13 Ways to Control Food Cravings
Food cravings are often fueled by negative feelings and emotions, with potential to lead to negative health outcomes if left uncontrolled. But how do you control irresistible food cravings? Learn how to control eating and ward cravings with these 13 expert tips!
The human mouth has exactly 32 teeth, with one extra tooth that seems to crave the sugary treats more than we would like… The sweet tooth.
While a dentist may not be able to point it out, we all know it’s there. However, we might not know how to stop food cravings in their tracks, though being able to do so can improve relationships to food and overall health.
What Are Cravings?
Before acknowledging how to control eating patterns and cravings, it is important to recognize the distinction between cravings and hunger, as they are often used interchangeably but are vastly different.
Food cravings are more of a mental desire than a physiological need, in which they tend to be stimulated and fueled by negative feelings and emotions. Cravings come in various forms, including sugar cravings, meaning there is a heightened desire to consume sweet treats.
Truly, cravings tend to be comfort food-specific, including to products rich in sugar, fat, and salt, and can pass with time. Individuals are commonly unsatisfied following their intake and may even feel guilty if cravings are fed into.
On the other hand, hunger is a physical need for food and results to a growling stomach, headache, and loss of energy. Hunger is often not exclusive to one food, and individuals are more apt to feel satisfied after eating.
How to Stop Food Cravings
1. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a nonjudgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations while eating, promotes the notion of “all foods fit,” and strips away the stigma of "unhealthy" or "bad" foods.
The practice supports individuals to intently focus on internal cues of hunger and satiety, as well as external motivators (such as negative emotions and boredom) that drive behaviors to foods. Recognizing the smells, flavors, and textures of foods is also a strong foundation of mindful eating.
2. Stick to Mealtimes
While eating patterns should be inspired by hunger and satiety cues, maintaining some sort of mealtime structure can help control food cravings.
Skipping meals or going long hours between them can plummet energy and drop blood sugars. If hunger becomes intense, it is not too uncommon to grab for any available food and overeat.
Usual meal patterns include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with a couple nutritious snacks.
3. Place Nutritional Needs First
In addition to following meal structure, each meal plate should consist of a lean protein source and a bountiful of veggies and fruits, along with being complemented with a healthy fat and complex carb source.
Snacks should similarly include satiating fiber and protein to lower the risk of overeating at the next main meal.
4. Feed into Cravings
Allow indulgences and feed into cravings. (Yes, you read the right...)
Depriving the body of food it truly desires intensifies cravings and increases the odds of its binge later down the road. So if yearning for chocolate cake, simply enjoy a small piece.
The take away message is to enjoy such delicacies by practicing the concepts of moderation and mindfulness.
5. Keep Hydrated
Hunger is often mistaken for thirst, therefore keeping hydrated can help keep cravings in check. So instead of reaching for food, drink a cup of water and wait a few minutes to decide if you truly are hungry.
Drinking a glass of water before and with meals likewise lends greater satiety and reduces the risk of overeating.
And if desiring a greater flavor than plain water, add flavor to your glass with freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice, fresh herbs, or an herbal tea bag.
6. Slow Down at Meal Times
Eating meals quickly has become far too common with demanding schedules and busy lives. However, it is important to slow down when eating to allow your stomach and mind to connect and signal the “I’m full” response.
Additionally, wait at least 10 minutes after eating to decide whether or not you are still hungry enough for extra (or move down to tip #7).
7. Brush Teeth or Chew On Gum
Have a hankering for seconds or a sweet treat after dinner? Try brushing your teeth or chewing on a piece of gum when cravings surface.
When the mouth feels refreshed and clean, there is often a lower risk of going for a sugary piece of cake.
As an added bonus, oral health also takes the front seat!
8. Practice "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"
Sometimes eating strikes based on environmental factors rather than internal cues. Think about the office candy dish: Though you feel no sense of hunger, you grab a piece each time you pass it to the bathroom merely because it is readily available.
Reduce the urge of such by practicing the “out of sight, out of mind” rule. Regarding the candy dish, take an alternative route to the bathroom.
At home, keep such temptations out of the environment. So instead of chips and cookies, keep nutritious veggie slices or fruits right on hand.
9. Dodge Triggers
Whether it be ice cream or chips, we all generally have those foods that we simply cannot get enough of! So keep those “trigger foods” out of the house to prevent overindulging on such products.
For instance, if a carton of ice cream is likely to be consumed in one setting, avoid having it in your freezer. Instead, enjoy ice cream on special occasions with loved ones.
But if truly desiring ice cream at home, purchase miniature cartons to keep servings and portions in check.
10. Find Healthy Distractions
Boredom can ignite a craving, which may leave you scavenging in the fridge or cabinet in hopes to find a snack even in the absence of hunger.
Instead of winding up with a spoon and ice cream quart, have healthy distractions set in place, including calling a friend, listening to your favorite song, or lacing up the shoes for a walk. Truly, any sort of interruption can help redirect you from an unnecessary binge!
11. Manage Stress
Dealing with stress can ignite feelings of frustration and depression, both cultivators of stress eating. Moreover, chronic stress can force the body to hold onto weight, especially in the hips and waist area.
Skip out on stressful eating sprees and long-term consequences by practicing healthy coping techniques, which may include meditation, yoga, and exercise.
12. Ensure Adequate Sleep
Lack of sleep can trigger food cravings in a number of ways. When sleep deprived, emotions tend to be unregulated and food is often sought out.
Hunger hormones additionally become unregulated, which heightens food cravings and overall intake. What’s more, insufficient sleep often plummets energy to carryout exercise or an active lifestyle.
To deter such risks, adults are encouraged to sleep seven to nine hours nightly. Ensure adequate sleep by staying consistent with sleep-wake times, confining caffeine to the morning and early afternoon hours, and building a comfortable sleep environment.
13. Do Not Go to the Store Hungry
Repeat: Do not go to the grocery store hungry!
Going shopping while hungry is almost a sure way to leave with a fuller cart of items you did not necessarily intend to purchase. These items are similarly prone to fuel cravings and often devoid of nutritional value.
If grocery shopping leading up to mealtime, choose a nutritious option to snack on in between, including Greek yogurt, a piece of fruit, or a cheese stick. Taking and sticking to a grocery list can also prevent from impulse buys.