Managing food cravings while balancing weight loss and training is a challenge. But there are several things that you can do to help keep food in the right perspective. These tips for identifying triggers and managing cravings can help you reach your goals.
For more information on weight loss check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 270.
The first step in managing food cravings is to identify what actually triggers your hunger. This is easier said than done. Not only are your triggers highly individual, but they can be incredibly complicated. Food drives physical and emotional responses, and because food exists in a social context as well, it can be quite challenging to manage.
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Sometimes the thing that triggers hunger or cravings can be simple like you haven’t eaten today. But at other times, it can be because you are bored. When examining what causes your cravings, try to consider the entire picture of your life, including your emotional and physical states. Don’t forget about existing habits either. Do you crave comfort food when you are stressed? Did you eat enough on your ride? Do you make poor food choices when you are out with friends? Questions like these can help you develop a picture of your triggers and then create a strategy to deal with them.
Think About the Why
To create healthy habits, you have to be mindful of what they are to begin with. Mindfulness is the practice of consciously thinking about your choices. Our brains usually seek to find the most efficient way to do things, which is why we can complete mindless tasks. Thinking about why we want something helps to activate the prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the brain that controls executive functions like planning, goal execution, and consequences.
Being mindful can be as simple as asking yourself, “why do I want this?” But being aware is only part of the equation because we have a deeply emotional relationship with food. It’s helpful to reframe our ideas of food, from something bad to something more positive, to help avoid the association of guilt and shame. Instead, try to see food as a celebration of what is good for you—fueling your body.
Being mindful of food choices helps us see food in relation to our goals. This changes our perspective and pushes our goals to the forefront. Make your mindfulness personal and attach your ultimate purpose. When I was facing cravings, I would ask myself, “Will this help me get faster?”
Practical Tips for Cravings
There are plenty of ways to manage hunger cravings, and what works for you may not work for someone else. But these general tips can be a good starting point because they focus on avoiding the triggers that set off cravings.
Healthy Food Options
Eating healthier is beneficial for many reasons, but low-calorie, nutrient-dense food might be the best way to avoid cravings altogether. Because you can eat a large volume without a ton of calories, filling up on vegetables like cucumbers or carrots will help you feel full enough to get through a moment of craving. Additionally, eating healthier snacks can help you avoid the spike of guilt associated with certain foods.
Fuel Your Workouts
Training takes a massive toll on your body, and in response, your body demands fuel. Balancing a calorie deficit and a training plan is a challenge. If your goal is to lose weight, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to restrict calories on the bike, but the results will be less than optimal. Not only will your workout suffer, but the rest of the day will too. Instead, try to fuel your workout to avoid those post-ride cravings. A handy tip is to look at the workout description to see how many kJs you can expect to expend and plan your nutrition accordingly.
Planning meals and snacks ahead of time can not only be a time-saver, but it can also help you when the cravings hit. Unfortunately, sometimes the most convenient food isn’t the healthiest option. But with a bit of forethought, you can plan ahead to ensure you’ve got a good choice on hand. You can go a step further and prepare meals beforehand. This can help you when you’re tired, hungry, and just want an easy pick at the end of the day.
Food journals can be cumbersome, but for many, there are helpful. Aside from tracking what you are eating, they can also serve as a form of accountability. During my weight loss journey, I used a journal and it helped in being mindful of my food choices and food quantity. Not only did it reveal poor food choices, but it also showed me when I wasn’t eating enough. If you are trying to establish new habits, a food journal or app can be a good choice.
As you seek to lose weight and get fitter, remember that slow and steady progress is sustainable. Small progress still moves you forward towards your goal. Try to view the larger picture and make small changes in your lifestyle.
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