What can you do about unwanted food cravings? I'm often asked this question by clients, and these four steps are what we discuss. This approach is one of the most simple, but powerful strategies to prevent yourself from overeating.
People seem to have the mindset that cravings aren't normal. That couldn't be further from the truth. Cravings are extremely normal for everyone, and they often ebb and flow. Allow yourself to acknowledge the craving without judgment. Delay is different than deny. If you obsess over a food that you deny yourself, it's more difficult to let it go.
In this step, it's important not to engage with negative self talk that tells you you're weak, don't have control, or shouldn't be craving something. It's totally okay to have cravings--it's just important to be patient with them and avoid the immediate knee-jerk reaction to eat. DELAY first and foremost.
Often times we crave because we are restless, bored, procrastinating, stressed, tense, tired, sad, happy... all kinds of reasons. Food is not usually the solution to these issues; rather, the solution is finding activities that engage, stimulate, or relax us physically and mentally. Call a friend, practice deep breathing, walk the dog, take a bath, clean, listen to music or make a playlist for your ipod.
Make a list of five things you can easily do at work and five things you can do at home. This list of distractions is meant to give you some ideas on what to turn to when you need to "distract" yourself from a craving.
Drink water or tea before you turn to food--sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger, and a simple glass of water does the trick. Making a hot cup of herbal tea--such as peppermint--and even adding some lemon juice and a squirt of honey or splash of milk--can be a soothing solution that allows you to slow down a bit and let go of the anxiety surrounding your craving.
When delaying, distracting, and deflecting just won't do the trick, you can choose to have a smaller portion of whatever it is you are craving, have a healthier version that still has the same flavor as what you are craving, or pair a more nutritious food with your craving. Popcorn is a great option when you are craving salty/crunchy foods, and fruit dipped in dark chocolate is a good way to satisfy a sweet tooth while still fitting in some good nutrients.
Lastly, be patient with yourself. It's good to own your choices, but guilt is a demoralizing emotion. Be compassionate with yourself and make a plan for how you will act the next time a craving hits. In this way, you will encourage and empower yourself, which are much better motivators than guilt!
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods