21 simple ways to prevent or stop unhealthy food and sugar cravings.
- Eat More Protein: Adding additional protein increases satiety and reduces your chances of grazing that candy bowl. If you reduce your carvings, you will be more likely to continue your diet and less likely to splurge and become discouraged. For more on protein consumption and satiety read my article on Research Proven Weight Loss: High protein or Research Proven Weight Loss: Whey Protein. Both posts provide research on satiety and protein.
- Don’t Buy It: If you leave it in the store, you will be less likely to splurge. If you know your trigger or comfort food is processed, salty chips, don’t buy them. There is a significant correlation between convenience and splurging. If you have to drive 20 miles to get the bag of chips and fight the crowd, you will be unlikely to give in to a salty urge.
- Drink Water: Drinking an extra glass of water before each meal had been tied to not only eating less but burning more calories. Plus, thirst is often confused with hunger or food cravings. If you feel the urge, drink a glass of water slowly and wait for the urge to subside. You will be pleasantly surprised by the results. It could be as simple as water filling your stomach and alleviating hunger and carvings. For more on water and weight, read One Bottle of Water Can Induce Weight Loss, Hydrate and Lose Weight, and Research Proven Weight Loss: Drink Water.
- Reduce your stress: Fighting Stress helps because stressors may induce food cravings and influence eating behaviors. I have found that stressful days produce grazing the cake cutting ceremonies and candy bowls throughout my workplace. The mechanism is easy to understand because stress raises your blood levels of cortisol and cortisol is both a stress hormone and it induces both hunger and central obesity or belly fat. I have written several articles on Cortisol: The Battlefield: How Cortisol Makes You Fat and Unhealthy, Stress and Cortisol, and Hormones of Obesity: Cortisol. I also wrote on stress and weight gain in Weight Loss Tip: Reduce Your Work Stress and Weight loss tip: Avoid starting a diet when you’re under a lot of stress. Minimize your stress by planning ahead, exercising, meditating, and generally slowing down. Taking a breather from the hustle and bustle can make a huge difference.
- Go To Bed Early and Get Enough Sleep: Your body requires sleep to function efficiently. When you are tired, you will be more likely to turn to snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages to stay awake. Think about driving your car long distances. As you get tired, you stop to buy snacks and coffee drinks. Sleep also increases cortisol and stress (see number 4). I personally have found that sleep is one of the best weapons to fight my own cravings. For more on sleep, read Lack of Sleep May Be Making You Fat and Weight Loss Tip: Get More Sleep.
- Stay Busy: Distraction is one of the most powerful means to fight cravings. It does not matter what you use as long as it is not eating. You can talk to a family member or friend, read a book or magazine, surf the internet, watch TV, exercise, take a walk, take a shower, or go shopping, but do not do grocery shopping. Shopping for groceries when you are hungry or suffering from cravings will lead to a grocery cart full of Twinkies or Ho-Hos.
Hide the Junk: I have found that if I put the healthy choices in the front of the refrigerator or pantry increases the likelihood that I will make healthy choices when I do partake. I read an article on Cornell University’s website entitles “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” that illustrates the science behind this belief. I have found that if I push poor choices to the back, the food often spoils before I use it.
- Chew some gum: The motion of chewing gum appears to distract you from your cravings and researchers have proven that the sweet flavor of gum appears to suppress appetite. For more on gum and reducing cravings, read Weight Loss Tip: Chew some gum.
- Work Out the Craving: It might surprise you but exercise works to prevent overeating and cravings. This little trick has been used for ages and is research-proven. I am not sure it is because you’re distracted during exercise, releasing endorphins, or suppressing your hunger hormones, but it works. For more on the research, read Research: Exercise Suppresses Your Appetite.
- Reward Success: You have worked hard to get where you are. Occasionally, reward yourself. Try to avoid food, but you can do that on occasion. Make it a special event with something you really like and plan for it to reward making a small goal. Completely de[rivign yourself will make the craving worse. Celebrate the small goals with a present, but I would recommend that you moderate the amount and remember, occasionally is not every day for a week or even two days a week. No guilt, just enjoy the moment off.
