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Updated 25 April 2016

Ways to combat cravings and over-indulging in bad foods

Your emotional state might be to blame for your constant food cravings. Being mindful of your feelings could keep over-indulgence at bay, experts say.

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Food cravings and over-indulging happen to the best of us.

It may be associated with a real physiological desire for something sweet or salty, but over-indulgence can also be driven by an emotion such as a feeling of sadness, anxiety, boredom, aggravation, frustration or tiredness.

Skipping meals throughout the day can also be a culprit for over-indulging as it may make you seek a “pick me up” round mid-afternoon or  lead to inappropriate snacking.

Often the types of food typically chosen are “convenient”, with a high fat and sugar content and lack sufficient amounts of nutrients to sustain good health.

Even when people have healthy food options available, such as fruits, the hardly choose those as foods to over-indulge on.

Read: Train your brain to choose fruit salad over fries

When over-indulgence strikes, you may indiscriminately consume large amounts as if there is no tomorrow. Food is often used as a “reward” as some believe that at the end of a stressful day we deserve something “nice”.

What to consider when you're about to over-indulge

What we need to ask ourselves is whether over-indulging actually changes our feeling or circumstance? Are you any less bored, frustrated, stressed, aggravated, or sad? Do you feel any less lonely?

During the over-indulging episode, food may initially provide some immediate and short term gratification, but thereafter most of us experience feelings of guilt and disgust.

At the end of the day what is the “true role” food has to play in our daily lives?   

Food can have many meanings and definitions but in essence it refers to a material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body to sustain vital metabolic processes such as growth, repair, and providing energy to sustain daily activities.

Hence our challenge is to start regarding the food on our plate for its real purpose, and be grateful for the food to play its nourishing role and not for an emotional fulfilling role. On the other hand, food not only has a physiological role to play but also social meaning for us as humans.

Delicious food is served almost at all social events like marriages, parties, meetings etc. On all these occasions, food indirectly serves as a powerful and effective instrument for developing social rapport and take on the meaning of celebration and having a good time.

In these instances enjoy the treats as it has meaning, but be mindful of what and how much you are eating and drinking.

Ways to combat overall cravings and over-indulging:

  • Engage in regular physical activity - it can be used as a distraction and it also lift your mood.
  • Find alternative activities (distraction technique) that will lift your mood without resorting to the consumption of food e.g. go phone a friend or your mom, take your dog for a brisk walk, read a book, or engage in other positive activities such as Pilates or coloring in, painting or knitting.
  • If you eat due to tiredness make yourself a drink e.g. a nice cup of tea or have a glass of water with lemon, and take a break or rest. If possible have a short nap, as sleep is most likely just what you need.
  • Don’t skip meals – plan your meals and pack a cooler bag with lunch and snacks if necessary. This will provide for structure throughout the day and prevent those sugar lows that you can most likely experienced during the late afternoon.
  • Limit sugary foods and treats at social events by making sure you eat something before attending a birthday party for example. Arriving hungry will likely result in you eating cake for lunch!
  • Dish your food or treat on a plate, be mindful of what you are eating, eat slow, savor each bite and avoid 2nd and 3rd helpings.
  • Stand or sit with your back towards the dishing-up area e.g. buffet table if possible.
  • Shop from a pre-planned list; and never shop when you are ravished with hunger. Avoid choosing the tempting food alongside the queue, pick up a magazine instead..
  • Create a supportive and favorable healthy environment at home by keeping high fiber, lower sugar snacks on hand. Examples include portion controlled servings of high fiber crackers with cottage cheese, slices of tomato and gherkins, an apple cut into wedges and a hummus dip, strawberries with plain yoghurt. This is also good for the whole family as children also perform and concentrate better with optimal blood glucose regulation.

A quote to remember is one by Virginia Woolf, “One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

If you have a diet related question, ask the dietitians.

Read more:

The best way to detox

Sweet tooth linked to binge eating

Food myths you should stop believing

References

J. Setnick. 2011. ADA Pocket guide to Eating Disorders. American Dietetics Association.

RL. Duyff. 2012. ADA Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 4th edition.

The dietitians from Nutritional Solutions are Health24's expert team of registered dietitians.

 
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