Most women who participate in the peaceful eating 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 tips gleaned from our over 40 years working with women who struggle with eating and weight.
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.
Eat at least three well-balanced meals a day.
Don’t skip meals or avoid food groups that contain essential nutrients like carbohydrate, fat, or protein. It’s a normal physiological reaction to crave food if you’re underfed or “misfed”.
Give up guilt.
One brownie never made anyone gain weight, but your attitude about eating brownies (or any foods you consider forbidden) can lead to weight gain. 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 well during and after eating, without guilt.
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.
Look at cravings as suggestions to eat, not commands to overindulge.
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.
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.
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 — how much to start with. Starting with smaller amounts builds in an automatic stopping point when you can decide if you want more. Whatever amount you decide, eat it mindfully and enjoy!
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 trigger all-or-nothing thinking and behavior, when you attempt to avoid a food you believe to be bad, but then feel restricted, thus triggering eating large quantities of that food when you’re exposed to it.
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.
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.
Exercise is key to managing food cravings. Rather than burning 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?
Editor note: Green Mountain’s 10 Tips for Managing Food Cravings were written in the 1980s but are clearly evergreen. One day, we hope they’re not needed.