- 10 Ways to Stop Cravings
- 1. Don’t ignore your cravings – find healthy alternatives
- 2. Load up on foods that reduce cravings
- 3. Clean out your kitchen
- 4. Add spices and herbs to your diet
- 5. Brush your teeth
- 6. Identify the root cause of your craving
- 7. Stabilize your blood sugar
- 8. Stop giving yourself food rules
- 9. Learn about your food
- Curb your cravings
- 5 ways to control cravings
- How to Curb Cravings as You Detox
- Why do I give into food cravings and overeat?
- How to stop sugar cravings:
- Foods that can help stop cravings:
- 6 other ways to bust sugar cravings:
- How to dodge sugar pushers:
- How to Cope
- 5 Ways to Tame Your Food Cravings to Avoid the Inevitable Weight Gain
10 Ways to Stop Cravings
Everybody has weak moments in their diet when they can practically taste the salty, sweet, crunchy, or fatty foods they crave. Yet these are often the very foods that undermine your efforts to lose weight. After all, when is the last time you complained about craving cauliflower?
Follow these strategies to stop cravings in their tracks.
10 Ways to Stop Cravings
1. Get enough sleep. Loss of sleep increases hunger during the day, which leads to cravings. Getting the right amount of shut-eye could stop cravings.
2. Eat a healthy breakfast. For some people, cravings are part of a cycle of blood sugar highs and lows that can be kicked off almost the moment their feet hit the floor in the morning. A breakfast featuring fiber and protein is more likely to control this cycle. Consider a scrambled egg on whole-wheat bread or a turkey sandwich instead of sugary cereal or a Danish.
3. Fight hunger. “The core is hunger suppression, since hunger amplifies other triggers,” says nutrition researcher Susan B. Roberts, PhD, a senior scientist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
If you often feel hungry on your diet you may want to revisit your diet plan. You might do better eating more frequent, smaller, balanced meals throughout the day or eating more of the foods that will keep you full longer, like whole grains and vegetables.
4. Eat meals at scheduled times. The secret to stopping cravings is to manage hunger and “only eating at set times — no casual eating,” says Roberts.
5. Budget cravings into your diet. “Craved foods can be incorporated into meals if they are used as the 100-calorie treat allowance, but only in the middle of meals, never alone as snacks, when they are too hard to control,” says Roberts, author of The Instinct Diet: Use Your Five Food Instincts to Lose Weight and Keep it Off (Workman Publishing Company, 2008).
6. Make the foods you crave difficult or impossible to get to. No matter how much you love brownies, if you don’t keep any at home or at work, chances are your craving will pass unsatisfied. Instead, make healthy alternatives easy to access in your eating plan and prepare ahead for those times when you’ll need a healthy snack within easy reach, like when you’re on the road.
7. Find healthy alternatives. If you tend to crave sweet treats in the afternoon, having a light yogurt and some fruit on hand could prevent a mad rush to the vending machine for a chocolate bar. “I think the best way to replace a craving is with something similar that has fewer calories and more fiber — you fill up on a similar taste, but the food is digested slowly to reduce craving over time,” advises Roberts.
In a pinch, you could melt a little chocolate over high-fiber cereal and have it with milk — you get the chocolate taste but with more fiber, says Roberts. If you’re craving salty chips, Roberts suggests, “have some with meals — a whole-wheat sandwich and salad, not chips alone — so they are more manageable.”
Related: Maintain a Healthy Weight All Year Long
8. Keep a food journal. This may not totally stop cravings, but it could keep you from acting on them if the thought of writing down the calorie and fat content of a steak is more painful than going without it. A food journal will also help you identify the times of day when your cravings are the strongest.
9. Identify your craving triggers. Emotional eating is a real phenomenon. If you pay attention, you may find that your cravings are worse when you are stressed or depressed. Managing those situations will help stop cravings.
10. Eat a varied diet. Sticking to the tried-and-true may help you count calories, but it could also leave you feeling unfulfilled. People need variety in their diets, so try new dishes or combinations of foods to stop cravings. Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean it can’t be satisfying.
But won’t eating more often mean overeating? Not if you follow Neville’s advice to break up your meals. For instance, have part of your breakfast — a slice of toast with peanut butter, perhaps — and save some yogurt for a mid-morning snack. “Break up lunch the same way to help avoid a mid-afternoon slump,” Neville says.
Even the healthiest (and strongest) among us has fallen victim to a late night Papa John’s binge or a sweet tooth that seems to be only be satisfied by chocolate cake or double fudge ice cream. Cravings get the best of us every now and then, but what really is a craving? The difference between cravings and just plain hunger is that a craving does not come from our body’s desire for energy and nourishment – it is strictly an intense mental desire for a specific food or taste. It might be an emotional craving (i.e., your mind is wired to crave certain foods when feeling certain emotions like boredom, sadness, or anxiety), or an actual addiction (the most common culprit: sugar).
Cravings are problematic because they actually can be bad for our health – food cravings have been shown to bring on binge-eating episodes, which can lead to obesity and eating disorders. They also cause us to reach for the foods we know are not good for us instead of more nutritious options. But for most of us, indulging in a “craving” is not only bad for our physical health, but for our mental health as well, by bringing feelings of guilt, shame, or lack of control.
But food – most importantly cravings – should not dictate our life, or dictate our emotions. Instead of trying to turn off cravings to no avail (we’ve all felt the shame of eating that second office donut we “weren’t supposed to eat…” or the attempt to resist when you really want some french fries), here are the hacks to actually get rid of those cravings, shame, and guilt once and for all.
