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Avoiding Food Cravings
by Amy Carlson, MS, RD, LD

"I had a great week of eating, well, except for the one day that I had cravings the whole day"..."I blew it and just gave into all of my cravings!" Those are the familiar words of weight loss client Stacey Taylor. The average American experiences "cravings" several times/week, many give in to these cravings every single day. Those cravings often lead to overeating and the 300-500 extra calories that keep us from losing those extra pounds.

What do people crave? Far and above anything, women crave chocolate! Women crave sweets but chocolate seems to top the list. Most of the female clients that I meet with, weight loss or not, admit to craving chocolate or other sweets weekly or monthly and often feel guilty when they give into these cravings. Men on the other hand tend to crave salty foods. Chips, salsa, hamburgers are the foods that top the list for men and cravings. Why do people crave certain foods? How can we decrease cravings and how do we make them apart of our healthy eating habits?

The most important thing to remember when it comes to cravings is that they are normal. Many people feel undisciplined and out of control when they crave certain foods. The reality is that we all crave and cravings come from various causes. Many of us do not get enough calories early in the day causing our blood sugar to drop, and putting us into the craving zone late in the day when our emotional reserves are already taxed. At this point our defenses are low and as our hunger takes over we dive for the foods that give us immediate energy and comfort. The American diet is heaving on caffeine, Nutrasweet (or aspartame) and simple sugars, all things that affect our blood sugar and can cause us to crave. Those same diets are low in complex carbohydrates and lean protein. When our diets are out of balance, our cravings tend to increase. When our pantries are full of Oreos, candy and tortillas chips it takes a bulldozer to keep us from eating these foods. How could we resist them when they're only an arm's reach away?

There are definitely things we can do to help decrease our "extra calories" due to over powering cravings. First, simply stock your pantry full of the foods that you know you want to grab for when you are hungry. Plan ahead! Plan a flexible schedule for your meals during the week and plan to have some of your favorite foods for a snack during the week. When we restrict ourselves, we automatically "crave" those foods on our forbidden list. If I told you to not think of the color green you would immediately think of a grassy green field. If I told you that you could not eat, under any circumstance, a bowl of ice cream, you would daydream about one until the taste of Blue Bell was on your lips. Would you tell your friend they could never eat chocolate again? Probably not, but we often place these unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Try eating them in moderation. I imagine you may be sick of hearing the word...moderation. But the reality is very few Americans have grasped the concept and until they do our waistlines will continue to fatten! What about having chocolate chips in the freezer and when you have a craving, help yourself to a few knowing that you can have more tomorrow if you really want them.

And finally, one of the biggest triggers for cravings is stress! Handling your stress, looking for outlets, journaling, exercise, venting to friends can all help to put you less at risk for "out of control" eating and comfort food cravings. Cravings aren't the end of the world and they certainly do not make you an "out of control eater", but they can get out of control and get the best of you when you don't set yourself up for success. Eat balanced, handle your stress and enjoy your chocolate!

Amy B. Carlson, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian and consults clients in the greater Houston area. To contact Amy for an appointment call 713.978.1713 or e-mail her at abcdietitian@houston.rr.com.

View Amy's Bio
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Lat Pulldowns
Pulldowns are a great exercise for the back muscles but avoid pulling the bar behind the head. Pull the bar down in front of the body toward the collar bone and with the bar just below your chin. Pulling the bar behind the head puts undue stress on the shoulders and rotator cuff.
Running
Avoiding Shin Splints
Do you have lower leg pain or shin splints from running? Running on hard surfaces, worn out running shoes and weak calf muscles could be the culprit. Try running on soft trails, buying a new pair of running shoes or adding calf exercises to your weight training routine.
Walking
The Talk Test
A great way to make sure you are staying in your aerobic fat-burning range is the talk test. If you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation with your walking partner you probably need to bring down the intensity to assure yourself that you are burning fat.
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A great way to make sure you are burning fat during cardio sessions is knowing your anaerobic threshold or where your heart rate zone needs to be to burn fat stores. Find a gym or fitness center that offers anaerobic/VO2 testing. Merlino Fitness offers anaerobic threshold testing every month. Check out the link below for more details.
Merlino Fitness Metabolic Testing
Nutrition
Keys to Weight Loss
If you are trying to drop weight make sure you incorporate the following to get you on your way. Drink lots of water, don't skip meals (especially breakfast), do not eat late night meals or snacks after 7 or 8 pm and build as much activity into your everyday life as you can. Michael also recommends joining weight watchers to anyone trying to lose weight and keep it off long term.
Nutritional Supplements
Stay Away From Ephedra!
The weight loss/energy supplement is in the news again. Supplement companies that market this controversial supplement claim it is safe although many have died from this dangerous supplement. Make sure you check the labels of your nutritional supplements as many are laced with ephedra, also known as ephedrine or ma huang (the actual herbal).
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