe for metabolic shutdown. The body needs consistent food energy all day or it starts storing calories as fat. The brain can’t help but try to help you survive when it thinks you’re starving, so whatever calories come in get stored in case you need their energy later. Eating fruit, nuts and veggies at snack time will keep you full and energized all day long. Oh, and desserts should always be the exception, not the rule. If you have a weight loss goal, desserts and sugary/fatty/salty foods must be eliminated or severely minimized in your diet until the goal is reached. Also, exercising a little bit daily – even a 20 minute walk or 10 minutes of yoga – will charge your metabolism and help you to organize your meals for your energy requirements. Sometimes a regular exercise routine has to come before nutritional management to iron out the body’s energetic needs.
We do like to focus on controlling diet first in our culture, though it’s not always the most important component for weight loss and health. The old “80-20” rule promoted by certain weight loss programs (who will remain nameless) is backwards! 80% of your metabolism is generated by your activity and exercise and only 20% by what you eat!! That doesn’t mean if you exercise all the time that you can eat whatever you want, either. There are no shortcuts and the body recognizes cheats, especially those with no nutritional value, as garbage it has to clean up. That “cleansing” process is your body doing cell repair work and it takes a lot of energy away from the metabolic process of turning food into energy for muscle and nerve health. Junk is junk and the body is smart enough to know it. If it can’t eliminate it, it stores it as fat! Food additives and artificial sweeteners are the worst kind of junk because they influence brain chemistry and tell us to eat and drink more than we need – usually more sweet, salty, fatty junk. Straight talk – when we want to lose weight (fat) and keep it off, your diet, exercise and rest/relaxation phases are the three spokes of the health and weight loss wheel. They all have to keep turning to make our metabolisms and digestive tracts work better. If something’s out of synch, we’ll tend to cheat – not because we’re bad people – because the body has energetic needs that aren’t being met! How do we meet those needs, satisfy urges and still enjoy yummy food? Here are some ideas…
Energy producing foods/snacks that actually help digestion and can curb your food cravings:
Pineapple! The Bromelain enzyme in this tropical fruit actually assists your body to eliminate fats and toxins and facilitates digestion, especially of meat. It’s sweet flavor pleases your palate, aids your tummy and levels off your blood sugar. Pineapple is great for breakfast with cottage cheese and walnuts, too. Portion size: 1/2 cup.
Hummus! Crushed chickpeas and tahini paste make hummus, a healthy snack you can have with whole grain chips, sliced veggies or pita bread or instead of condiments on your sandwich. Once you try it you’ll wonder why you settled for low fat dressings or fattening mayonnaise. Try out different flavors until you find the one you like. Chickpeas are great in salad, too! You can have up to half a cup!
Bananas! Not only are they portable and full of essential vitamins and fiber, their rich potassium content is useful in preventing the onset of high blood pressure, stroke, immune disorders and muscular cramps. They’re also great with a quarter cup of peanut or almond butter for a healthy protein-to-carb ratio. Portion: small banana or 4 oz. sliced. The greener the better! Brown/speckled bananas are high in sugar.
Avocado! Slice up half of one large avocado or one smaller avocado and add some sea salt, olive oil and vinegar to curb cravings for fatty foods. You can eat it by itself or in a salad or on a sandwich instead of adding mayo. It’s just as creamy and contains essential fatty acids that help you digest and keep your cell energy high. Ooh, guacamole, anyone?
Almonds! High in protein, lower in saturated fat than most nuts and very portable, these super foods can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood pressure and fight osteoporosis. I love almonds in my granola or in butter form for a snack. Walnuts and cashews are good snack options, too. Remember, the bigger the nut, the more fat it contains. Go for unsalted nuts and avoid peanuts, they can constipate you! Just a handful!
Yogurt! Greek yogurt is my favorite choice. It’s so creamy and thick, it makes you feel full fast. A convenient snack or protein option for work, but make sure you choose all natural and plain options. Many brands of yogurt have too much sugar, especially those with fruit or granola. Full of probiotics and good fats, this snack helps your digestive flora thrive, cleans out impurities and makes you more regular. Portion: one cup/day.
Pumpernickel! Love bread? Can’t get enough? Me, too! But I use a simple rule when buying bread so it doesn’t become digestion-clogging paste in my gut: Dark, coarse and heavy bread is the most fibrous and the best for colon health and gut busting! The light, white, flimsy bread is just puffed flour and has no real nutritional value. Rye, especially pumpernickel, Ezekiel fresh sprouted grain bread and any “ancient grain” bread is what you want. Trying to lose weight? Only two slices a day, sandwich lovers!