1. Don’t ignore your cravings – find healthy alternatives
If you have a sweet tooth, grab a square of dark chocolate (75% or more cacao) after dinner. If you’re craving something salty and fried like french fries, DIY sweet potato fries by tossing sweet potato slivers with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baking them in the oven. If heavy carbs are your medicine of choice, score a frozen cauliflower crust from Trader Joe’s to top with tomato sauce and organic cheese. Craving carbonara? Opt for vegetable-based pasta alternatives like chickpea pasta, or my personal favorite, hearts of palm pasta (low-cal, low-carb, high fiber, and tastes like the regular kind to me!).
Whatever you’re craving, get in the kitchen and get creative with a healthy alternative made out of natural, plant-based foods. It might not taste as good as the real thing, but after a while, your taste buds adjust and your body will start to crave the healthier alternative instead… trust.
Source: Brooke Lark | Unsplash
2. Load up on foods that reduce cravings
Instead of worrying about just what to do when you have a craving, focus also on how to prevent them. Give your body the proper nutrients it needs, and it’s less likely to crave (i.e. a few cups of leafy greens a day, organic produce, healthy fats, plant-based fiber, and lean proteins). Focus on eating more of the good stuff, instead of focusing on less of the bad, and you’ll immediately have less cravings. Foods high in fiber (like chia seeds or beans) can keep you fuller for longer, making your blood sugar less likely to drop and cause cravings (more on that below!).
3. Clean out your kitchen
I know you have that just-in-case sugar stash or maybe even a “junk shelf” for when you’re having people over. But let’s be honest with ourselves – do you reach for your sugar stash more often than “just in case” or sometimes stuff a hand into the Doritos bag when you’re at home alone on a random Tuesday night? I don’t blame you – having these foods around keeps up the cravings in our brain because whenever we see a food and tell ourselves we can’t have it, it keeps up the craving cycle. Donate anything that’s too processed or high in artificial ingredients to soup kitchens or food banks – out of sight, out of mind.
But don’t leave your kitchen empty – instead, stock up on a wide range of better snacking options, like celery, almond butter, dark chocolate squares, organic popcorn (no salt added!), nuts, etc. Let yourself eat when your body wants to eat, but choosing the healthier, more natural options will help you decipher between an emotional craving and an actual need for nourishment.
4. Add spices and herbs to your diet
Healthy eating should not taste bland. If it is, you’re not eating the right foods, or preparing them the right way. Reduce cravings by satisfying your taste buds with flavors they actually enjoy. Add superfood cinnamon to your coffee for a little more flavor if you’re trying to get off your double mocha frappuccino habit, or sprinkle it over frozen yogurt for an ice cream alternative that tastes a little more decadent than your average greek yogurt.
Cloves, ginseng, and fenugreek are sweet spices that can even trick your mind into thinking you’re having sugar, and you’ll be surprised how some curry spices, cayenne pepper, and a little bit of cilantro satisfy your craving for Mexican or Thai food. Make your healthy food delicious and you won’t feel like you’re missing out. Plus, you’ll be getting extra nutrients and anti-inflammatory benefits — what’s not to love!?
Source: Vinicius Amano | Unsplash
5. Brush your teeth
Ever had those post-meal cravings for something sweet that a piece of dark chocolate can’t fix, late-night eating binges, or mid-day snack attacks when you’re not even hungry? After you’re done with a meal (in other words, your body is perfectly nourished and you’re neither hungry nor over-stuffed), try brushing your teeth. The act will train your brain that eating time is over, plus the minty toothpaste taste will ruin any taste afterwards, at least for a little while. If you can’t stop yourself from reaching for the snacks when you’re not even hungry, pick up a toothbrush and go to town. Bonus: your dentist will be so pleased.
6. Identify the root cause of your craving
While a general sweet tooth might be the case of a sugar addiction, and daily food cravings are out of habit, random cravings here and there can tell us a lot about our health and what our bodies are trying to tell us. For example, salty cravings can be a sign of dehydration, or a sweet craving can explain a hormone imbalance or change (aka why you need chocolate when you’re PMSing). Research what your specific craving means, and then give your body what it actually needs to fix the craving altogether.
7. Stabilize your blood sugar
Oftentimes, when our body is lacking energy, (consciously or subconsciously) it tells us to reach for quick fixes to stabilize blood sugar. The quickest fix is obviously sugar, which hits the body quickly and then causes a crash after a couple hours (causing more sugar cravings in order to bring blood sugar back up).
If you’re a healthy person without diabetes or another chronic blood sugar issue, make sure you’re getting enough protein and healthy fats at every meal, and keep healthy snacks on hand at all times. You should not be waiting to eat until you’re starving — this is when blood sugar is low and your body tells your mind to reach for the quickest fix. Instead, have a few nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or a handful of baby carrots an hour or so before you’re hungry enough for your next meal to prevent low blood sugar. Also make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep a night and limiting caffeine intake (two things that majorly mess with blood sugar levels).
Source: Erol Ahmed | Unsplash
8. Stop giving yourself food rules
When you tell yourself, “I can’t have that” or “I didn’t workout today so I don’t deserve that slice of pizza,” you are not only damaging your relationship with food, but you’re putting those “bad-for-you” foods on a pedestal, turning them into something you lust after, which causes emotional cravings. Stop labeling foods as good and bad. Stop telling yourself that a greasy meal or high-sugar dessert is something to be “earned.” Instead, eat intuitively — focus on how your body feels after everything you eat, consume mindfully (and slowly) so that you can tell when you’re full and be aware of what you’re consuming is doing to your body. Which brings me to…
9. Learn about your food
OK so I’ll admit it — all my knowledge on the inflammation caused by sugar virtually goes out the window as soon as a really delicious chocolate cake is in front of me. But I’ll be honest – the more I learned about the benefits of healthy foods, the more I consciously want to fill my plate with the good stuff instead of indulge in something that doesn’t give my body much nutrients.
