The holidays usually mean get-togethers, gift exchanges, and (all too frequently) overeating. Through November and December (and sometimes into) January, seasonal menus include carb-heavy comfort food favorites like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and desserts. There are always a few vegetables, but they’re often baked into casseroles or candied and sweet.
Several factors can make cravings hard to manage, but there are plenty of ways to keep them at bay while still enjoying your favorite holiday treats.
Where Do Cravings Start?
Cravings can originate from various physical and mental sources, like hormonal imbalances, chronic stress, lack of nutrients or physical activity, and more. But holiday cravings seem to stem from something deeper ‒ something cerebral. Often the sights, smells, and flavors of the season are tied to memories from childhood. This can make it hard to separate emotions from the physical need for food.
Do you ever find yourself consuming far more food around the holidays? Excess simple carbohydrates produce an overload of glucose that spikes blood sugar, leaving us wanting more, so don’t be too hard on yourself for overeating this time of year! Instead, get to the root of your cravings and pick up some tools to create healthier eating habits that can help stop cravings in their tracks.
Four Tips to Manage Food Cravings
Food is meant to fuel our bodies, but who says we can’t enjoy it, too? It’s a balancing act, and sometimes we get carried away, serving ourselves bigger portions than we normally would or eating while distracted by the festivities. The following tips will guide you to find what works for you and makes you feel your best this season.
1. Practice mindful eating.
You can start to practice mindful eating by chewing more and becoming more aware of all your senses as you eat. Did you know that the average person chews only three times before swallowing, even though the recommended number is around 32 times? Of course, the actual number depends on what you’re eating; the goal is to get your food to be completely liquefied before swallowing. Doing so can support digestion as well as help your body better understand when it’s had enough, which can prevent overeating.
Also, take note of the smell and of your surroundings as you eat. Try eating away from the TV and put down your phone; focus on your meal, the five senses, and your chews.
2. Keep track of your snacking and water intake.
One of the best ways to stave off cravings is to have healthy snacks on hand and incorporate six to eight glasses of water throughout the day. Being prepared can go a long way in curbing cravings, as it will require you to check in with yourself to see whether you’re physically hungry or emotionally hungry ‒ if you’re physically hungry, a snack and a glass of water will satisfy you. Spending the evening at a relative’s house, where it may not be easy to grab the water or healthy snacks you’d like? Pack your own.
Any vegetable or fruit, from celery and carrots to apples and bananas, makes a great snack option. Better yet, pair the veggie or fruit with a fat, like hummus or nut butter, to make the snack even more balanced and filling.
3. Invest in a tongue scraper.
Tongue scrapers are an inexpensive and helpful tool for not only bad breath but cravings, too. Dentists and Ayurvedic practitioners praise tongue scrapers because of their ability to rid the mouth of unwanted bacteria and mucus, essentially reviving your taste buds to make your food taste better. There’s even evidence to suggest that they can make you eat less.
“Why not just use a toothbrush?” you may ask. Brushing your tongue with a toothbrush will move the bacteria around without doing as good a cleaning job.
4. Get moving after meals.
Some studies show that getting up after a meal and walking slowly for just a few minutes helps us manage food cravings and weight. In one study, participants who walked for five minutes every hour significantly reduced their food cravings compared to those who did not interrupt their sitting time.
If you and your family sit down to large holiday meals that last for hours, start a new tradition where you lace up your walking shoes and get outside (weather permitting) after the meal!
The Bottom Line
Cravings may have a complex origin, but there are often simple and effective solutions for managing them. Getting to the root of food cravings, if they occur year-round and not just during the holidays, can be done by following the same guidelines listed above.
Whenever you start a new routine, habit, or lifestyle practice, the most important thing is to be gentle with yourself, every step of the way. It’s not easy to break patterns or routines, especially around food. Staying patient and implementing a small healthy habit every day will make notable changes for the long run.
If you find it hard to start these new practices during the holidays, when others might not see your point of view, try talking to a trusted family member or loved one who can support you and hold you accountable. Who knows ‒ it may even spark change in them and others!