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Ah … cravings! You’re just relaxing after a long day, watching your favorite TV show, when suddenly you’re hit with an intense desire for Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia (the non-dairy version, of course)! You just had dinner and you know you don’t need the calories, but that craving just won’t go away. You set the DVR to record the rest of your show and run out to the grocery store to pick up a pint.
Cravings are powerful and they can make you feel out of control. They strike out of the blue and, after giving in, leave you feeling bloated and like a failure. And if you are not careful, an unmanaged craving can lead you to a binge, in which you end up eating large amounts of food. Cravings in themselves, though, are not a reason to panic.
First, it’s important to understand where cravings come from:
- Cravings brought on by actual hunger. This is the easiest kind of craving to deal with because your body is just telling you to eat something. Being hungry is not a craving, it’s a biological cue. Sure, the food you got a sudden craving for might sound better than the meal you have planned, but it will go away quickly by simply having something to eat.
- Cravings brought on by deprivation. If your diet consists of healthy but boring foods, your mind will start looking for culinary excitement. After you eat the dinner salad you prepared, you may get a sudden craving for pizza or tacos. Eating a varied diet that includes the flavors you love will satisfy your stomach and your mind and the cravings will lessen.
- Cravings brought on by boredom. When you have moments of boredom, your mind drifts from “What can I do?” to “What can I eat?” In those times, cravings can seem like a perfect, and delicious, way to fill the time.
- Cravings brought on by Emotions. Emotional eating is the reaction many of us have to not being able to resolve our feelings. You might be feeling overwhelmed with work, flattened by a fight with your spouse, worried about health issues. We are emotional creatures and sometimes it’s necessary to tamp down those feelings to function. So rather than dealing with your feelings, you eat them. It’s even become an expression! How many Instagram or Facebook photos have you seen captioned “I’m eating my feelings.”
I’m not a psychologist, but anyone can understand the urge to sublimate your feelings into something else at times. Healthy, fit people do it all the time by working out. Fitness is an alternative to eating when your emotions take over.
First, you need to assess your craving and determine where it’s coming from.
If you are hungry, maybe you need an early lunch today. You might not have had a good night’s sleep and your body is demanding food at a different time than your scheduled lunch hour. This is a day when you might want to add a couple of protein bars to your day to keep you full. Do yourself a favor and keep a few in your desk at work and in your car.
Deprivation is also easy to manage. If you are constantly getting cravings for more flavorful foods, then have more flavorful foods! It’s not hard, or a diet buster, to add interesting spices and sauces to your meals. Try new things, make eating fun!
Have you determined that your cravings are emotional eating, or caused by boredom? Then you need strategies that work for you. Here are 10 proven ways to deflect or minimize a craving:
1. Brush your teeth and gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine.
It’s a proven diet strategy that after brushing your teeth, you will be less inclined to eat.
By adding in an antiseptic mouthwash, you will find that food doesn’t taste good for quite some time. By the time the effect has worn off, there’s a good likelihood that the craving will be gone.
If you are at your office, it’s simple to just have a travel toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash in a desk drawer. No one would raise their eyebrows at dental hygiene and the added benefit of being a way to put off your craving can be your little secret.
2. Remember that a craving is not an emergency.
You are not starving and denying yourself something will not kill you. When we are overweight and eating poorly, we are accustomed to immediate gratification when it comes to food. Painful truth: We need to understand that we’ll not only be just fine by not having the food we crave, we will actually be happier to have control over the impulse.
3. Delay & distract.
There is data which says that a craving lasts, on average, about 8 minutes. So what can you do, for 8 minutes, that will keep your mind off the craving? You could call a friend to catch up on their news; you could put on some music and dance; you could plan out your menu and shopping list. Delay and distract with something that has your attention 100% and the craving may skulk away on its own.
4. Talk about it.
When you get a craving, call or talk to a friend about it. This goes hand in hand with Delay and Distract. Tell your friend about the craving and even make plans to have that food another day. Your friend may even be able to talk you out of it entirely. You are not alone and having a friend who supports you through your weight loss is invaluable.
5. If you know what situations trigger your cravings, avoid them.
Do you crave a doughnut every Friday morning when you walk into the office and someone has brought in a box and put it in the lunchroom? Avoid the lunchroom until they’re gone or have become stale and unappetizing. Do you crave pizza every time you walk by a certain corner on your evening job? Use an alternate route that will avoid the pizza joint. Do you crave ice cream when you sit at home alone on a weekend night? Go to a movie, or an art gallery. Fill your mind with images and ideas instead of your stomach with fattening food.
6. Don’t try to substitute.
When you are craving a slice of cake, you will not feel that your craving has been satisfied if you instead have a cup of fruit. It is better to eat a very small serving of the food you crave and have the craving satisfied, than having the craving linger after a substitute food. You may end up eating both.
7. Eat with others.
Try to never eat a craving food alone. Instead, try to have the food you want with other people. The simple fact that people will see how much you eat will keep you from over-indulging. But even more important, food eaten in company is a social act. You will feel fuller not just from the actual food, but from the interaction with your friends or family and need less “emotional” food as a result.
8. Create an intentional ritual with the foods you crave.
If you have to have some chocolate every day to feel happy, you should not be waiting for the craving to hit you. Buy the very best dark chocolate you can afford, cut it into small portions, and have it at a specific time every day. Don’t gulp it down while watching TV or going through the mail. Be in the moment with that food. Which leads to the next point.
9. Make a plan to give in.
Sometimes, if done correctly, giving in to a craving can be beneficial. You will not always be on a weight loss diet. At some point, you will be eating more calories and managing your weight. There should never be “forbidden” foods unless they are a real trigger for you. Planning for occasional treats while you are in the weight loss phase is good practice for the rest of your life. If a craving for a particular food has been hitting you for several days, make a plan for how much and when you will eat it.
10. Savor it.
Cravings are not about the amount of a food. They are about having a specific food that you had no plans to eat. Guilt for giving in to cravings is what leads us to eat too much of that food. It makes us feel that we are not in control, so we may as well eat up! There is another way. If the craving for something is not going to be avoided, then make the decision to have it and then slow down. Enjoy every bite. Really take the time to taste the flavor combinations and the texture and smell of the food. Don’t rush it and savor the experience. If you do this, you are respecting the food and your decision to have it and you will find that a modest portion will easily satisfy you.
Want to read more about cravings and their cause? Doreen Virtue’s book, Constant Craving: What Your Food Cravings Mean and How to Overcome Them will give you more insight into your cravings and how to get control.
Giving in to a craving is about unscheduled eating, not about any one food being “bad.” Use strategies to deal with cravings when they strike. But when you do decide to give in, be intentional about it. Own it, decide how you will offset the extra calories, log it, and by all means enjoy every bite. Then move on. Cravings are a part of life and they are not a measure of you as an individual or of your success in weight management.
Would you like to create your own strategy for dealing with cravings?
Hop on over to my resource library (the signup is just below) and download your Craving Strategy Guide!