Can’t keep your hands out of the biscuit tin? Desperate for a chocolate bar? Give your willpower a boost with these quick tips
It’s been a hard year for us all, with the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns upending our lives.
A worldwide study has found that almost 44 per cent of us have been regularly caving in to unhealthy cravings in the last year, with more than a third of people already classed as obese gaining more weight as a result.
Clinical nutritionist Nishtha Patel (thegutexpert.com) says boredom, stress and anxiety may play a part in triggering intense desires to eat certain foods.
She says: ‘When we’re stressed, we produce more of the hormone cortisol, which can induce cravings for processed junk foods high in sugar and fat.
‘These foods cause blood sugar levels to spike rapidly, offering a short-term energy high. But levels soon come crashing down, and the cycle repeats as we crave more of the same.’
Some studies have shown sugar to be more addictive than cocaine. So how can we stop our cravings for it? Give these scientifically-backed tactics a go…
Take a hike
Lace up your walking shoes — studies show overweight people who normally ate high-calorie sugary snacks daily managed to reduce cravings by taking a brisk 15-minute walk. Bursts of exercise help us feel more positive, so we’re less likely to turn to food to boost our mood.
Use your imagination
Visual imagery plays a big part in making cravings irresistible, say psychologists. When we desire a doughnut, for example, we might conjure up images of how delicious it looks, or see ourselves take a bite, lick our lips and smile. These powerful mind pictures often result in us giving way to temptation.
In one experiment, people who were told to visualise themselves engaging in a favourite activity whenever a craving struck managed to reduce the intensity of their cravings. So next time a craving hits, picture yourself doing something you love, whether it’s gardening or strolling by the sea.
Block out a burning desire for junk food by playing Tetris! Research has found that concentrating on the popular block-building video game for three minutes helped distract people’s minds from a craving.
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Simply seeing fleeting images of high-calorie foods activates the brain’s appetite control centre and can set off a craving, research shows. So switch off the telly when tempting foodie ads come on, or better still, get off the couch, stretch your legs and make a cup of tea.
An apple a day...
Want to sweep past the fatty foods at the supermarket? Researchers found that people who ate an apple before grocery shopping tended to buy more fruit and veg. It’s thought eating something nutritious nudges you to make more ‘good for you’ decisions. The water and fibre in the apple will also control blood sugar levels and fill you up, helping prevent cravings and impulse buys.
‘Sometimes it’s the crunch of crisps we crave,’ says Nishtha. ‘Try carrots, celery or an apple instead.’
Clench your fists
Tightening any muscle for at least 30 seconds helps to control temptation according to a study. Researchers say this may be because firm muscles are associated with strong willpower.
Smell something sweet
Carry a bottle of pure vanilla extract and inhale for at least 30 seconds whenever an urge to scoff chocolate strikes. Researchers found people who sniffed a vanilla patch ate fewer sugary foods and cut their chocolate consumption in half. It’s thought sweet smells stimulate the release of the brain chemical serotonin, which promotes feelings of satisfaction.
Change your routine
If you normally crave chocolate biscuits with your morning cuppa, switch to a fruit tea instead. If you crave crisps with a lunchtime sandwich, opt for soup instead. Changing habits may help control urges you normally associate with those routines.
Pretend your food got sneezed on
Research has found that deliberately thinking about a food you’re obsessing over in a less appealing way can curb a craving. Try imagining someone has sneezed or coughed all over that cake you’re coveting.
Edited by Kim Jones