February 21, 2012

Cravings—we all get them. If you asked me what foods I typically crave, I can always reel off a number of items without hesitation: chewy oatmeal raisin cookies, cheesy loaded nachos, dark chocolate with sea salt, a malty ale... just to name a few. While trying to eat better and lose weight, these cravings often became my downfall until I discovered where they came from and how to control them by simply cleaning up my diet.

There was a time in my life when I ate way too much sugar. In fact, some days I'd "save" my calories just so I could binge on sweets later. So much, in fact, that I experienced crazy mood swings and terrible breakouts because of all of the sugar I was consuming. Clearly this wasn't the best way to shed pounds. I knew something needed to change, so I decided to take control of my cravings once and for all.

My cravings were typically the strongest after eating a meal (for something sweet) or in the late afternoon before dinner (for something savory), so I tried to think back to times in my life when I didn't have these urges and suddenly things clicked! I didn't experience them when I ate a well-rounded and satisfying meal. You're probably thinking: "Well, duh," but hear me out.

I realized I was actually craving calories—quality, nutritious, "real" calories that provided plenty of satisfaction. Consuming more calories might sound counter-intuitive since I was trying to lose weight, but I found that if I filled up on nutritious foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats, I didn't get cravings later on. Also, if I got too hungry between meals and my blood sugar dropped too low, I usually craved something carb-y and sweet like a bagel or muffin. I learned if I kept my blood sugar steady by eating regular meals (and snacks) that included protein and good fats, I was able to ward off cravings.

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In the weeks and months that I followed, I continued to experiment with my meals. It wasn't the easiest journey—there were plenty of times that I gave into my cravings—but eventually I got the hang of it. Now, one of my favorite meals for lunch or dinner is a big salad with all kinds of fiber-rich raw and roasted veggies, two hard boiled eggs, avocado, and a drizzle of truffle oil. The combination of ingredients is equally delicious as it is nutritious and satisfying. I almost never crave something sweet after this meal.

I still experience cravings, but when a craving for something sweet strikes, I don't immediately run to the nearest cookie or brownie. I've found healthy alternatives for my cravings, including fruit smoothies, flavored Greek yogurt with granola, and sweet potato wedges (which I cook ahead of time and keep in my refrigerator for when cravings strike). Sometimes, even just eating a second serving of veggies or salad from lunch or dinner prevents me from reaching for dessert. Each day gets a little easier, and my progress has come a long way. Remaining control of my cravings (and giving in to them in moderation) is what keeps me on the path to a healthier lifestyle!

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