Instead of just knowing what foods are healthy (don’t we all know to eat our veggies by now?), know the specific nutrients in foods that are good for you, like how papaya helps digestion or broccoli makes your skin glow. I love the book Eat Pretty by Jolene Hart because it not only walks you through seasonal produce and how to cook with it, but also gives you the specifics of what foods actually do for your body, and the nutrients they have in them to keep us healthy, energized, and yes, beautiful. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it’s also the secret to curbing your cravings.
Curb your cravings
5 ways to control cravings
When a craving for unhealthy foods hits, it can be almost impossible to resist. It may seem that your body “needs” this food and won’t let you rest until you satisfy your craving. This strong desire to overeat fat, sugar, or salt is called “conditioned hypereating.”
Learn to ride out your urge to splurge by following these suggestions:
Do an errand, talk to a friend, or work on a project that requires your full attention. The craving period will pass more easily if you don’t fixate on it.
Move your mouth.
Chomp on healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, an apple, or a piece of sugar-free gum. Sometimes we just have the urge to chew, and you can fill your mouth without loading up on calories.
Think about what you’re really craving.
Is it sweets? Grab some fruit. Something crunchy? Try celery with peanut butter. Want something savory? Hummus and whole-wheat pita bread might do the trick.
Remove yourself from the area of temptation. Get out of the kitchen, move away from the buffet table, leave the bakery. Just seeing tempting foods can prompt the desire to eat something.
Work out to work through it.
Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise. You’ll avoid overeating and burn some calories while you’re at it.
You can still fit in your favorite foods as part of a healthy diet. But learning to curb cravings will help you avoid giving in when a craving hits, so you feel more in control of what you eat and when.
How to Curb Cravings as You Detox
by: E.C. LaMeaux
During a detox diet, you abstain from eating certain foods or all foods for a few days, allowing your body to flush out toxins and additives from the body. Detoxification diets usually include drinking large amounts of liquids to aid your body with the toxin removal. During a cleanse, your body can crave the foods you are denying it, especially if you regularly ingest caffeine, sugar, and refined white flour. You can curb the cravings for these foods while detoxing by retraining your body to want other, healthier foods.
Step 1: Drink fluids
Most detox diets involve taking in large amounts of fluids, and this is key for fighting cravings.
According to Theresa Cheung, author of The Lemon Juice Diet, the best way to respond to cravings while detoxing is to drink more water or herbal teas. A craving for a certain food, cookies, for example, means your body is running low on its supply of refined sugar and processed chemicals because they are being flushed out. Drinking fluids speeds up that process and helps the body break its addiction. No more addiction means no more craving. Fluids also fill you up quickly, curbing hunger pangs and suppressing cravings. Once you drink your serving of fluids, the craving should dissipate within ten minutes.
Step 2: Eat something else
Not every detox diet revolves around fluid fasts. Some have you eat only certain fruits, like lemons, and others allow you vegetable soup. (Whatever you’re eating, make sure it’s organic because traditional produce may be covered in chemical pesticides. Ingesting those chemicals would defeat the purpose of the detox process.)
When you get a craving for something unhealthy, respond by eating something healthy. When you crave a piece of chocolate cake, eat a mango. When you crave some potato chips, eat your homemade vegetable soup. The alternatives still contain some sugar and sodium, but in much healthier levels and much more natural ways. There are tons of detox recipes out there, so scour the Internet!
The body does need sugar and some levels of sodium to survive, but it does not need them in a processed and unnatural fashion. Eating a healthier alternative will train your body to want something good for it, as opposed to wanting something it’s addicted to.
Step 3: Try yoga
According to Prevention magazine, we are more likely to crave certain foods when we are tense or stressed out, and yoga can help relieve that tension. Simple poses like a forward bend can release tension in the lower back and neck, leading to relaxation during your natural body cleanse.
In yoga, you focus on regular, deep breathing and meditation. These practices allow you to still your mind and locate the emotion that is causing you to crave, or pinpoint the circumstance that sets off your cravings. In yoga, we can practice self-control and let go of self-condemnation, which is a common emotion experienced during any weight loss endeavor. Also, detox can leave us feeling physically weaker, and simple yoga is a low-impact, slow exercise program that is very appropriate for that physical state.
Why do I give into food cravings and overeat?
When we give in to a food craving, over eat junk food, or eat when we’re not hungry, we’re focusing on one thing — immediate pleasure. Seduced by the promise of pleasure, short-lived though it may be, we don’t think about the not-so-nice consequences of our choice. Caught in magical thinking, we pretend that eating pleasure food will give us only what we want — relief and happiness — and nothing that we don’t want.
We didn’t create this habit on our own. Food advertising that stresses taste over health is aimed at the pleasure-seeking part of us and encourages the ego’s Child’s (pleasure-seeking impulses) way of thinking. It’s a myopic perspective that zeroes in on a small sliver of truth about food — that it often tastes good. Bombarded each day by hundreds of messages about the taste of pleasure food, it’s no wonder that our first impulse is to reach for it when we don’t like whatever we’re experiencing. While pleasure foods in small doses are fine, when they’re the cornerstone of our diet, they’re costly to our health.
