Understanding Your Cravings

Which of these common temptations do you struggle with?
Published May 3, 2016

From the pastries lovingly set out at the coffee shop, to leftover sandwiches from a lunch meeting, just getting through the day can be a virtual minefield of dodging temptation. You may be able to control what food you bring into your house, but when you're out and about this isn’t the case. The key to learning to not let your cravings dictate your life is to know yourself: first try to understand why you crave what you crave and then, armed with this knowledge, prepare yourself.

Physical or emotional craving?
Knowing whether a craving is physical or emotional in nature is the first step in understanding it. "When you get a craving, don't just head to the cupboard. Instead, stop and get curious about what you are really craving. It may be an emotional need, a sign of being tired or something else. Check in with your body to find tension and hidden feelings. You do crave something important so don't cheat yourself by swallowing your needs," says Joyce Curry (RSW, ACC, CWC), a social worker and coach. Generally, physical hunger is gradual while emotional hunger comes on quickly. Physical hunger is general while emotional hunger is for a specific food. If you find yourself craving the same type of treat day after day, chances are, your craving is for the emotional relief that eating that food gives you.

Feeling satisfied is key to feeling strong when temptation strikes. Starting your day with a balanced breakfast containing protein, and doing the same for lunch, will help to keep your blood sugar balanced and physical cravings in check. “I find that the best way to manage cravings now is by managing hunger, so I try to eat as much raw fruits and vegetables as possible. If I feel like I'm hungry and craving something specific, I either drink a lot of water or cut up an apple, red pepper, snap peas, etc.  The craving will typically subside when if I've fulfilled the need to crunch on something,” says Laura, a Weight Watchers member.

But first, coffee
Whether you make it at home or grab a cup on your way to work, a common craving is for coffee. “The morning rush is definitely our busiest time, when people line up to get their morning caffeine fix. But we do see spikes in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon as well, when people are presumably in need of another little boost in the form of caffeine,” says Jacob Fortier, part owner of Toronto’s Dineen Coffee, which services the financial core. Keep a morning coffee in-check by ordering an Americano or drip coffee. Either enjoy it black or factor in that 1 SmartPoint tablespoon of half and half. If a latte is more your thing, try an Americano misto, which is an Americano with a small amount of steamed milk on top.

Must... have... chocolate!
Many office kitchens are where all the office food goes to sit, like that leftover bowl of mini eggs and random chocolate. So what do you do? You can avoid going into the kitchen altogether so you don’t have to come face to face with those treats. You could try smelling coffee to kill the chocolate craving (this actually does work, FYI, because the very smell of coffee activates pleasure centres in your brain in the same way that eating chocolate does). Or you can do what member Anita does, by allowing herself one mini egg and then filling up on lots of fibre-rich grapes. Some Weight Watchers members swear by eating frozen grapes and banana slices, because freezing brings out their natural sweetness, and the cold temperature means that they must be eaten more slowly.

Baked goods
That platter of leftover cookies from your spouse's baking experiment can taunt even the most diligent among us. For many people, a cookie or baked good craving can signal an emotional need for love and reassurance.

Physically, a craving for baked goods in the afternoon could mean that you’ve reached a low blood sugar moment. Your brain then craves what it knows to give it fast energy: sugar. If this has happened to you, have a sliced apple sprinkled with cinnamon and a little almond butter. Squash afternoon cravings for baked goods by getting yourself moving when you feel the craving come on. If possible, schedule meetings in the afternoon to get you away from your desk and interacting with people.

Crunchy potato chips
Crunchy, salty snack foods like potato chips and popcorn can be hard to resist. As that old saying goes, “you can’t eat just one.” Do you turn to crunchy, salty foods when you’re agitated? If so, avoid chips altogether when you’re feeling this way, and try to get that crunch from a bowl of raw veggies. You could also follow member Betsy’s lead and buy more nutrient-dense veggie chips and portion them out into individual containers with SmartPoints values written on the container for easy, portion-controlled snacking all week.

Lastly, speak up! If people in your life know that you’re following the Weight Watchers program, they’ll be less likely to offer you something they baked or a piece of candy. “I've been very open about my participation with Weight Watchers in my office. People now know not to offer me things, ask me out to lunch etc. because I've been clear about trying to live healthier. I've lost a visible amount of weight (about 23lbs in 3 months) and having my colleagues' support and understanding along the way has been very helpful,” says Laura.