5 strategies to beat food cravings

No matter your level of craziness in the pursuit of healthy eating, you probably still get junk food cravings every once in a while.  Did you know that indulging in these food cravings is essential to your mental sanity? The key is moderation. What I mean by moderation is simply, don’t overdo it. Eating a slice of pizza every once in a while is much different than eating a whole pizza and washing it down with some Pepsi every night. Those are obviously two extremes, but you get the idea.

You know yourself, you know you’re likes and dislikes, and most importantly, when it comes to healthy eating, you know your weaknesses. Healthy eating with some moderation is empowering. It is a skill that, like any other, can be strengthened over time. The following are some tips to help in your goal of healthy eating and strategies to beat food cravings in their tracks.

1. Be Prepared

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One key to curbing those cravings is to be prepared. Let me paint a mental picture for you.

It’s 3 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, you are at the office typing away on some report or spreadsheet when all of a sudden it hits you. “The Craving.”

Your stomach growls and soon you can’t think about anything other than how to tame the wild beast. What do you do? A frantic scramble through your desk drawers yields a strand of used dental floss, a AAA battery, and an old Nokia charging cord. You turn to your co-worker. They offer you some gum.  No, that won’t work. Suddenly you’re sweating profusely and panting like a Pomeranian puppy.  Ah ha. The basement. The vending machines. You rush down the stairs in a panic only to find that your vending machine options are Sun Chips or Skittles. What do you do? At this point, pick whichever one you think your body needs more of, Yellow number 5 or hydrogenated vegetable oil. Let this be a lesson to you. Next time be prepared.  

Stop food cravings before they start

The first step to handling cravings is stopping them before they start.  If you had prepared and had a handful of almonds in your purse this scenario could have been avoided. Cravings tend to sneak up on you when you haven’t properly fueled your body. By planning ahead, having food on hand, and eating a small healthy meal every couple of hours, you’ll be less inclined to give in to the cravings when they hit.

Eat small meals

WebMD recommends 6 meals a day to help with weight loss and cravings. The important thing to remember is that for a small meal to properly fuel your body it should be high in protein and fiber. This combination of nutrients will slow digestion and help you feel full longer. In contrast, foods high in sugar or refined starch, like Skittles or Sun Chips, digest quickly and can cause a blood sugar rebound. This can push your sugar cravings into overdrive. Rule of thumb, a snack should have at least five grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. For meals, at least 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber.  

Try these snack ideas to beat food cravings

  • 2 sticks of string cheese and an apple
  • 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese and a handful of raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter on celery sticks
  • Handful of almonds

2. Drink more water to beat food cravings

Sometimes hungry brings along its whiny little sister, thirsty. They can often be misconstrued. When your stomach growls, down some water and wait 30 minutes or so. If you still feel hungry then eat one of the delicious healthy snacks you have prepared for yourself (see #1 above). We all should drink more water. It’s good for the body and practically free.

Spice up your water

If drinking water becomes a chore, sass it up a bit with one of the many water infusers on the market now. There are fruit-flavored packets and drops that you can add to any bottle of water to make the chore that much easier. You can typically find these water enhancers in the juice aisle in any grocery or supermarket.

Read this article from Johns Hopkins University about water suppressing appetite, Yes, drinking more water may help you lose weight.

3. Move your body

Moving your body releases a hormone called endorphins. These hormones make you feel good, which is one of the reasons people enjoy working out, running marathons other physical activities. There’s another hormone that makes you feel good called serotonin. Studies have shown that delicious sugary or fatty foods release this hormone. This is why we love that bacon-maple bar from the local main street bakery, deep-dish pizza from Gino’s East in Chicago, and that amazing handmade peanut butter chocolate fudge from Nellie’s Sweet Shoppe in Smithville, Missouri. When we eat these types of foods we are transported to that happy place where everything seems right with the world.  That’s the serotonin talkin’. By substituting a workout for a junk food craving, your body gets the good feeling without the guilt.  It’s a more healthy way to get that happy feeling.

4. Test the Beast

Here is an easy way to test the cravings beast.  It’s an imaginary game to test whether your craving is physical or mental.  You feel the beast start to rage, imagine you have a bowl of grapes in front of you. Would that bowl of _____ (you fill in the blank with a healthy snack) satisfy the craving?  If the answer is yes, then it’s physiological, so go eat something.  If the thought of a bowl of ________is not appetizing to you, then it’s not hunger is probably due to something mental, stress, boredom, depression, etc. Now you can assess what needs your body is really trying to meet.  It could be a cure for boredom or comfort from the stress of a long rough workday.

5. Just have whatever you’re craving, guilt-free

So you’ve tried everything. You have followed all the steps, locked yourself in your room and called an exorcist and you still can’t stop thinking about that chocolate-dipped cannoli.  For your mental sanity, indulge yourself, have that cannoli. Once you do, it will be out of your head and you can focus again on eating well. This is a last-case scenario.

Final thoughts on food cravings

Food cravings can be managed just like anything else. It does take some self-control to curb the cravings. But if you are running every day training for a race, you deserve to be rewarded. Treat yourself to something that you love. A slice of cheesecake, a donut or a few Oreo’s, are all within the realm of possibility. Once you’ve rewarded yourself, get back at it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re doing great.