Food cravings are the number one obstacle to losing weight, in my opinion. Why? Because no matter how closely you stick to your diet, no matter how consistently you exercise, eating too many "treats" simply pushes your calorie total too high.
Remember, there is one rule to lose weight: Burn more calories than you consume.
To lose weight the right way (slowly and steadily), you need to lock your body into a mild "caloric deficit". That means each day your use more calories than you eat or drink.
And you need to keep it in that state for awhile!
To lose just one pound of fat, you have to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume. Drop your calories too quickly, and your body will rebel.
It will think you're starving. Your metabolism will slow down, making it harder to burn off the weight.
BUT - maintain a small daily caloric deficit of 500 calories or less, and the fat will melt off over time. If you consume 500 calories per day fewer than your body burns, you'll lose a pound every week (7 days x 500 calories = 3,500 calories/week).
Out-of-control food cravings can mess up your plans completely.
Gobble down just two Twinkies, and you've added 300 calories to your daily calorie total. Or a couple of chocolate-frosted donuts (270 calories each), and you've ruined the day. That 500 calories deficit you were shooting for just evaporated!
So it's very important for you to get a handle on your food cravings. For various reasons, some of them psychological, this can be super-hard to do.
Cravings usually hit hard and fast, out of nowhere. Lying in bed at night, you suddenly remember that Snickers ice cream bar stashed in the freezer. You gets this hollow feeling instantly in the pit of your stomach, and your mouth starts to water.
What do you do? You run to the kitchen and demolish that treat in seconds flat. Of course, who wouldn't?
While you're eating the treat, it's sweet bliss. But shortly after, the guilt hits you. You followed your diet perfectly all day, then - whammo - at the final hour you top it off with hundreds of empty calories (180 calories for the small ice cream Snickers bar, 280 calories for a large bar).
Even the "Mini's" add up, at 90 calories a pop.
If you're serious about losing weight, you need to take drastic measures. You love your daily treats, but really what's more important?
Are those snacks worth those aches and pains caused by the extra pounds you are carrying around? Are they worth a shorter life span, or increased risk of diabetes and heart problems? Are they worth low self-esteem?
I say they are not. I say we need to learn how to have treats occasionally, not every day (or multiple times a day).
It's true that rich, sweet foods and other types of calorie-filled snacks make you feel good while you eat them. But you pay a heavy price for that temporary high.
Here are several habits that have helped me beat my own food cravings:
Get the Junk Food Out of Your House. Easy access to junk food makes it hard to resist late-night snacking. Go with the engineering solution: throw away all the junk food in your house. And don't buy any more of it. This may sound like blasphemy, but I am completely serious!
Don't Grocery Shop When Hungry. You're heard this one before. If you're hungry when you go to the grocery store, every snack on the shelves will call your name. It's much harder to resist the temptation when your stomach is growling.
Stock Your Pantry with Healthy Snacks. The snacks I have in my pantry may not sound like treats to you. But you can train yourself to crave edemame, wasabi peas, peanuts, and other healthy, low-calorie treats.
Eat Smaller Meals, More Often. When we're hungry, everything looks good. Eat five small meals a day to fend off that "starving" feeling we get between mealtimes. This also keeps your blood sugar more even throughout the day, by avoiding the huge-meal spikes that encourage fat storage.
Have a Cheat Day. One day a week, eat whatever you want. Be strict the other six days. A cheat day proves to your body that you're not starving, that you've not given up your usual treats entirely. You'll actually appreciate those treats more by eating them more rarely. You probably won't eat 10,000 calories that day, either. You won't want to have wasted all the good choices you made during the week.
But what to do if you're in the grip of an intense craving right now? Could be for sweets or salty foods or whatever junk food you usually turn to. Here are a few unusual but effective tricks you can try to beat that craving:
Gargle with Listerine. The taste of strong mouth wash sometimes stops a craving in its tracks.
Brush Your Teeth. Same idea here. Who wants to eat pretzels on top of that clean, minty-fresh feeling?
Chew Sugar-Free Gum. Can't get to the mouthwash or toothpaste? Then pop a piece of sugar-free gum. The chewing action may fool your stomach just long enough for the craving to pass.
Tap Away the Cravings. This one is weird, but it works for some people. Watch Paul McKenna's explanation of how to do it.
All these tricks give you one extra advantage. They distract you long enough for the craving to fade.
They buy time to let the intense, sudden feeling of hunger pass.
Food cravings hit hard and fast. That's how they get you.
If you can introduce a little delay, then you have a fighting chance to beat the craving and avoid ruining the hard effort you've been making to stick to your diet and exercise plan.
Become the master of your cravings. I know you can do it!
Once you show those mean, ugly food cravings who's boss, you'll discover they grow weaker over the days and months. Which, of course, is really just you growing stronger.
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