10 Tips for Managing Food Cravings


10-best-tips-managing-food-cravingsMost women who participate in the healthy weight management program at Green Mountain at Fox Run confess they struggle with managing food cravings.

When you’re in the midst of a food craving cycle, the idea of creating a healthy eating plan seems more like someone taking away your emotional blankie than a good idea. “What about my ice cream, potato chips, pasta, chocolate…(fill in the blank)..?”

Manage Food Cravings With These 10 Tips

To help you adopt a healthy eating plan that includes the foods you crave, try these 10 Green Mountain Tips:

[step]1[/step] Think “management” instead of “control.”

“Control” implies an adversarial relationship with food; it’s generally a constant struggle to maintain control. “Management” is much easier. When we manage something, we work with it to achieve our desired results.

[step]2[/step] Eat at least three well-balanced meals a day.

Don’t skip meals or avoid essential nutrients like carbohydrate, fat, or protein. It’s a normal physiological reaction to crave food if you’re underfed.

[step]3[/step] Give up guilt.

One brownie never made anyone gain weight, but your attitude about eating brownies (or any foods you consider forbidden) can make you fat. Believing you have ‘cheated’ on your diet, can produce feelings of failure and guilt that can set the stage for eating more. Eat your favorite foods in a way that makes you feel good during and after eating, without guilt.

[step]4[/step] Accept food cravings as a normal part of living in a food-oriented society.

Everyone experiences food cravings, regardless of whether they struggle with weight. The more you understand cravings, the more manageable they become. Food cravings can be caused by physical cues, emotional cues, environmental cues, and habits. Although you cannot necessarily eliminate all cravings, understanding what triggers them is the first step in reducing the frequency of cravings.

[step]5[/step] Look at cravings as suggestions to eat, not commands to overindulge.

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Healthy Weight Loss – Managing Food Cravings[end-div]Overeating does not have to be an automatic response to craving. It’s possible that a craving can help you pick the food that would be most satisfying to you when you are hungry.  Allowing yourself to have the food you are in the mood for, within the context of balanced meals and/or snacks, may actually help you avoid overindulging because you can feel satisfied more quickly than trying to ignore a craving and eating things you don’t really want in the moment.

[step]6[/step] Remember that cravings will pass.

Researchers have found that people believe a craving will continue to intensify until they give into it. In truth, a craving is similar to a wave in the ocean. It grows in intensity, peaks and then subsides if you don’t give into it. The more you practice riding the wave, the easier it will become.

[step]7[/step] Disarm your cravings with the 4 D’s.


Delay — at least 10-15 minutes before you eat so your action is conscious, not impulsive.

Distract — by engaging in an activity that requires concentration and is not compatible with eating.

Determine — how important it is to eat the craved food and how much you really want it.

Decide — what amount is reasonable and appropriate to start with. Eat it mindfully and enjoy!


[step]8[/step] Stop labeling foods as “bad,” “illegal” or “forbidden.”

It’s not necessarily an individual food that causes problems; it’s the manner in which you may consume it and how often you consume it which may be the greater concern.  Labeling something as “bad” can often trigger all-or-nothing thinking and behavior, when a person attempts to avoid a food she believes to be bad, but then feels restricted, thus triggering eating large quantities of that food when she’s exposed to it.

[step]9[/step] Aim for moderation instead of abstinence.

It’s not uncommon to hear people suggest complete abstinence from foods to manage cravings, especially when people talk about food addiction and cravings for sugar.  However, avoiding things you fear may only reinforce that fear.

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Food Addiction: Don’t Assume the Worst First[end-div]If you think you can never eat certain foods again, you may feel driven to eat as much as you can when you encounter those foods.Totally avoiding foods you crave may actually worsen the cravings.  Try intentionally adding some of the foods you typically crave to your regular meals.  Knowing that it’s part of your plan, that you are not doing anything wrong, and that you will have that food again in the near future may change the way you deal with that food for the better.

[step]10[/step] Exercise regularly.

Exercise is key to managing food cravings. Rather than burn calories, one of the most important contributions of regular exercise is a relief from tension and stress. It is also a very healthy way to delay and distract yourself from food.  We may also crave foods because eating can trigger production of feel-good chemicals in the brain; exercise can do the same and reduce the need to go to the food for this purpose.

What cravings do you run into often?  Are you aware of what triggers this craving for you?

3 responses to “10 Tips for Managing Food Cravings”

  1. Katalina says:

    Love this post. The way I broke my obsessive cravings years back was to do just what you talked about in the 4 D’s – I would pull into Dunkin Donuts…but instead of running in. I waited 5 minutes. If I still “had” to have something, I went in. Again, waited a few seconds and asked myself “are you sure”. Sometimes I walked out, sometimes I did it. But you are so right – make it a CONSCIOUS choice. I really enjoyed this post – thank you!

  2. Peggy says:

    Helpful article. Thank you for taking the time to write and post it.

  3. Courtney says:

    Very helpful information. Love the 4 D information!

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

Marsha has been a guiding force at Green Mountain at Fox Run since 1986. In addition to overseeing a professional program that helps women establish sustainable approaches to healthy living, she is a respected thought leader when it comes to managing eating, emotions and weight. She has been a voice of reason for the last three decades in helping people move away from diets, an area in which she is personally as well as professionally versed. An accomplished writer and speaker, Marsha is the author of six books, including the online course Disordered Eating in Active and Sedentary Individuals (co-authored by Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, Human Kinetics), What You Need to Know about Carbohydrates (Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics [The Academy]), What You Need to Know about Vitamin and Mineral Supplements (The Academy), and The Pregnancy Cookbook (co-authored by Donna Shields, RD, Berkeley Publishing). She has worked extensively on a national basis to educate the public about nutrition and the impact of dieting on eating behaviors, including binge eating and emotional eating. Active in many organizations helping to further the cause of health and wellness, Marsha currently serves as vice chair of the Binge Eating Disorder Association and vice president of The Center for Mindful Eating and has been active in the Association for Size Diversity and Health in support of Health at Every Size(R) principles.

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