Guest Blog: Vtrim Answers "What Do I Do About Cravings?!"

As promised, this week and next will be answers to your questions from the dietitians at The University of Vermont's Vtrim Online weightloss program. : ) This is the program that I have been on since end of February and have lost nearly 30 pounds with!  There are no gimmicks with Vtrim Online, no magic pills, no shakes that replace my food... it just is good old common sense, university-backed knowledge about healthy diet, and exercise.  And it WORKS!!  I'll post this Vtrim answer today and then the others next week.  After the last blog post from Vtrim, I'll announce who has won the Vtrim Diet & Cookbook (which won the James Beard Award!).

Enjoy, friends!!

Hi HLG Blog Readers!

It’s Beth and Heather, Registered Dietitians from Vtrim Online, and we’re here with answers to your insightful questions from HLG’s birthday blog post. Thanks HLG!

We were excited to see so many great questions that indicated you do not take your health for granted. At Vtrim, we also value credible, scientific information – no gimmicks! So with that in mind, we narrowed your questions down and merged a few into one response to get more of your questions answered.

1. Readers had questions about dealing with cravings and emotional eating…

Cynthia asked, “I can't get past those nighttime with the TV cravings. What can I munch on that won't add on the pounds?”

Another reader said, “I have such a hard time dealing with stress eating! I crave junk, junk, and more junk. Is there anything I can do to rid myself of these cravings once and for all?”

SpunkySuzi asked, “I seem to really crave simple carbs. Is there any way to help deal with this??”

Cravings…that yearning for a specific food or type of food, independent of whether you are physically hungry. It seems you can’t get the food off your mind unless you deal with it by giving in. Most everyone experiences cravings. And most women tend to crave sugary foods and foods high in fat while men tend to crave salty foods or savory foods high in protein.

There’s an unanswered debate about whether cravings are biological or psychological. Emerging research shows an association between your body’s chemicals and hormones with hunger levels. But, research is also strong to support the influence of our physical environment and emotional or psychological experiences on the urge to eat. Regardless of which source is contributing to your craving, cravings CAN be managed and potentially eliminated.

One of the most important steps to managing a craving is to pay attention to what precedes it. This awareness is critical to making a change. Most cravings are triggered by activities you have historically paired with food. For example, routinely having a snack in front of the TV can lead to craving food every time you sit down at the TV. Same goes for emotional eating—whether it is stress, anger, or boredom. Many have trained themselves to fill an emotional void with food. Consequently, when the emotions kick in so does overeating.

The healthiest way to manage a craving is to replace eating with an alternative behavior. As we often say at Vtrim, it’s not about learning to eat carrots in front of the TV, it’s about learning to NOT eat in front of the TV. What can you do INSTEAD of eating when those triggers trip you up? These are strong associations so don’t be surprised when it is hard to disassociate food from a familiar activity. Chewing gum or sipping a zero-cal beverage or hot tea can be a good start while you become more keenly aware and begin to adjust your eating behavior. Taking a look at your daily eating patterns can also help. You may be getting the urge to eat at night because you haven’t fueled your body regularly throughout the day. Or a very stressful day may mean that you’ve neglected to eat when your body needed it. The most surefire way to get out of a craving ritual is to consciously stop responding to stimuli with food. Go for walk or call a friend when you need to let off steam. Take a hot bath to relax or keep your hands busy with a craft or catalog while watching TV.

If all else fails and you still want to eat something, be prepared by having smart choices at your finger tips. Pay attention to your environment. You will eat the foods you choose to keep in your house. And the foods most readily available in our toxic food environment tend to be simple carbs, sweets, and fatty foods. Limiting your exposure to these foods and having healthy alternatives readily available will help tremendously when hard-wired cravings kick in. Be sure to keep satisfying alternatives close by. What is satisfying is a personal preference but some suggestions might be lite microwave popcorn, whole grain cereal, sugar-free hot chocolate, an energy bar. This will help you to stay in control of your food environment.

Sometimes the best way to nip a craving in the bud is to allow yourself to have a small portion of what you are really craving rather than trying to squash it with alternative foods that just don’t cut it. A small piece of high quality chocolate, a single-serving bag of chips, or a pre-packaged portion-controlled ice cream can be budgeted into your day without ruining your weight management goals. Try to make this the exception to the rule but know that ultimately you have the choice.

Many thanks to Beth and Heather for this great information and answering our first set of questions.  Feel free to ask follow-up questions in comments! : ) More Vtrim Online answers on the blog next week...


Anonymous June 11, 2010 at 5:20 PM  

Great advice. And I'm going to try some of it!

I'd like to add a personal bit of experience to it, tho. I had--note, had--super-human, overwhelming cravings. I'm not trying to be dramatic, it's just that I didn't realize, until they stopped, that what I was calling cravings and what some others were calling cravings didn't quite fit into the same category.

What I have now are "desires to eat some chocolate" or a "Wouldn't some noodles be good with this?' and sometiems, a kind of restless desire to graze that is often the result of anxiety.

These are NOTHING compared to what I had in the recent past.

What made the change? I cut out gluten. That's it. Just cut out gluten.

Those overwhelming, frantic cravings stopped within a week.

Now, on rare occasion, the worst I have is a strong desire. And, that, as noted above re: the restless desire to graze is usually after a particularly stressful period. It's now something I can resist with the kind of techniques you mentioned.

I went to MDs and it was determined that I am gluten-intolerant, so no gluten may not work for all--but, I didn't have a clue that I had a gluten problem. I cut out gluten by accident! And then thought a miracle had happened.

Again, thanks for the great post. The need to substitute other behaviors rather than healthier food, is something I've been thinking about lately. I'm going to try your suggestions.


Bring Pretty Back June 11, 2010 at 6:50 PM  

I need all the help I can get with cravings!
BIG downfall for me!

HealthyLoserGal June 16, 2010 at 10:40 AM  

Deb, thanks very much for telling your story with the gluten intolerance. Very interesting info! :)