One of the most common things I hear new clients say in my nutrition coaching office is something to the effect of: “I do really well in the morning, but around 3-4 p.m., my eating goes downhill fast!” Usually, the “going downhill” involves giving into cravings for high-sugar, high-fat junk food. My response to this is almost always similar to the following statement: “You might not be doing so well in the morning, because if you were, you wouldn’t be battling (and losing to) cravings in the afternoon or evening.” Food cravings are viewed as a huge barrier standing in-between individuals and their weight management goals. However, if you address your cravings before they occur instead of after, you will find that they aren’t such a big deal after all.
The ability to stop cravings before they find a chance to surface and wreak havoc on your dietary intake is generated by controlled blood sugar and hunger levels. This is hard to accomplish if your protein and fiber intake are not adequate and/or timed correctly. Consequently, if you struggle with cravings, I suggest making a strong commitment to consuming adequate amounts of both nutrients every single day. Trust me, it will be worth the effort, I have yet to see this not serve to help control cravings.
So how much protein should you be consuming? As a general rule of thumb, multiply your weight in kilograms (weight in pounds/2.2) by 0.8 to find your minimum protein requirement, and then multiply that by 1.5 to find the top of your recommended range. For example, an individual weighing 150-pounds has a target protein range of about 54-100 grams per day. If you are very active, male, struggling with sugar cravings, and/or older than the age of 45, I suggest targeting the higher end of the range. Again, this is just a general recommendation, or a good place to start. Your protein needs may be higher if you are extremely active, sensitive to carbohydrates, older than 60, or battling certain health conditions. After setting your protein target, do your best to distribute your protein intake as evenly throughout the day as possible. Doing so allows protein digestion to slow down carbohydrate digestion which leaves the belly fuller for longer and helps to moderate blood sugar levels. Not to mention, hormones that trigger carbohydrate cravings, like neuropeptide Y, will not be released as readily, and your ability to use dietary protein for muscle-building will be maximized.
While an adequate protein intake can help you control cravings, adequate protein AND fiber intake will help you end cravings! Like protein, fiber ensures that carbohydrates aren’t rocketed through the digestive system, and helps your “I am full” signals stay released longer. Adults should consume 25 grams of fiber per day, but, unfortunately, most Americans are far below that target. Just remember, that eating enough whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits will allow you to hit the target easily.
Bottom line: if you struggle with cravings, be proactive by figuring out how to optimize your protein and fiber intake. I will point you in the right direction by challenging you to consume between 20-30 grams of protein, and a minimum of 8 grams of dietary fiber for breakfast every single day. The average “good” breakfast in our society provides nowhere near these figures, so you will have to do a little planning ahead and thinking about it. However, just imagine 3-4 p.m. passing by and you wondering why the thought of indulging or ravenously raiding the pantry didn’t even cross your mind.