- No Grocery Shopping While Hungry: Shopping for food when you are hungry is asking for trouble. You go to the store with the best intentions and come out with the entire bakery section. Grocery stores are designed to encourage you to buy things that you don’t want or need. The placement, colors, and just about everything is placed in a manner to ensure you maximize your spending on cheap processed foods. They do the opposite of tip number 7 and place the unhealthy foods at eye level. This almost makes certain you will choose them first. Like Donkey in Shrek, they are jumping right in front of you saying “pick me.” For more on shopping hungry, read Weight Loss Tip: Don’t Shop On An Empty Stomach.
- Eat healthy meals on schedule: Hunger can cause certain cravings and delaying meals in any way increases the odds of developing them. If you know, you are going to be late at work, bring a meal with you. I prepare my meals ahead of time and carry a meal prep bag. On days I am going to be late, I bring both lunch and dinner with me. It prevents me from stopping on the way home when I drive past all the fast food places. I pack lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean meats fill my stomach with something other than fried chicken and burgers.
- Say No to Mindless Eating: Pay attention to what and how much you are eating, but mindful eating is more than just paying attention to eating, it is also about being mindful of your true appetite state. If you are hungry, eat something but make it something healthy. Avoid eating at your desk at work or in from of the TV or computer. The distraction can be deadly to your diet. We have all done it, you intend to eat a serving out of the bag and before you know it you ate the whole 2-pound feedbag of Cheetos. If you mindfully eat, you will recognize you are full.
- Avoid Multi-serving Bags or Boxes: I affection refer to these as the feedbag. Picture a horse with a feedbag of grain. You will eat more than you need if you are given the whole bag. Multi-serving bags set you up for failure. There are two ways to avoid this failure, create your own snack packs from the multi-serving bags with ziplock baggies or only buy single-serving bags. For more, read Weight Loss Tip: Make Your Own Snack Packs.
- Bring healthy snacks: Healthy snacks that are high in protein or fiber are excellent choices to prevent hunger and cravings. You know you are going to be late for lunch so have a snack to avoid that walk of shame to the vending machine. You know there is nothing healthy in there so bring your own.
- Schedule the Foods You Crave: Instead of depriving yourself of foods or snacks you love, schedule them and limit the portion size. I often make snack packs that are the exact number of calories I want to eat. That is bought with some foods because 100 calories of peanut butter or cheesecake are not very much of those foods, but then again, a little flavor goes a long way.
- Freshen Your Breath: The mint or cinnamon flavor of toothpaste or mouth watch can reduce the urge to give in to the craving. I do not know if it is the cleaning of your palate or the tingling caused by the flavor, but this works. I have found this is especially helpful after a meal that is high in salt, garlic, or onions. For more on this topic, read Weight Loss Tips: Freshen Your Breath or Cleanse Your Palate.
- Ginger and Green Tea: Make a cup and have the best of both worlds. Green tea has been shown to be beneficial for weight loss, and ginger suppresses your appetite. I add a little fresh ginger to my green tea. The flavor is great, and you will love the results. For more, read Research: Ginger Promotes satiety and enhances calories burned and Research Proven Weight Loss: Green Tea.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Vinegar increases the feeling of fullness or satiety. If you are full and satisfied, you will be less likely to crave or give in to a craving. Vinegar also increases insulin sensitivity and helps with weight loss. Make sure you brush your teeth afterward because it can also remove some calcium from your teeth. For more on vinegar, read Research Proven Weight Loss: Apple Cider Vinegar.
- Develop a Support Network: Having friends or a spouse who are good influences and will help steer you away from bad decisions and cravings is ideal when you are weak and stressed. The right person will read your emotions and help you out of the situation that has you reaching for the Doritos.
- Write it down: Keep a journal of your triggers and what works for you. Not all of these tips will be able to cure your craving just like not everyone craves the same things. Being aware of your cravings and their triggers will make it much easier to avoid them next time. Also, if you keep a detailed report of what worked for you, you will be more able to identify your successes are repeat them.
The bottom line: Don’t be so hard on yourself! Everyone has a trigger or stressor that causes them to reach for their comfort food. Cravings happen to everyone, and you will eventually fall for them. The most important thing is to not fall into a spiral of depression and regret because they ensure your diet is a failure. Keep a handle on your craving, and this time, you will come out on top of your diet.