On a scale of 1-10, how much of a healthy eater are you? I think I would say about 7 (or even 8?!), compared to the general population. Compared to the rest of PD team, however, I’m probably around 4-5! Whenever I take out team members for meals, I’m *always* the one who orders the fattier option, eats the entire entree, and then asks, “do you want to split a dessert?!” (Molly, Christina, Crystal, Jen–y’all know this is true :D)
Don’t get me wrong: I genuinely love healthy foods. I enjoy how they taste, how they make my body feel energetic yet light, and my mind sharp and focused. I’ve always disliked candy (what a waste of eating!), and since my 3 day sugar detox, I’ve reduced my sugar intake by more than half. But I’ve never met a creamy sauce dish I didn’t like, and a few times a month, I really crave–and eat!–a seitan sandwich smothered in vegan cheese.
My cravings for vegan junk food are definitely emotionally triggered, too. I can’t even remember what I had for dinner a day or two ago, but in January I had a really tough day and the only thing that could cure my serious case of worst-day-ever was a vegan chocolate chip cheesecake from Peacefood Cafe. As soon as I felt awful, I was thinking “I know what would make me feel better–that awesome cheesecake,” and yes, I felt 1000x better after eating that on my bed.
Obviously, there are far worse things in life than indulging in vegan junk food. But since discovering just how much I was relying on sugar, I’m more conscious that even “healthy” eaters can fall into a not-so-healthy habit. If this sounds like it could be you (ahem, me too), here’s how to cure your junk food cravings the healthy way.
1. Get a lot of sleep: Ever notice how your junk food cravings go out of control when you don’t get enough sleep? Most of us know by now that sleep deprivation causes snacking mayhem, but there’s even a recent University of Chicago study to remind us: when a group of adults got 4 nights of normal sleep (8.5 hours) and 4 nights of restricted sleep (4.5 hours), and given a chance to snack on junk food, the latter group ate more carbs and twice as much fat and protein. In fact, sleep deprivation is also linked to increased risk of obesity.
In our busy lives, it’s easy for sleep to become the “first thing to go”–meaning between chores, workouts, your job, eating, etc, we cut back on sleep first. Try giving yourself enough zzz’s–your laundry can wait. (Just go buy a few pairs of undies 😉 )
2. Be in touch with your emotions: not knowing your own emotional state can make your cravings feel “out of control.” (I guess it’s good that I had the self-awareness to know where my cheesecake attack came from…)
In fact, you can even use your cravings as a reminder to take emotional inventory, and figure out your recovery plan. Here are some cravings and their related emotional states.
Sweets and baked goods: Need that piece of cake right now? You’re exhausted from working too hard, mentally, physically and emotionally–resulting in a lack of joy. Food-less solutions to this emotional issue? Try laughing, whether it’s a funny video or catching up with your colleagues. Go for a refreshing walk, or schedule a self-love day with mani pedi or a facial (or both?! go crazy!).
Spicy: you’re likely experiencing boredom–literally, a need to “spice things up.” Try a new workout class, or even take a different route during your commute. My favorite trick is to put on some look-at-me lipstick–not only will you look fabulous, you also won’t want to ruin it with mindless snacking.
Caffeine: not surprisingly, this one is due to the exhaustion of overwork and over-discipline. Instead of using caffeine to juggle a million things, take some time off. The more you get used to relaxing, the more refreshed you will feel without the crutch of caffeine (and absolutely nothing will “break” because you took a night off).
Soft carbs, like creamy pasta: Given that this is the food equivalent of a warm hug and a security blanket, you’re experiencing need for comfort, and a sense of security. Try calling your mom (or just texting works too–let’s be real). Have an emergency girl talk sesh with your BFF at your desk (that’s what Gchat is for!).
Chocolate: the motherlode of all cravings. And I get this all the time. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that chocolate cravings indicate a need for love. While a handsome date is hard to procure on demand, you can still add a dose of love in your life: cuddle with your animal children, text Mom (again!), or give yourself some self-loving journaling time.
3. It’s okay to indulge–mindfully: With all that in mind, it’s still not wrong to get cravings–or to actually indulge once in a while. When I get my twice monthly Midtown Melt attack, I make sure to enjoy it, even if that just means eating slowly and without distractions.
4. Make healthier versions at home: By far the easiest way to indulge your cravings is to make it at home. My way of handling everyday chocolate craving is a scoop of Amazing Grass Protein Superfood in Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor (sweetened with stevia), mixed with vanilla almond milk and a spoonful of coconut yogurt (both unsweetened). And we have so many guilt-free versions of your favorite comfort foods. Check these out!
5. Or…splurge specifically when you’re dining out: Another tactic is to eat very clean at home, and use your rare restaurant nights as a time to indulge. For instance, I don’t keep bread at home, but love eating good bread at restaurants.
6. Take nutritional supplements: According to a new UK study, inulin-propionate ester supplement (based on gut bacteria) reduces activity in the part of the brain that controls junk food cravings. In previous studies, L-glutamine supplement has also shown reduced cravings. If you suffer from severe cravings, it might be worth talking to your doctor about these options.
Let’s talk about your cravings. What is your most frequent craving, and how do you handle it?
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling, Jessie Brown, Quincy Malesovas, Lauren Arps, Mary Hood Luttrell, Christina Ramirez, Francesca Polito