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Here's how to take control of your cravings, so they don't end up controlling you.

It’s difficult to ignore an overpowering desire for salt and vinegar chips, chocolate fudge ice cream or a spicy curry. Are cravings simply a lack of willpower? Or is your body trying to tell you something?

1. End emo eating

Are you turning to food as a way to soothe anger, stress, boredom, sadness, or loneliness? Cravings are vicious – not only do they cause anger, shame, and guilt, but these feelings trigger cravings all over again. Banish emotional eating with a food diary. Note what, when and how much you eat, and most importantly, how you feel when you eat. Over time, you may see patterns emerge that reveal the true connection between your mood and food.

2. Pick protein

Fluctuating blood sugar levels weaken your resistance to sweets. Trouble is, once you’ve eaten them, blood sugar levels crash, causing cravings for even more refined carbohydrates to normalise blood sugar levels, which is the body’s quick fix solution to ensure an adequate energy supply. Put protein on your plate at every meal to help stabilise your blood sugar, and opt for a healthy protein shake to power up your day. Mix one scoop of whey or pea protein in 200ml of milk or a milk alternative. Add seasonal fruit and small amounts of raw agave and coconut oil.

3. Lose it – for life

Diets can help jump-start weight loss, but a strict diet is rarely a long term solution. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine provides clues as to why many dieters regain weight, confirming calorie restriction can lead to significant diet-induced hormone changes. The study involved 50 overweight people with an average weight of 95kg, who initially lost around 13kg. However, the hormones that influenced their appetite also changed in a way that actually increased hunger and cravings. Further, these changes lasted for at least one year, meaning they all regained weight.

4. Chill, already

Too much stress causes your body to pump out large amounts of cortisol, the chief stress hormone that helps your body deal with any physical or psychological threat. However, too much cortisol triggers cravings for high fat, high sugar foods. Cortisol also tells your body where fat gets deposited, with raised cortisol being strongly associated with 'apple shaped' weight gain or belly fat. It is almost impossible to battle cravings when you are under tremendous stress, as the cortisol response is fighting you. Try yoga or meditation to regain a sense of calm.

5. Play a brain game

An Appetite study suggests mental imagery may be a key element. When people crave a favourite food, they see vivid images of it; in fact, how clearly they imagine that food’s look and smell determines the intensity of the craving. Cognitive behaviour techniques like hypnotherapy or emotional freedom technique (EFT) can help.

6. Catch some zzzzs

Sleep debt can throw your appetite control systems into turmoil, says an Appetite study. Improve sleep quality by eliminating major sources of caffeine from your diet: tea, coffee, energy drinks, and soft drinks. Aim for 7-8 hours of restorative sleep every night.

7. Special delivery

Many pregnant women find that they are tempted by foods they wouldn’t normally eat, and find it’s often easier to just give in – especially if they literally can’t keep anything else down. However, some cravings signal your body's need for specific nutrients for the baby’s growth and development. For example, craving ice can mean low iron stores, while a longing for chocolate could indicate low magnesium and B vitamin levels. A comprehensive pregnancy multivitamin mineral formula can help top up important nutrients.

8. Listen to your body

If you crave ... sugar, you may have a brain chemistry imbalance. Serotonin - the ‘feel good’ mood-regulating chemical - has a commanding effect on emotional wellbeing and appetite, and low levels can result in cravings for sugary foods, even uncontrollable food binges. It is naturally made from the amino acid tryptophan, which very few foods contain a lot of, so it can easily become depleted. Good sources are dark chocolate, oats, bananas, dates, organic milk, cottage cheese, fish, and turkey.

If you crave ... salt, you may have adrenal fatigue. Aldosterone is normally produced by the adrenal glands and is responsible for regulating sodium levels. When the adrenals are run down, they don’t produce enough aldosterone, so instead of being retained properly, sodium is quickly excreted by the body. This upsets the body’s critical salt:water balance, and in an attempt to replenish what was lost, the body craves salty foods. B vitamins, particularly pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) may assist long term adrenal recovery.

If you crave ... high-calorie foods, you may have elevated levels of ghrelin. This ‘hunger hormone’ drives appetite and stimulates the brain’s reward centre. Ghrelin is mainly produced in the stomach, and is part of a complex system that evolved to help the body deal with periods of famine. Coupled with our fast food culture, it can set you up for very powerful cravings. Reset your appetite cues by taking time to eat foods that are enjoyable and nourishing. Mindful eating makes you aware of physical hunger and satiety when you have eaten enough.

Louise O'Connor is a leading Australian naturopath who is a regular feature writer for Nature & Health. Louise writes and educates on natural weight loss Visit her at: www.natural-weightloss-programs.com.