According to a few theories, we are born with certain cravings, which explains why that candy bar is so irresistible in comparison to a bowl of greens for most. However this desire for foods is seemingly instinctive, there is a way to essentially re-wire the way you view healthy items.
For many of us, we have been taught from a young age to associate unhealthy foods with happiness and celebration – cake on birthdays, heaping plates on Thanksgiving, candy as a reward for good behavior from teachers, etc. It’s no wonder we typically reach for pints of ice cream when we’re sad; we associate the sweet taste with feelings of joy and try to recreate the euphoria by over-indulging. To re-wire ourselves, we essentially have to follow this same principle, but reverse it so that the food of interest is one of higher nutritional value. To do so, dieting must be shed in a different light.
Dieters see staying on-track as an act of willpower, glamorizing the likes of junk food. Simply cutting food that’s poor for your health out of your diet will not create healthy habits, though – you must create the proper mental associations to ensure prolonged health maintenance. Eating your vegetables is one thing, but enjoying them is another.
Research shows that when you consume certain foods regularly you begin to develop cravings for them. A great example is coffee – not many people enjoy it in their childhood, but as they grow older and start introducing it more frequently, they grow accustomed and sometimes dependent on it. Similarly, one study found that in the US, where chocolate comparatively more popular, women craved the sweet treat more readily than women in Spain. This suggests that our tastes are influenced by our cultures and environments. Think about it: If you hadn’t ever been introduced to chocolate, you couldn’t possibly crave it, right? By surrounding ourselves with certain foods, our brains make specific associations based on our life events and attitudes.
By combating our cravings with healthier “swaps,” we can slowly change our brain’s wiring to crave different goods. If we continue to reward ourselves with indulgences and look forward to “cheat days,” it’s largely impossible to rid of the positive associations we have with healthy foods. To stop craving something, we must not only stop eating it, but replace it with something better as to start craving the “swap” instead.
Here’s a few guidelines to help you going on the “healthy” crave train:
1. Limit Access to Unhealthy Foods
If you can’t eat it, eventually your body will realize that craving it will only lead to suffering and divert its attention to something else. By limiting access, you’re de-familiarizing yourself with whatever it is that you’re struggling with craving.
2. Swap ‘Til You Drop
Feeling a craving coming on? Pick a healthy food and make that your go-to. Eventually, your mind will associate the taste of the healthier food with your craving, and you’ll find yourself getting excited to eat healthy.
3. Implement the ‘Sandwich’ Method
If you must, eat your craved indulgence in the middle of a meal, never before or after. If you succumb to your cravings at the beginning of a meal, you will mentally associate it with the feeling of fullness and satisfaction. If you eat it after a meal, you’ll find yourself reminiscing. By eating it in the middle, you’re satisfying your craving, but not allowing yourself to have as positive of a mental association as a nutritious meal.