Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Limiting 'Craved' Foods may Reduce Diet Cravings

Cravings are strange and wondrous things. Common sense (and life experience) tells us that if we give up the things we love cold-turkey, in due time, we're bound to be drawn to them like a magnet, only with greater intensity. It's like the "white polar bear" experiment; if I say to you "don't think about a white polar bear...OK now what are you thinking about?" chances are good that it's a white polar bear. Same thing applies with cheesecake.

If you're thinking about cheesecake but having a crusty sugar-free cookie instead, to "kill" the craving, you'll probably eat 7 cookies and then go buy cheesecake anyways. Darn cravings! The problem is that lots of high-calorie goodies and low-calorie diets don't exactly mesh well together. So what on earth can be done to quell those cravings?

Normally, the most sound advice is to enjoy the foods you really love in moderation or in smaller portions. If they're real diet-busters, at least enjoy most elements of them like their spices, flavours and textures while adding in some healthier substitutions. If you have a taste of what you love every single day, your odds of downing the entire package of (whatever) significantly decreases. The key is to enjoy your food so you don't feel like you're the only one missing out and everyone else gets to have whatever they want.

To add to this, new research has found that by limiting or even eliminating certain foods from one's diet may work even better to quell those cravings once and for all. In the study, 270 men and women were randomly assigned to a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet for two years. The low-carb diet involved eating more foods that were higher in fat and protein. The low-fat diet meant cutting back on calories and fat, with 15% of calories from protein, 30% from fat and 55% from carbohydrate (Interestingly, that range is actually within the healthy range of what is recommended by Health Canada).

Foods that were high in sugar or generally deemed "unhealthy" and high-carb foods like bagels were kept off the low-carb diet. The participants' cravings towards sweets, high-fat foods, carbohydrates and starches and fast-food fats were monitored throughout the process. In addition, the participants were asked about how much they liked certain foods that were eliminated from their diets.

The results were really interesting. It was found that those on the low-carb diet craved carbs and starches much less than the low-fat group. Their preferences for high-carb and high-sugar foods also dropped much more over time than in the low-fat group. They were also less bothered by hunger than their low-fat diet friends. On the flip side, the people in the low-fat group craved high-fat foods much less than than the low-carb group. They also preferred low-carb/high-protein foods much less than the low-carb group.

According to the authors, this study demonstrates that "promoting the restriction of specific types of foods while dieting causes decreased cravings and preferences for the foods that are targeted for restriction," which is the opposite of what most 'dieters' expect.

Ultimately, everyone is different and has their own unique needs, preferences, goals and cravings when trying to get healthy or lose weight and there's no 'best' approach that applies to everyone. Give some healthy approaches a try and see what works best for you! And if you falter momentarily, know that it is completely normal and you are strong enough to get right back up again and get back on track.