Looking into Lent, and coping with the cravings

naomi eating on stairs

 

Lead us not into temptation, just tell us where it is. We’ll find it  – Sam Levenson, comedian

 

Cravings, what causes them?

Cravings, we (almost) all have them. Research indicates 100% of women and almost 70% of men experience cravings at some point (2), though I am not sure I believe the remaining 30% of men. Women tend to crave sweet foods, whilst men tend to save savoury alternatives. The things craved foods have in common is that they are pretty much always high in calories, sugar and/or fat. Unfortunately most people do not crave broccoli and carrots.

The exact mechanisms of why we crave certain foods are still largely unknown but it is suggested that it could either be our gut microbiome ordering pizza (1) or it is the body’s response to an hypercaloric environment which we are not evolutionary equipped for (4).

Either way, cravings are real and we tend to experience them more frequently when we restrict ourselves (2), such as when we’re on a diet or during Lent. For anyone who’s unsure of what Lent is (myself included), this is the 6 weeks leading up to Easter. Traditionally this is a time at which many people, religious or not, give up an indulgence to reconnect with their faith or just because they can.

Here’s our top tips to help you through:

  • Eat a varied diet – One of the reasons we crave food is boredom. Did you ever wonder why there’s always room for dessert? Not because you’re hungry or because you have room left in your stomach but because your taste for savoury foods has been satisfied and for sweet has not. The reason people experience more cravings on a diet is not necessarily the lack of calories or nutrients even. Hunger and nutrient status (being in a calorie deficit or surplus) and cravings tend to be surprisingly unrelated (2). People on a diet tend to eat the same diet foods over and over again, which reduces variety and increases food monotony, i.e. they get bored. By eating a varied diet with lots of different flavours, especially flavours that are like the ones you crave, you can reduce cravings. For example if you give up chocolate for Lent, eat foods that resemble the taste such as dried fruits and replace your after dinner chocolate with 2 dates.
  • Avoid excessive hunger and plan ahead. Cravings have little to do with hunger but whether you give in to them or not, has everything to do with mental fatigue. Therefore, it can also be useful to avoid excessive hunger since you make less rational decisions when you are hungry. Decision fatigue is something we have all experienced after a long day at work, when you then have to stop at the supermarket and choose what to buy/prepare it can be easy to give in to the easiest option, or desire the very foods you were meant to be abstaining from. Make it easy for yourself by planning your meals in advance. If you want to make your life super easy, we can do the shopping, prepping and cooking for you, check out our packages here.
  • Remove craved foods from your environment – Unconsciously your brain knows there’s crisps in your cupboard. You may not realise this but if it’s in your cupboard you are more likely to crave it simply because it’s there. If you are giving up crisps for Lent you may want to ensure these are all out of the house by Ash Wednesday.
  • Distract yourself – By distracting yourself the craving will subdue. Life is about more than having that beer you normally get when you go and watch the rugby with your friends. You’ve committed to no alcohol for 6 weeks so focus on a good catch up with your mates and follow the game without interruptions with trips to the bar. There’s other upsides as well because watching rugby with your friends has never been this cheap and the morning after you’re even feeling fresh for a change.

Finally I’d like to point out that Lent does not last forever. Remind yourself of why you wanted to give up this indulgence for a while, perhaps you wanted to test your willpower, or maybe you wanted to shred before your Easter holiday. Understand that by committing to abstaining from a certain food for a while, you are purposely making this food the “forbidden fruit” but from experience I can tell you that this effect will wear off. Once you realise life is possible without chocolate you will crave it less and before you know it you are stuffing your face with Easter eggs again.

 


Robin Swinkels
FFF Nutritionist


References

  1. Anderson, S.C., Cryan, J.F. and Dinan, T. (2017). The Psychobiotic Revolution: mood, food and the new science of the gut-brain connection. Washington: National Geographic Society.
  2. Pelchat M.L., Johnson, A., Chan, R., Valdez, J., and Ragland, J.D. (2004). Images of desire: food-craving activation during fMRI, Neuroimage, 23(4):1486-93.
  3. Polivy, J. , Coleman, J. and Herman, C. P. (2005), The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38: 301-309.
  4. Formana, E.M, Hoffmana, K.L., McGratha, K.B., Herberta, J.D., Brandsmab, L.L., Lowea, M.R. (2007). A comparison of acceptance- and control-based strategies for coping with food cravings: An analog study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, (10): 2372-2386.