Applesauce! Plain, unsweetened is the way to go to get a sweet fix without extra sugar or additives. Add some cinnamon if you want to bring up the flavor profile. Desensitizing your palate from overly “sweet stuff” helps the body taste natural, healthy sugars so you don’t crave syrupy sweet tastes. A cup will do.
Dark chocolate or cacao! The darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Milk and white chocolate are too high in sugar to be a healthy snack. They raise your blood sugar and eventually lead to metabolic crashes. Chocolate with a high “cacao” content are rich with antioxidants, helping your cells repair and improving their energy without any crash! Their bittersweet flavor fulfills your body’s requirements for healthy sugar when you want to cheat. 4 squares a day is plenty to ward off sugar cravings. Add some cacao powder to coffee for zing!
Bean salad! Try putting multiple beans together in a natural vinaigrette of your liking with herbs and spices and take it to work when you need an afternoon snack. Add cucumber, onion, tomato and celery if you like. The fiber in the legumes and veggies will fill you up and the vinaigrette satisfies any cravings you might have for salty snacks. One cup is a good-sized portion.
Dry or sharp cheeses! If you’re a cheese fanatic, like I am, beware! Cheese is so fattening, only a small portion each day is recommended. In fact, cheese should be treated as a treat so it doesn’t become a cheat! Here’s a rule of thumb to get you through cheese cravings: Add a fruit serving to your cheese serving to help it digest. Apple, pear, grapes, pineapple, whatever taste suits you. The cheese serving should be no thicker than your thumb and no longer than your middle finger. And avoid fatty, creamy cheeses like Brie!
Blueberries! Snack on these when you need a sugar fix and you’ll find your craving crushed! Great for energy and full of anti-oxidants, they also have an anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract. They lower cholesterol, cleanse the urinary tract, improve eyesight and your immunity. I put them into my steel-cut oats for a handy fruit serving. Really, all berries are a healthy energy snack. One handful is enough to perk you up!
Frozen fruit bars! I like the brands “Outshine,” “365” (Whole Foods) and “Fruttare” for frozen fruit bars without a lot of sugar or preservatives. The more natural and fruity, the healthier for you! Having a frozen fruit bar every other day can curb cravings for ice cream and other frozen sweets. There are so many flavors, too, so you’re never without choice. I love Mango, Lime, Coconut and Mixed Berries, myself. Also, try adding frozen fruit to your water or sparkling water instead of ice for a bit of healthy, sweet pizazz.
These are just a few options for grabbing good snack foods on the go that will ease your cravings and give you plenty of energy for your activities. They’re not all really “cheats” but will satisfy those cravings so you can eat and live better. I do cheat on occasion with a “Clif” bar or South Beach meal-replacement bar or some fro-yo sprinkled with cacao powder, but never during weight loss or detox phases. When you’re focused on a goal, it’s important not to cheat at all and stay away from food triggers. “Oh, if I eat just one it’ll be fine.” But when can you have just one? In times of craving we have to apply the motto, “eat to live, don’t live to eat.” Food is there for energy and enjoyment, but mainly to keep our bodies and minds working well. We do so much in any given day, it’s vital to keep your energy stores pumped. Also, it’s crucial to keep water on hand and drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day. So often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually thirsty and already dehydrated. Drink a full glass of water before each meal and you’ll feel fuller and help pave the way for excellent digestion, which in turn helps process fat and can improve weight loss results. I love “Evamor” brand pH 8.8 artesian water. Full of minerals and keeps your body from becoming too acidic – the environment disease flourishes in. Try it and you’ll remember what real water tastes like!
Other beverages like green tea or hibiscus tea can aid in energy production, suppress the appetite, cleanse the blood and ease blood pressure and stress reactions. Limit all other beverages, condiments, salad dressings and toppings and you can save 300 calories each day! Cut over-sized portions in half when eating out and ask for a doggie back – you can have a whole other meal at home for the price of one! Restaurants often serve three times a normal meal portion. We tend to eat what’s put in front of us, so put a portion or two out of sight right away. Stay off the sweet stuff so your palate can adjust to real fruit sugars and your taste buds can learn to crave less syrupy-sweet tasting foods. There are many great strategies for maintaining weight loss goals and eating healthier but remember not to let yourself get deprived or your next cheat might send you over the edge. Feeling guilty about what you crave isn’t helpful or healthy so find ways to fulfill yourself without filling up on junk. Guilt-free “cheats” like fruits (fresh, dried or frozen) and fruit smoothies, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grain snacks (like my steel-cut oatmeal cookies) and lots of water will help you maintain your goals and achieve the healthy body you desire!
“No food tastes as good as feeling thin and healthy.” ~my client, Jana.