Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?
- It’s 8 pm, you’re watching television, and the cookies start to call from the cupboard.
- You’re on your way home from work, only to pass your favorite fast-food eatery. Next thing you know, you find yourself at the drive-thru.
- You’re walking through the mall, focused on your quest for that just-right pair of shoes—until the aroma of cinnamon buns grabs hold of your senses.
If any of these scenarios ring a bell, join the crowd: Most of us experience food cravings at one time or another. But what makes the difference between an eating diversion and an eating disaster is how often cravings occur—and how we react to them. Many of us find ourselves constantly craving foods that aren’t the best choices, and when we give in, we give in big. We figure that, since we’ve already partaken, why not go for broke? After all, we vow to ourselves, this will be the “last time” we eat those foods again.
While conquering cravings isn’t as easy as flipping off a light switch (if only!) you can learn to control them. Next time you’re hit by a craving, try these strategies.
Figure out if you’re hungry. This might sound like a no-brainer. But you could be surprised if you stop, mid-craving, and ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” A craving can be a message that we need to eat—or not. When was the last time you had a meal or snack? If it’s been longer than 3-5 hours, think about what you really want to eat—something you’ll feel good about, like a balanced snack or meal combining fruits/veggies, protein and/or starchy foods? The cookies may be calling but if you stop to think, you may come up with something that will be more satisfying.
Stop depriving yourself. Denying yourself your favorite foods almost guarantees that you’ll crave those foods. Give yourself permission to eat what you want, then decide if you really want it. If you decide not, you may find it much easier to forgo the food because you’re operating from a position of choice, not deprivation.
Ride the wave. If you decide you really don’t want the food, but it still calls to you, imagine the craving as a wave. It builds to a peak, then crests and disappears. If it’s not the result of physical hunger and you don’t give in to it, it will go away. You can help yourself make it past the peak by distracting yourself. For instance, maybe the TV show you’re watching is boring, and a phone call to a good friend will take your mind off the cookies.
Enjoy and move on. Beating ourselves up for eating something we believe we didn’t need to eat only compounds the problem. Not only is perfection not necessary when it comes to eating healthy, it’s debatable what perfection actually is in that case. In my book, cookies and cinnamon buns can be a part of a healthy diet if we eat them in a way that allows us to find pleasure in them.
What foods do you crave? Why do you think you crave those foods? Have you come up with ways to cope with your cravings? Please share!
Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, CD, is a nationally known nutritionist with more than 25 years experience as a weight management specialist. She is the owner and program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a healthy weight-loss spa exclusively for women. She serves on several boards and has authored seven books on healthy weight loss. Click here to view her complete bio.