Food cravings sometimes are a warning that the body lacks an essential nutrient, but more often than not, perceived food cravings are simply a response to an emotional trigger, the most common being anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and boredom.
Instead of allowing food cravings to control you, take control of them by practicing these 5 simple tips:
1. Prevent cravings by keeping junk food out of sight
Eat a healthy meal or snack that includes both fiber and lean protein before grocery shopping and you will be less tempted to make unhealthy impulse purchases in the first place. Have those foods already made their way into your home? Place them at the back of the freezer or on the highest shelves, and leave healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables or high fiber crackers on the counter top. Studies show that people who keep healthy food items on their counter weigh an average of 10 pounds less than those who kept less healthy items on the counter like sugary cereal and soda.
2. Think through it first
Before indulging a food craving, ask yourself if you are hungry. Has it been more than 3 hours since your last meal? If not, it is unlikely that you are experiencing physiological hunger and instead are responding to an emotion. Are you tired? If you are sleep deprived, your fatigue may be confused with a need for food to increase energy levels. Instead, try a small cup of coffee. The caffeine will improve your alertness and energy without taking a toll on your calorie bank. Ask yourself how you will feel if you give in to a craving. If guilt or disappointment pops into your head, that craving is an emotion in disguise, not true hunger.
The symptoms of dehydration are the same as those for low blood sugar, which may confuse your body to signal a need for food when it really just needs water. Drink a large, cold refreshing glass of water before noshing down on any foods. You will likely find that the craving has subsided.
4. Establish a 15-minute rule
When a craving strikes, go for a walk, call a friend or family member, write in a journal, brush your teeth, read a non-work related magazine or book – anything that engages you in 15 minutes of unrelated activity. If the craving still lingers, take three bites of whatever it is you crave then place it out of sight and out of reach.
5. Listen to upbeat music
The hormone serotonin, which is released by the body in response to sugar, causes a fleeting sense of happiness. Instead of relying on chocolate for that happiness, fix turn up some upbeat tunes and, even better, dance around to burn calories while shaking off that craving.
Don’t let food cravings ruin your healthy diet. Knowing how feelings and emotions can affect eating behaviors may help you save hundreds of calories a day, and several pounds of excess weight a year.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.