Close your eyes and imagine overeating a pleasure food when you’re not hungry. What are the costs and benefits of this choice? We’ve already established that the Child tempts you by getting you to fantasize about tasting something delicious. But she doesn’t tell you about the negative consequences of indulging a pleasure food craving when you’re already full.
Overeating when your stomach is full requires a degree of self delusion. In these moments, the Child is in charge because you’re considering only taste, not health. You’re thinking, “This tastes really nice. I want more of it, even though I’m full.” To keep eating when you’re full, you have to put blinders on and be willing to see only part of the truth, be willing to say to yourself, “Right now, I’m more interested in immediate gratification than any negative longer-term consequences.”
Photo by Mark Hooper
One minute, you’re innocently going about your day—the next, you’re in the clutches of desire. Your object of lust: a chocolate cupcake with buttercream icing. Next thing you know, you’re licking frosting off your fingers.
What just happened? You were clobbered by a food craving. In a study from Tufts University, 91% of women said they experienced strong food cravings. And willpower isn’t the answer. These urges are fueled by feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine, released when you eat these types of foods, which creates a rush of euphoria that your brain seeks over and over. What you need is a plan that stops this natural cycle—and helps prevent unwanted weight gain.
The next time you’re hit with an insatiable urge for a double-chocolate brownie, ask yourself these four questions to get to the root cause, then follow our expert tips tailored to your trigger.
1. Ask yourself: Am I stressed out?
When you’re under pressure, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which signals your brain to seek out rewards. Comfort foods loaded with sugar and fat basically “apply the brakes” to the stress system by blunting this hormone, explains researcher Norman Pecoraro, PhD, who studies the physiology of stress at the University of California, San Francisco. When you reach for food in response to negative feelings such as anger or sadness (like potato chips after a fight with your spouse), you inadvertently create a powerful connection in your brain. Remember Pavlov’s dog? It’s classic brain conditioning. “The food gets coded in your memory center as a solution to an unpleasant experience or emotion,” says Cynthia Bulik, PhD, author of Runaway Eating and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Face that same problem again, and your brain will likely tell you, “Get the Cheetos!”
Stimulate happiness. “Women especially have a profound emotional reaction to music,” notes Bulik. She asks her clients to create upbeat playlists to listen to whenever a food craving strikes. The songs provide a distraction and an emotional release.
Wait it out. “People give in to cravings because they think they’ll build in intensity until they become overwhelming, but that’s not true,” says Bulik. Food cravings behave like waves: They build, crest, and then disappear. If you can “surf the urge,” you have a better chance of beating it altogether, she says.
Choose the best distraction. “What you’re really craving is to feel better,” says Linda Spangle, RN, a weight loss coach in Broomfield, CO, and author of 100 Days of Weight Loss. You’ve heard the trick about phoning a friend or exercising instead of eating. But “taking a solo walk won’t help if you’re feeling lonely,” says Laurie Mintz, PhD, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Missouri. Instead, identify your current emotion—bored, anxious, mad—by filling in these blanks: “I feel ____ because of ____.” Then find an activity that releases it. If you’re stressed, channeling nervous energy into a workout can help; if you’re upset over a problem at the office, call a friend and ask for advice.
MORE: The Ultimate Stress-Busting Yoga Routine
2. Ask yourself: Have I been eating less than usual?
Photo by Mark Hooper
If you’re eating fewer than 1,000 calories a day or restricting an entire food group (like carbs), you’re putting your body in prime craving mode. Even just three days of strict dieting decreases levels of the appetite-reducing hormone leptin by 22%. Experts note that “restrained eaters”—dieters who severely limit calories or certain foods—aren’t necessarily thinner than regular eaters; they’re actually about 1 to 2 BMI points higher, or the equivalent of 10 to 20 pounds, as their self-imposed food rules often backfire. According to research from the University of Toronto, restrained eaters are more likely to experience cravings and to overeat the “forbidden” food when given the chance. In a study from the journal Appetite, women who were asked to cut carbs for 3 days reported stronger food cravings and ate 44% more calories from carb-rich foods on day 4. “Making certain foods off-limits can lead to obsessing and bingeing,” notes Kathy McManus, RD, director of nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Lift any bans—safely. Plan ways to enjoy your favorite foods in controlled portions, says McManus. Get a slice of pizza instead of a whole pie, or share a piece of restaurant cheesecake with two friends.
Don’t “eat around” food cravings. Trying to quell a food craving with a low-cal imitation won’t satisfy your brain’s memory center, says Marcia Levin Pelchat, PhD, a researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. For example, if you’re craving a milkshake, yogurt won’t cut it—especially if you’ve been depriving yourself. You may even take in more calories than if you’d just had a reasonable portion of what you wanted in the first place. Munching five crackers, a handful of popcorn, and a bag of pretzels, all in the name of trying to squash a craving for potato chips, will net you about 250 more calories than if you’d eaten a single-serving bag.
3. Ask yourself: Am I getting enough sleep?
In a University of Chicago study, a few sleepless nights were enough to drop levels of the hormone leptin (which signals satiety) by 18% and boost levels of ghrelin, an appetite trigger, by about 30%. Those two changes alone caused appetite to kick into overdrive, and cravings for starchy foods like cookies and bread jumped 45%.
Have some caffeine. It can help you get through the day without any high-calorie pick-me-ups. It won’t solve your bigger issue of chronic sleep loss, but it’s a good short-term fix until you get back on track.
Portion out a serving. You probably don’t have the energy to fight it, so try this trick: Before you dig in, dole out a small amount of the food you want (on a plate) and put the rest away.
