By: Ben Nowlan
We have all experienced hunger and cravings. Something we tend not to realise is these experiences are a much different thing. Cravings are far more specific [i.e. for a particular type of food or emotionally driven] and when you are on a diet they can be quite destructive. The difficulty most of us have is we cannot identify the difference between cravings, hunger and thirst.
What is the difference between cravings, hunger and thirst?
Hunger – is when your stomach has that empty feeling and your tummy is growling and your body tells you that you need to eat. Just like cravings, hunger pangs will pass as well.
Thirst – is when your body signals the need for fluids. The body has a physiological response where the mouth becomes dry and you may develop a headache.
Craving – is the intense desire for specific food. This can be triggered by a variety of things including our body being used to having sweet, salty or oily foods, emotions such as stress, boredom or environmental triggers such as seeing a basket of pastries at a work meeting. Food Cravings have also been shown to be driven from mental imagery. When we have an intense craving for food we often have a vivid mental image of the food we crave. In addition, research has shown the more vivid the image, the more intense the cravings.
Craving can easily be confused with hunger because we naturally interpret the thoughts and feelings of craving as hunger signals. Craving can be confused with thirst because some of the physiological responses of thirst may drive us to think that we need a specific food. Our bodies’ need for salt can increase as our thirst increases and thus we may feel we need salty food.
How to fight off food cravings!
The key to fighting off food cravings is to first understand that they are just cravings. Then there are three key things you can do:
Personal Mantra – Have something you say to yourself each time you have a craving come on. For example – “this is just a craving, I don’t need to eat, it will only be a few seconds of pleasure and I will feel guilty after. The craving will pass.
Experimentation – Each time a craving comes on experiment riding out the craving feelings, take notice of how long they last. This will teach your body and mind that cravings are bearable and in fact don’t last very long. Each time you resist a food craving you strengthen that ‘resistance muscle’ so to speak. Your ability to withstand cravings in the future gets stronger and stronger.
Distraction – Engage yourself in activities that help distract you from the craving. You will be surprised at how quickly your craving disappears when you are not paying attention to it. Try going for a walk, do household chores or make a phone call. Anything that will take your mind off the craving. Remember that food cravings are also driven by mental imagery so trying to imagine something else helps as well. If you are thinking of ice cream or a hamburger, try thinking of your upcoming holiday or your pet dog to distract.
About the Writer: Ben Nowlan Is an exercise physiologist, weight loss expert, health business entrepreneur and blog writer.Ben’s latest project is www.weightopia.com – an online psychology weight loss platform and health community.