The holiday season is just around the corner – the time of year when we find ourselves surrounded by sweet treats and comfort foods. It becomes too easy to over-indulge, and you find yourself craving that extra slice of turkey or pumpkin pie or reaching for a few more holiday cookies. 

It happens to the best of us this time of year. To avoid making the same New Year’s resolution about getting back to the gym and shedding that extra winter weight, here are some strategies to help control holiday cravings this season. 

Hunger versus Craving 

Before diving too deep, it’s important to understand the difference between real hunger and a craving. Below are some common ways to identify whether you’re really hungry or just experiencing a craving.

Hunger:

  • Occurs several hours after a meal
  • Can bring about a headache, stomach grumbles, and a feeling of general fatigue
  • Isn’t just for a specific type of food, and typically goes away after eating a healthy snack or meal 

A craving:

  • A desire for more food despite having eaten recently
  • A desire for a certain type of food, such as chocolate, a salty snack like potato chips, or a food high in fat
  • It passes with time or is replaced with a new “obsession”
  • A desire for a certain food during a time of stress or when dieting

Bottom line: A craving has more to do with what your mind wants – while hunger has more to do with what your body needs.

Understand your cravings

As you probably know – a craving has little to do with actual hunger. Instead, a food craving is likely caused by biological and psychological factors. The first step to overcome cravings is to understand the cause. Once you identify the cause, it’s easier to manage your craving. 

Here are a few of the most common causes of food cravings. 

Your mood: Chronic stress, anxiety, and low serotonin levels contribute to cravings. For example, stress causes a spike in your cortisol level, and that can lead to a craving for sweet, sugar-packed carbs. A bad or sad mood can also mentally and physically affect cravings. Because sugar consumption or binging on your favorite comfort foods releases serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, memory, and social behavior), your brain begins to crave these treats so it can release this “feel good” chemical again and again.

What you can do: Try testing your stress hormones to determine if your stress levels are too high, or try incorporating a supplement that helps manage stress and sugar cravings by boosting serotonin levels.* If you’re unsure what stress supplement might be best for you, then take our stress quiz. [link to it when it’s up]

You are not getting enough sleep: We get energy from two things – sleep and the food we eat. If you aren’t getting enough of the first one, that is, if you have poor sleep habits or suffer from poor sleep quality, then your body could compel you to eat more as a way to get more energy. 

What you can do: Check the hormones that regulate your sleep cycle to find out if sleep is a factor for your cravings. If it is, then try to get better quality and more consistent sleep. Set a sleep schedule to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. You could also consider using a supplement, such as Thorne’s Melaton-3™, to support a regular sleep schedule.* If you’re not sure what sleep supplement is best for you, then take this quiz.

Nutrient deficiency: One sneaky cause of food cravings could be suboptimal nutrient or electrolyte levels in your body – such as magnesium, chromium, zinc, sodium, omega-3 fatty acids, or B vitamins.  Some of these imbalances can manifest themselves as sugar cravings and others as salt cravings. An iron deficiency can lead to feeling fatigued and can cause you to crave sugary carbs as a quick way to perk up. Low iron is easily detected with a simple blood test.

What you can do: Incorporate foods high in these nutrients into your diet. Or use a highly absorbable multi-mineral supplement, a full-spectrum B-complex for stress, or an electrolyte formula, which, in addition to electrolytes like sodium, also includes B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and chromium. Thorne’s Chromium Picolinate has a highly absorbable form of chromium, which is often lacking in our modern diets. This essential mineral supports healthy blood sugar levels and helps lessen carbohydrate cravings.*

Dehydration: One common cause of food cravings is a lack of water. Because the body interprets hunger and thirst in a similar way, it can be hard to tell the difference. An easy solution is to drink a big glass of water and wait. If the craving goes away, it’s likely you were just dehydrated. 

What you can do: Ensure you drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.

Some general guidelines this holiday season

Now that you have a better idea of what can cause a craving, here are some helpful habits to begin curbing and controlling them. 

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol when you can, because both cause dehydration, leading you to mistake your body’s thirst signals for hunger. Caffeine causes a quick spike of energy, but when that comes crashing down, it’s tempting to reach for a sugary snack to pick yourself back up.
  • Recognize bad habits and temptation. If you know you’re going to be around a lot of holiday desserts and snacks, then have something to distract you the moment you get a craving; it could be doing 10 jumping jacks or drinking a glass of water. Start a new healthy habit to replace a bad one. 
  • Don’t show up starving to a holiday party. Eat a healthy snack before going so you aren’t tempted to stand by the buffet table and graze all evening.
  • Incorporate more proteins and fiber into your diet – both help you feel fuller longer. Swap out snacks and junk food – which are primarily all carbs – and swap in more fruits and veggies in between holiday meals.

Expert Advice 

To keep you up and running at your best this holiday season, here is some extra guidance and advice from the Thorne Medical Team.