4. Ask yourself: Am I a creature of habit?
You may not realize it, but seemingly innocent routines, such as eating cheese popcorn while watching TV, create powerful associations. “The brain loves routine,” says Bob Maurer, PhD, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life. The thought of letting go of these patterns can cause a fear response in an area of the brain called the amygdala. “Once the food hits your lips, the fear response shuts off in a heartbeat,” says Maurer.
Eliminate sensory cues. Smells, sights, and sounds all act as powerful triggers. Watch TV in your basement or bedroom so you’re far away from the kitchen full of snacks.
Picture yourself healthy. Try Maurer’s “stop technique”: Every time the food you crave pops into your head, think, Stop! Then, picture a healthy image (say, you lean and fit). After a while, your brain will dismiss the food image and the craving will subside. “One of my clients did this four or five times a day, and within 2 weeks, she stopped turning to sweets every night after dinner,” he says.
Shift your focus. Australian researchers found that distracting your brain really does work. When a food craving hits, divert your attention to something visual not related to food, like typing an email.
MORE: 100 Little Ways To Change Your Life In 10 Minutes Or Less
Sally Kuzemchak, RD Sally Kuzemchak writes frequently about nutrition and health and has worked in weight management and diabetes education as a registered dietitian.
If you find it impossible to resist the 3 p.m. chocolate craving that hits you every day, you’ll be happy to know that you might be able to quash it — in just 30 seconds.
Two new studies presented at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting in Boston delved into ways to trick the brain into dismissing those junk food pangs.
Because as much as you may try to rely on willpower or mindfulness to fight the munchies, sometimes there’s nothing like a quick fix to hold you over until dinnertime (or dessert).
Can You Tap Away Your Food Cravings?
Walking around the block, popping a piece of gum into your mouth, chugging a glass of H20. You’ve heard about these fixes, and now we’ve got another to add to your arsenal. In one recent study, researchers asked a group of obese patients to try three 30-second intervention tactics to reduce cravings: Tapping their forehead, tapping their toe on the floor, or staring at a blank wall.
The office snack stash can be brutally tempting — and you have to stare it down five days a week.
Researchers cued cravings by asking participants to imagine eating, smelling and tasting certain foods (try it: you can practically taste the cupcake you’re envisioning, right?). Before and after the intervention, the study participants were asked to rate the intensity of their cravings on a scale of zero (low) to 100 (high). While each trick successfully reduced participants’ longings, the most effective was forehead tapping (foot tapping ranked second).
“ were dynamic, that is, they included movement, which engages more regions of the brain than staring at a blank wall,” says study author Richard Weil, director of the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. “Engaging the motor cortex to create movement makes the task more complicated and so it requires more work in the brain, and thus, more distraction.”
Not down for 30 seconds worth of banging out a beat on your forehead? Weil says previous research has indicated that tapping for just 10 seconds might help to some degree, too.
Battling the Munchies, Mentally
Thumping your foot: Pretty easy. Drumming your forehead: A little weird. But what if we told you there was a way to subdue hankerings in one minute — just by thinking?
Another study this week found that sometimes the best way to beat cravings is by tweaking your mindset. Researchers from Brown University used MRI scans to examine the brain activity of obese or overweight study participants as they looked at pictures of drool-worthy foods like pizza, French fries and ice cream. The researchers then tested a few different strategies, encouraging participants to focus on them for about a minute at a time. In a series of tests, they told them to:
- Get distracted by thinking about something other than food.
- Accept and allow their thoughts as something they didn’t need to act on.
- Focus on the negative long-term consequences of eating those goodies.
- Think about the immediate rewards of indulging.
Unsurprisingly, thinking about how amazing a sundae would taste did not deter subjects from wanting to dig in. But the other cognitive strategies did diminish participants’ desire for disco fries and other unhealthy foods — particularly when they considered how they’d pay for it later if they gave in.
“This strategy evoked increased responses in regions of the brain involved in inhibitory control, which may suggest a mechanism through which thinking about long-term negative outcomes could serve to reduce cravings,” says study author Kathryn Demos, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Miriam Hospital at Brown University.
But Will It Work for You?
While each of these tactics got good reviews in a lab setting, the jury’s still out as to whether they work in real life. Because let’s be real: The office snack stash can be brutally tempting — and you have to stare it down five days a week.
“From this study we don’t know if the effects can be sustained over longer periods of time, but our future studies will test this, and try to get a sense of how this strategy could be used in conjunction with weight loss efforts in everyday life,” Demos says.
Plus, it’s worth noting that each of these studies was conducted on overweight or obese participants. If you’re at a healthy weight, giving into cravings now and then is totally OK.
“It is a good idea to have some flexibility when it comes to cravings for certain foods,” says Chris Ochner, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Always denying food cravings usually leads to feeling as if the person is in dietary jail and, eventually, everyone wants out.”
Thinking about the caloric price you’ll pay for eating an ice cream cone, or committing to tapping away your taste for pizza probably isn’t necessary unless you’re looking to make a serious change.
Sugar Free 3 amazon.com
When you’re cutting way back on sugar, your sugar cravings can be strong — sweet foods are tempting us at every turn, and for many people, consuming those foods is longtime habit associated with comfort or celebration. Bottom line, kicking sugar to the curb isn’t easy! But here’s a scary stat: The average American consumes nearly 152 pounds of sugar each year, and eating too much of it significantly raises your risk of life-shortening obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, a study by JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who exceeded the recommended daily limit of sugar increased their risk of death due to heart disease by at least 30%
So how to stop those cravings for sugar? In Sugar Free 3— my new and simple 3-week program to eliminate added sugars, refined carbs, and artificial sweeteners that you can find in the book or in the companion series of videos I did on the Openfit app — there is loads of advice for bolstering your willpower and silencing sugar’s obnoxious come-ons.
