A lot of people I know are stressed out by food cravings. They ask how to stop craving sweets or how to lose weight when they’re craving all their favorite foods. This is something I have some experience with — both as a registered dietitian nutritionist and has a human being. Of course, I have food cravings! Who doesn’t?
3 ways to handle food cravings
First you should know that foods cravings are not a bad thing. It’s normal to crave chocolate, chips or any other favorite food. Cravings are not a sign of weakness. However, how you handle food cravings can be either helpful or harmful.
I have several approaches to deal with food cravings.
- Build in your treat. I start with my favorite strategy. Of course, it’s my favorite; it’s the most positive and the most fun! What used to be my biggest craving and a taboo food for me is now something I eat everyday. Every. Single. Day. It’s not a cheat. It’s just a treat. Cheating is bad, and treating is kind. Every night when I finish savoring my small, decadent, delicious treat, I celebrate that I can eat it again tomorrow. Permitting yourself treats instead of depriving yourself is freeing and generally leads to less emotional eating too. Permitting yourself to eat foods that you regard as unhealthful or “bad,” requires a helpful mindset. One of my favorite examples of learning to treat instead of cheat or binge comes from a client of many years ago. She frequently lunched on three chili cheese dogs and chili cheese fries at a local hot dog place. She stayed clear of that lunch spot for a long time while learning to eat more healthfully and working to lose weight. But she was feeling a weakness for this food. We talked about what she really wanted from this place. It could have been the company she keeps there, the chili cheese dogs, fries or something else. She concluded that she simply craved a chili cheese dog. We finished our session with a plan. Later in the week, she’d pick up a single chili cheese dog — not the three she previously lunched on and no fries. She picked up the hot dog and drove home to eat it with her otherwise health-boosting meal. The result? A satisfying lunch! No guilt, no bingeing, no negative self-talk. She was empowered by allowing herself a treat. Eventually, treating became the norm. Once you build in treats, foods that were once taboo, lose their power over you.
- Surf the crave wave. Mindfulness experts teach us to explore and fully experience the urge to engage in undesired behavior. I’ve heard it called surfing the urge. If you want to diminish the power of a craving or another type of urge, try simply observing it without judgment. The “without judgment” part is key here. Don’t give yourself a hard time about this. You’ll probably notice that the craving doesn’t just get stronger and stronger and stronger. I know that it often seems never ending though. But most likely the craving builds, peaks and drops off similar to an ocean’s wave. Next time you have a craving that you don’t want to give in to, take a few minutes to surf the crave wave. Sit quietly and watch it without battling it. What do you feel? Both physically and mentally? Be specific. Don’t argue with your craving, and don’t try to beat it. Just observe it. Chances are good that it will eventually wash away. Be patient with yourself. This is likely to feel awkward the first times you try it. It will take practice, but you’ll get there.
- Trade up. Pick something else that will satisfy you. Craving chocolate cake? Try a high-fiber chocolate snack cake instead. Ice cream sundae? How about light ice cream with berries and chocolate shavings? Mac and cheese? Try a recipe that’s lower in unhealthful fats and higher in veggies. But here’s the clincher, if these things don’t satisfy, forget it. I sure don’t want you eating something you don’t like only to keep on craving what you’ve always wanted. This is a sign that you really need to start learning to build in treats — like one chili cheese dog as part of your otherwise healthful lunch.
- Double down on willpower. Just kidding. This never works. We need skills, strategies and a helpful mindset. Ignoring these three things in favor of willpower just leads to more frustration and less success.