Pandemic weight gain is a thing. And a lot of us have gained some dreaded lockdown centimeters. Part of it is due to restricted movement and change in habits. But a lot of it can be attributed to increased eating and snacking due to cravings.

But how do we differentiate between cravings and actual hunger?

Have you noticed that when food temptations strike, it often has more to do with your mood than when you last ate? And you may crave food to relax, relieve anxiety or boredom, soothe anger, or cope with loneliness or sadness.

When people are stressed or depressed, for whatever reason, they gravitate toward foods that are associated with better times and happier sensations. In many ways cravings are based on custom and learned behavior from childhood… How many of us remember receiving a sweet treat to soothe a hurt feeling or as a reward for good behavior?

A better understanding of these potential food triggers will help you stay on track when you try to lead a healthier lifestyle.

The first step to managing your cravings is being able to identify when you’re truly hungry. Learn how to recognize the difference between a craving and hunger.

Physiological or ‘Real’ hunger:
-Usually occurs when you haven’t eaten for a few hours or more
-The hunger generally comes on slowly
-Results in a rumbling stomach, headache or feeling of weakness
-Doesn’t pass with time
-Isn’t just for one specific food
-Can be satisfied by a healthy snack or meal
-These feelings disappear after eating and do not recur until several hours later.

Craving:
-A craving, on the other hand, pushes you to eat even when your body doesn’t need more fuel.
-If you are hungry within one or two hours after eating a good meal, you’re probably experiencing a craving.
-A craving is also often directed to a specific food, taste or texture… Ie ice cream or crisps or chocolate.
-A craving results in more radical behavior…. You feel you have to have it
-Cravings are usually for comfort foods, such as chocolate, sweets and fatty foods, very rarely for healthy food.
-Cravings often coincide with negative feelings ie boredom, loneliness, frustration
– Giving in to a craving makes you feel good at first, but then guilty
-Cravings Increase during a woman’s pregnancy and menstrual cycle
-Cravings may be stronger when you’re dieting, especially if you’re giving up your favorite treats.
-Cravings can occur even after you’ve recently eaten
-Cravings pass with time.

A report in the journal Appetite has stated that cravings for foods are extremely common, with 97 percent of women and 68 percent of men reporting episodes of food cravings.

How can you Curb cravings?
-Let it Pass
Many researchers believe that the life of a craving is about 20 minutes, meaning that if you can wait it out, it will pass. However, many times the craving passes only temporarily.
-Find a distraction
-Check your hunger level: If it’s at least four hours since you last ate, you’re probably experiencing hunger. If it’s less time, you’re probably having an emotionally based craving.. Knowing it is not true hunger may help steer you away from that snack.
-Find the trigger. Figure out why you’re craving… are you reaching for food because you’re feeling bored, lonely, thirsty or anxious?
-Target the need. For instance, if you’re bored, come up with something to stimulate you that doesn’t involve eating.
-Drink a glass of water to make sure you’re not just thirsty. Often times we mistake thirst for hunger.
-Keep it simple. Too much variety on your plate leads to you eating more. The most important reason people stop eating is because they become tired of the food, not because they are full. In other words, if you’re enjoying the taste, you’ll keep on eating even if you’re full. So, the more options and variety there are in front of you, the more you will eat.
-Give it time. If you usually crave seconds or a sweet treat after dinner, wait 15-20 minutes before you give in. It does really take time for the message that you’ve eaten to get to your brain.
-Get enough sleep.. Sleep deprivation can also trigger cravings.

If all else fails, submit to the craving but keep it ‘healthy’ and under control. This will help you overcome the craving and get it out of your system. A good example is having a baked apple with Cinnamon to soothe a sweet craving.

And don’t fall for these lies we tell ourselves….
-my body needs it
So sometimes we tell ourselves we absolutely had to indulge a craving, because our body knows when we’re nutrient deficient and we crave those nutrients we need. This is false. While there is some debate over what causes cravings, most experts agree they aren’t a biological necessity. Food cravings for most people are not related to a nutritional deficiency.
-a diet pill will help.
A Pill would stop my cravings? No, this is a lie that made many diet pill manufacturers wealthy. If we could take a pill that made us feel full, we would all lose weight and keep it off.

But there is hope. You can beat cravings….
If you have a craving, distract yourself. Drink a glass of water. Write in a journal, call a friend, listen to music, take a walk, read or draw. If a negative feeling is causing your craving, use positive self-talk, exercise or a fun activity to improve your mood. Take the time, figure out your triggers, and you are one step closer to mastering your cravings.