Below is an except from the book to help you combat sugar cravings once and for all.
How to stop sugar cravings:
Sometimes sugar whispers at you from the grocery store aisle; other times it screams at you from the freezer. Regardless, you can learn to silence those calls. First, it helps to know what a craving is. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.” Synonyms include: yearning, hankering, wish, want, lust. Sounds about right when it comes to describing how I feel about chocolate! One of the biggest takeaways I got during my own three weeks of cutting out sugar: Just because you’re having a craving or want something sweet doesn’t mean you have to eat sugar — or even pop a sugar replacement, such as a piece of fruit — on impulse. Fortify your resistance by understanding what’s really going on. Do you…
. . . want chocolate or just something sweet?
. . . feel physical hunger — is your stomach growling?
. . . have a headache?
Then, once answered:
- Drink a glass of water.
- Take a breather — 5 deep breaths — or wait a few minutes.
- Try to do something physical, such as taking a short walk.
- Eat something if you’re truly hungry. Just make sure that it’s satiating. Many of the people in the test group of my program would grab fruit (the most obvious fix), when a craving hit. But fruit alone may not quell the craving — especially if the craving isn’t necessarily for something sweet. Your best bet for stamping out a craving of any kind may be to have a snack that includes protein or a healthy fat.
Snacks keep hunger at bay so you don’t run to the vending machine or grab a doughnut at the office. If you have them on hand every day, you won’t be tempted by sugar-filled packaged foods. Making your own at the beginning of the week helps you be proactive about mindful eating and gives you the goods for healthier snacking.
Foods that can help stop cravings:
Try my Snack Hacks — and get in the habit of reading food labels to make sure that none of the ingredients have added sugars or refined flours.
Craving something sweet? Try:
- Sliced apple with nut butter
- Fresh berries with a handful of nuts
- Whipped ricotta with roasted cherries
- Baked cinnamon apple
- Herbal tea that has a sweet note such as vanilla
Craving something salty? Try:
- Guacamole and cucumber “chips”
- Veggies or crackers (without added sugars or refined flour) and hummus
- Biltong (an air-dried beef jerky) or turkey or salmon jerky
- Handful of nuts or seeds. I go for pistachios in the shell — they take longer to eat.
- Hard-boiled egg with Everything but the Bagel seasoning
6 other ways to bust sugar cravings:
Sometimes the source of cravings can be uncovered if you take a closer look at what you’re eating and when. Try these six strategies:
Balance your meals. Make sure they contain protein, veggies and/or other healthy carbs, and healthy fats.
Have a snack strategy. If you’re experiencing afternoon cravings, work an afternoon snack into your routine.
Adjust your mealtimes. If you feel tired or cravings are hitting, identify times of the day when that happens. For example, after a few days of observation you might conclude that around 3 p.m. every day, your energy is depleted, you crave sugar, and you feel extremely hungry. This might be a signal to add a protein-filled snack at this time of day to power through — maybe a shake or two hard-boiled eggs, or a handful of nuts, or have some apple slices with peanut butter. Not only will this make you feel better instantly, it also sets you up for a better evening with fewer cravings around bedtime.
Spice things up. We sometimes get stuck in an eating rut, sticking to the same simple meals every day because we know they’re “safe.” But as they say, variety is the spice of life—and spice is a savior when you’re swapping out sugar. Some of the most unique flavors are derived from easily accessible spices that don’t contain any added sugar, such as red pepper and cinnamon, to name just two.
Identify your faves. Figure out what you love to eat so that you feel satisfied — not deprived — at the end of a meal. I try to keep it simple and pick two go-to breakfasts, two go-to lunches, and two go-to dinners each week so I can stay consistent.
Get curious. Explore recipes, eat some new fruits and vegetables you’ve never tried before, or combine different ingredients to create new dishes. By switching up what you’re eating from day to day, you might find a new delicious dish that gets you excited about Tuesday night’s dinner.
How to dodge sugar pushers:
One of the epiphanies you are bound to have on a sugar-busting quest is that sugary foods are lurking everywhere — at the juice bar, in the ballpark, even your kids’ doctor’s office! Another realization: While most people are going to support your get-healthy mission, there will be a few who try to derail your efforts. I call them the sugar pushers. They are people who tend to make you feel bad when you don’t partake. At a birthday or holiday dinner you might notice your mom is trying to persuade you to eat dessert, or your friends are eye-rolling because you turned down a cocktail. Even your spouse (your in-home support system!) can morph into a sugar pusher because he or she wants to hit that all-you-can-eat pasta joint.
A few tips: I highly recommend that you not only tell your friends, family, co-workers, and significant other what you’re trying to accomplish; you need to go the extra step and actively ask them for their encouragement and cooperation. If they still try to lure you to eat sugary foods, stay strong and know this: It’s not about you, it’s about them not feeling fantastic about their own choices and not wanting to be left behind.
Stick to the plan, and they will likely stop trying to lead you astray. Better yet, your compliance could inspire them to make some positive changes of their own.
How to Cope
If you’re not physically hungry, Wilborn offers several recommendations for handling your cravings:
- Brush your teeth and gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine. “Part of wanting to eat is the taste. Nothing tastes good after you’ve gargled with Listerine,” Wilborn says.
- Distract yourself. “Take yourself out of the situation for 45 minutes to an hour,” says Wilborn. “Then if you still want whatever it is you’re craving, have a small amount.”
- Relax with deep breathing exercises or meditation.
