It happens every time you start a diet to lose weight — you start craving foods like chocolate, cookies, or other high-calorie, high-fat foods. “Food cravings can be both physiological and psychological,” says Roberta Anding, MS, RD, sports dietitian at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute in Houston and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. But you can beat both kinds. Here are 10 simple ways to fend off food cravings.
Watch The Clock
A physiological reason, such as hunger, can have you craving food. “If you go longer than five hours without food, your blood sugar will drop and your cravings will begin,” says Roberta Anding, MS, RD, and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. You can help avoid food cravings caused by hunger by not going more than five hours without eating something. If it’s time for an allowed snack, choose food low in calories and fat. Options under 50 calories include a small peach, 15 grapes, 2 cups of light microwaved popcorn, or five pretzels.
To help fend off food cravings, every meal should include some source of lean protein, such as skinless chicken or turkey, fish, eggs, or low-fat cheese. “Protein helps to control blood sugar patterns and can help prevent food cravings,” Anding says. Foods containing protein also help you feel fuller by stimulating production of cholecystokinin (CKK), a naturally occurring appetite suppressant. And by choosing lean sources, you put a cap on calories.
Wash Away Food Cravings
Dehydration can cause some people to crave salty foods. The solution is simple: Drink more water. An 8-ounce glass of refreshing water can also help you feel full and get your mind off your food cravings of the moment. In fact, what you think are food cravings may actually be thirst. Quench your thirst, and the food cravings will go away, too. Keep a water bottle handy throughout the day to make it easy to satisfy your fluid needs.
Find A Distraction
“When the craving is psychological, it is meeting a need different from hunger,” Anding explains. The way to combat food cravings caused by boredom, anxiety, or other emotions is by finding an activity that will take your mind off your craving without adding calories. Call a friend. Go window shopping at the mall or make a virtual visit to your favourite stores online, Anding suggests. Tune into a ballgame. Listen to music. Read a mystery. Watch a movie.
Chew On It
Yes, chewing gum can help you lose weight. “Some recent studies suggest that chewing gum may reduce one’s cravings for sweets and for snacks,” Anding says. If you reach for a stick of gum, be sure it’s sugarless, with zero or only a few calories. For variety, have an assortment of flavors you like available. A bit of caution is needed, Anding warns: The sugar alcohols in sugarless gum can cause gastric distress in some people, especially if you chew an excessive amount.
Pick Your Pleasure
Another way to beat food cravings when they are psychological is to replace eating with an activity you find pleasurable and emotionally satisfying, Anding says. Do something you really enjoy that doesn’t involve an intake of calories: Take a bubble bath, read a fun magazine, do your nails. Or look for options that actually burn calories, like taking a long walk with a special someone. It’s a way of being kind to yourself without sabotaging your weight-loss efforts.
Are you eyeing a bag of barbecue potato chips? Is your food craving for a sticky caramel candy bar? You can literally wash that taste right out of your mouth. Get up, go to the bathroom, and brush your teeth with minty toothpaste. Swish with a little minty mouthwash. Floss your teeth. As a final touch, apply some peppermint lip balm. Once your mouth is feeling clean and fresh, you won’t want to spoil it with salty chips or sugary candy.
Spring Into Action
Feel like you could down that carton of ice cream in one fell swoop? Instead of heading for the freezer, head for the front door and go for a jog around the block. The fresh air and exercise will calm you down, clear your head, and help quench any desire for overindulgence. If unpleasant weather is keeping you homebound, bound up and down the stairs for five minutes until the food craving passes. Rather than piling on the calories, you’ll be burning them.
'Refine' Your Palate
Research suggests that some people can become addicted to refined foods, such as white bread, white pasta, and white sugar. The more you eat, the more you want. Break the cycle. Eliminate refined foods from your diet and you could curb your food cravings. Go the extra step and refine your diet by replacing the refined foods with whole grains and fibre — eat more nuts, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole-wheat foods. Remember that fiber makes you fuller and is great for your digestion.
Skip The HFCS
When you’re scaling back on refined sugars, be sure to target high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is used as a sweetener in many foods, from bread to frozen dinners, because it’s inexpensive and increases shelf life. New research shows that high fructose corn syrup can be a trigger food in animals — having even a tiny amount will make them want more. Scientists are studying whether HFCS may have the same effect in humans. Read food labels carefully to see whether the foods you are eating have HFCS and avoid them if you can.