Cravings can make you your own worst enemy. Whether it’s greasy pizza, that bag of chips or the cookies lurking in the corner of your cabinet, temptation can be everywhere, and sometimes it’s easy to feel betrayed by your own brain.
Here’s how to stop those pesky cravings from hindering your diet success.
Don’t go to the grocery store hungry
This is a great way to stop a craving right in its tracks before the food even makes it to your kitchen. According to Reuters Health, a new study confirmed our suspicions: people who hadn't eaten all afternoon chose more high-calorie foods in a simulated supermarket than those who were given a snack just before online food shopping. And when it came to shopping in a real grocery store? Shoppers bought a higher ratio of high-calorie foods to low-calorie ones in the hours leading up to dinnertime compared to earlier in the day, the study team observed. Based on these results, endocrinologist Tony Goldstone from Imperial College London has some advice: "Do your shopping at hours when you're less vulnerable, like after lunch versus before lunch, and so on.”
Another thing to remember is that supermarkets tend to put the unhealthiest foods at eye level, so if you arrive to shop while hungry, you’re likely to fall right into their trap. Plus, we can all agree that it’s way easier to show a little self-control in the grocery store than go home and be forced to deal with the serious challenge of keeping yourself away from all those snacks you just bought.
Protein, protein, protein
Nutritionist Tara Coleman recommends reaching for something high in protein (like Greek yogurt, or nuts) the next time you find yourself craving something sweet. If you’re still craving chocolate 20 minutes later? Go ahead and have it, she says. The idea is that the high-protein snack will satisfy your hunger and craving altogether so you won’t even feel like you need to indulge in the sweet stuff. High-protein snacks can also regulate stress and help you feel happier by increasing pleasure-boosting brain signals - which can’t be said about sugar. Not to mention, eating more protein may reduce your appetite and keep you from overeating. It also reduces cravings, and helps you feel full and satisfied for longer. What’s not to love?
Usually procrastinating is not exactly a healthy habit, but it can be when it comes to cravings. By telling yourself that you can have what you’re craving “some other time,” your brain will take that craving off the top of your priority list, says expert Michael Mantell, Ph.D. You can always make a plan to give in later, of course. Then you can look forward to eating the food as part of your balanced plan rather than a craving impulse that took over your mindful eating. Food craving procrastination is so much better than post-give-in guilt!
Planning your meals for the day, or the week if you’re feeling ambitious, can make a huge difference when it comes to putting cravings to rest. By already knowing what you’re going to eat, you eliminate the factor of spontaneity and uncertainty. If you don’t have to think about what to eat at the following meal, you’ll be less tempted and less likely to experience cravings. Another great way to plan ahead is prepping healthy snacks in advance. Sometimes the only real appeal of that bag of chips is that it’s the most easily accessible thing to eat at that moment. If you pre-portion some healthy serving sizes of nuts, fruit, cheese or veggies and toss them in the fridge for easy snacking later, you’ll reach for the healthier option when faced with that tough, lazy snacking decision.
Use your head
You might not be able to move things with your mind, but you can use it to control those cravings thanks to a few tips from Prevention. One way to face the challenge head on is to confront the thought of the food directly and make a reasonable decision. Ask “Is this food that just popped into my mind an absolute must have?” and give yourself a logical answer, like "I know I'm not hungry, I don't have to eat a food every single time I think of it" or "Each time I think about a food and do not eat it, it will become easier.” You can also try substituting your food thought with another thought. Replacing food images with other thoughts or images (like how you'll look after your weight loss, compliments you recently received, etc.) will work better than trying to stop particular food cravings.
Go ahead and treat yourself
Don’t forget that there are other ways to indulge that aren’t just giving in to your cravings. Try engaging in an activity that isn’t food-related, like crushing a workout, taking a bath, calling a friend, getting a massage or going shopping. An added benefit of this is that by taking part in something that you enjoy, you are also effectively distracting yourself from donuts (or whatever else you might be craving). Dare we call this a win-win?