- Choose a healthy substitute. If you want ice cream, spoon up some fat-free, sugar-free ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet. Wilborn also recommends freezing a container of Dannon Light yogurt. “It takes on a wonderful consistency,” she says. If you want potato chips, try baked tortilla chips instead.
- Listen to your cravings. If you want something salty, you may very well need salt. Add salt to your food instead of having salty snacks.
- If you know what situations trigger your cravings, avoid them if possible.
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. “Often hunger is a signal that we’re thirsty,” says Wilborn.
But allow yourself some moments of weakness, too. “Give in now and then,” Wilborn says. “It’s really not healthy to be so rigid.”
Jennifer Grana, a registered dietitian with the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease in Pittsburgh, agrees that if there is no medical reason for you to avoid your favorite snacks, you should cut yourself some slack. “If you’re reaching for a bag of chips only now and then, that’s OK.” As long as 80% of your food intake is good for you, you can play with that other 20%, she says.
Think of your favorite foods as a reward, she says — a small treat after you’ve finished your exercise for the day, perhaps. “Don’t think of a food craving as a negative,” she says. “For most people, anything is OK in moderation.”
5 Ways to Tame Your Food Cravings to Avoid the Inevitable Weight Gain
With Candice A. Myers, PhD, John Apolzan, PhD, and Caroline Apovian, MD
The holidays are gone, but the goodies are likely still lurking in the pantry, calling your name, and threatening to trigger your cravings for sweets, baked goods, and salty snacks.
Without these food cravings, you are quite certain that you wouldn’t have put on those extra few pounds recently, or while celebrating your birthday, or during your last vacation.
Actually, you have a point,1 the experts say.
Weight Gain for Some: Learning to Manage Your Food Cravings
Cravings—the intense, frequent desire to eat a specific food or type of food—do account for up to 11% of weight gain,1 says John Apolzan, PhD, assistant professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
With his Pennington colleagues Candice A. Myers, PhD, and Corby K. Martin, PhD, this team reviewed the research on food cravings and body weight, examining the scientific research published from March 2018 and back 18 months, identifying about a dozen credible studies.;1 their findings were published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity.
“So if you are someone who can put on several pounds in a short time, at least 10% of that weight gain is likely due to your eating to satisfy a food craving,” Dr. Apolzan tells EndocrineWeb. That may not sound like much but those few extra pounds are more likely attributable to food binges than genetics can currently explain, he says.
Here are the highlights of what they found and suggestions to help you tame your food cravings.
Food Cravings Are Real But Manageable
“The consensus you can draw from most of the current literature is that food cravings are definitely related to body weight in general,” Dr. Myers says.
1. Recognize patterns for food cravings
Cravings develop when your desire to eat a certain food is paired with a stimulus such as watching a favorite TV show, or feeling sad or lonely,1 according to the research analysis.
When you stick to a healthy dietary plan, it can help to reduce the temptation to seek out tempting foods you are trying to avoid, so your cravings really do decrease, or may completely disappear.2
In fact, when you restrict your calories overall—especially when you eliminate sugar and white flour-based products—food cravings are likely to decline even disappear.3
Research on this topic suggests that when you follow a Mediterranean-style approach to eating, for example, the result is that your appetite is suppressed and the urge to eat trigger foods dissipates, say the experts
2. Remove any temptations
If you cannot stop at one….don’t tease yourself. It’s simply better to avoid bringing these foods—cookies, chips, crackers—into the house.
“The key is to change the stimuli since craved foods are often paired with something else,” Dr. Apolzan says. For instance, if you watch a certain TV program and crave popcorn, find another show to watch, he says. Or, if you can’t bear that, walk on the treadmill while you watch to break the cycle of munching as you enjoy the show.
Similarly, if you walk by a vending machine at work, and are drawn to a candy bar or those cheese crackers, “change your route,” he says.
Another way to look at this is to remind yourself that every time you reach for a quick fix of simple carbs, you are left feeling satisfied for a brief moment. This rapid boost of sugar-based calories will quickly pass, leaving you still hungry and craving more. Thus, a problematic cycle becomes harder to manage.
Maybe just start with your coffee. Find a suitable substitute for the sugar or sugar substitute to deliver more flavor. Try adding vanilla flavored unsweetened almond milk to your coffee, or make hazelnut coffee to give you a satisfying cup without the sugar that can trigger more food cravings.
Then, move on to other processed, prepared foods. Swap out the Danish or donut for an egg with pear and a sprinkle of cheese, or oatmeal with warm berries. The less sugar you have, the less you are likely to crave the foods high in it.
While this may seem obvious, it may be a good time to get you to clean out the pantry and the fridge, especially after the holidays are over. Don’t keep any foods around that may call your name when you come home hungry, or are looking to soothe yourself after a fight with your spouse, child, friend, or coworker.
What’s not there, won’t tempt you.
3. Plan Meals with Protein
The fix for hunger jags is to plan your meals around protein and vegetables to fortify your metabolism; in this way, your appetite will very likely remain steady and you’ll feel satisfied from one meal to the next, so the opportunity for a craving to strike is much, much less. On this, the experts agree.
This concept is reinforced by Robert H. Lustig, MD, professor emeritus in pediatrics and neuroendocrinology at the University of California at San Francisco who believes we should shun sugar, viewing it as an addictive substance.4 The more sugar-laden processed, prepared foods you eat, the more you will want, he says based on years of research.
“What helps with my patients is having them eat protein at each meal, so having eggs or Greek yogurt at breakfast, not cereal or a bagel,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, FACP, FACN, professor of medicine and pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts.
The goal is to make sure your meals include chicken, fish, or beans at lunch and dinner along with a hearty salad and/or a big serving of vegetables to fill you up and keep your blood sugar even and your appetite needs met.
4. Swap out the Sugar, Create Distractions
Be prepared for the moment that hunger strikes:
- Always have a piece of fruit and some nuts on hand.
- Pack some hummus and carrots, red pepper, or celery, for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
- Keep a tin of roasted almonds in your desk drawer at the office
- Have a bag of peanuts and dried mango in the car, and in your handbag or backpack.
- Keeping a low sugar, protein bar at the ready so if you miss a meal, you can keep your blood sugar even, and avoid being blindsided with an insatiable hunger.
If this regimen doesn’t help, Dr. Apovian suggests continuing with this strategy but adding a small taste of something sweet, such as a small piece of dark chocolate after your meal, daily for a week, then try having it only every other day, then just on Sunday.
See if that helps, Dr. Apovian tells EndocrineWeb, Sometimes just a little may be enough to keep you from a full-on food craving, or you may find that the less you have it, the less you will feel the need for it, she says.
Dr. Apolzan takes a different tact than Dr. Apovian’s little-bit-every-day plan. He says, “it’s necessary to deny yourself sometimes.” Take a walk, drink some water, grab a carrot, call a friend—distract yourself until the craving passes.3
5. Strive for a Healthy Weight
When you are committed to managing your weight, you are likely to have fewer food cravings. It could be that you are feeding your body the foods that it needs to function well, so you are satisfied.
This is critical, according to Dr. Apovian, since the studies about the value of exercise helping to foster weight loss are mixed but will help to keep the lost weight off,5 regardless of the reasons for the weight gain.
In one study, walking for five minutes out of every hour before lunch reduced food cravings more than sitting nonstop.6 Other studies have also found a benefit to increasing your activity to head-off a food craving or act as a timely distraction.
Obesity drugs may help food cravings decline, too. Those who used a meal replacement system and took phentermine had fewer cravings after 12 weeks than those who just used the meal replacement system.7
Bariatric surgery may leave you with fewer food cravings, but the jury is still out. While some studies have found it helps, having the surgery may have only a temporary effect7 but the benefits of weight loss and reversal of diabetes remain the primary reason for considering a gastric bypass.8
When These Strategies Aren’t Enough….
The research findings on cravings are often mixed, and ”this review really doesn’t come to many objective conclusions except to say that more research is needed,” says Dr. Apovian, “and I agree with this.”
She tells her patients that cravings are complicated with hormonal and psychological factors at play. Comfort food is real. Getting comfort from food is a well-known, highly personal reality for many people. Sometimes, the best-laid plans are just not enough.
Seek Out the Comfort of Others
While sometimes effective, limiting your food intake may not be enough for you to avoid food cravings, says Dr. Apovian, who is also director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center.
“This may be hormonal. If you lose weight, your body will produce hormones that make you hungry and you can develop food cravings from this mechanism. And, If you use food as a soothing agent for depression your cravings may stem from this mechanism,” Dr. Apovian tells EndocrineWeb.
She believes this food relationship is influenced by the brain’s energy regulation system that tracks body weight as well as the emotional reward process.
When you lose weight, the energy regulation system is activated, which may increase the craving for high-calorie foods, in some folks, she says. When you are feeling depressed or disappointed, the reward system is activated, urging you to seek out a way to soothe yourself.
Consider joining a support group. This is a solution that works for many individuals when all the other suggestions do not do the trick. Attend a meeting sponsored by Overeaters Anonymous or become a member of Weight Watchers.
Being surrounded by and having the understanding of many like-minded individuals who are facing similar challenges is often a very effective way to help you turn the corner on these food cravings.
The Pennington researchers have no disclosures. Dr. Apovian has received research funding from Lilly, Amylin, Aspire Bariatrics, GI Dynamics, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Orexigen, MetaProteomics, and the Dr. Robert C. and Veronic Atkins Foundation, MYOS Corporation. She is on the speakers’ bureau for the medication Contrave.
Last updated on 01/08/2019 Continue Reading Sugar Substitutes or Sugar: What’s Better for Diabetes? View Sources
- Myers CA et. al. Food cravings and body weight: a conditioning response. Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity. October 2018, 25:298-302.
- Apolzan JW. Et al. Frequency of Consuming foods predicts changes in cravings for those foods during weight loss: the POUNDS Lost Study. Obesity. 2017; 25: 1343-1348.
- Kahathuduwa CN et. al. Extended calorie restriction suppresses overall and specific food cravings: a systematic review and a meta-analysis. Obesity Review. 2017; 18:1122-1135.
- Lustig RH, Mulligan k, Noworolski SM, et al. Isocaloric fructose restriction and metabolic improvement in children with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Obesity. 2016;24(2):453–460.
- Thomas DM et. al. Why do individuals not lose more weight from an exercise intervention at a defined dose? An energy balance analysis. Obes Rev 2012;13; 835-847.
- Bergouignan A, Legget KT, De Jong N, et. al. Effect of frequent interruptions of prolonged sitting on self-perceived levels of energy, mood, food cravings and cognitive function. Int J Behav Nutr Physl Act. 2016; 13(1):113.
- Moldovan CP, Weldon AJ, Daher NS, et. al. Effects of a meal replacement system alone or in combination with phentermine on weight loss and food cravings. Obesity. 2016;24:2344-2350.
- Cushing CC, Peugh JL, Brokde CS, et. al. Longitudinal trends in food cravings following Roux-en-Y gastric bypass in an adolescent sample. Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2015;11(1):14-18.