Maija Bruzas, PhD, a licensed psychologist and member of the Penn Bariatrics team, shares information on how to manage food cravings. Dr. Bruzas completed her PhD dissertation on managing food cravings and has researched this topic extensively.
Food cravings are a common experience, but with the right tools, you can manage them effectively and ensure that they don’t interfere with your health and weight goals.
Here are 10 strategies you can use to combat food cravings:
1. Change your environment
it’s easiest to combat cravings if you don’t keep certain foods in your home or office, there are other ways to overcome the feeling.
If you have tasty foods in those locations, avoid keeping them nearby or in easy-to-see places, such as on your desk, atop your kitchen counter top, or at the front of your fridge.
If a craving hits when you are near a food you have trouble eating in small quantities, leave the place where the craved food is available.
Also avoid eating or drinking foods that make the craved food more desirable. So, if you always have cookies with milk, avoid drinking milk if you are craving cookies.
2. Recruit a social support system
Overcoming food cravings can be tough and it can help to lean on your support system.
Let the supportive people in your life know that you are trying not to eat your craved foods. Explain that your changed behavior may allow you to more easily meet your nutrition and weight-loss goals and that you appreciate their support.
3. Create a distraction
Often, food cravings occur out of boredom. When a craving hits, pivot your attention.
Keep your hands busy with a tactile task like gardening, crafting, knitting or painting your nails.
You also could try something that’s visually distracting, including playing a video game or looking at pretty photos.
Reading, learning a language, practicing a new skill, listening to music or talking to a loved one also are great ways to distract yourself, engage your mind and move past your craving.
4. Substitution: Choose this not that
If the food you crave is impossible for you to eat in small quantities, choose a nutritious and delicious alternative. For example, if you long for the crunch of potato chips, munch on carrots – or even crunchy roasted chickpeas, instead.
Water, herbal tea, or a decaffeinated low-calorie beverage all are bariatric-friendly drinks that can both help you stay hydrated and avoid cravings.
Seeking out pleasant smells, like candles, oil diffusers, spices or perfumes also can help your craving subside.
5. Delay your craving
Create a delay.
Tell yourself that you will wait X number of minutes or until the next day and then reassess your craving. You may find that the craving has decreased in strength or passed by that time.
6. Get moving
Take a walk, do some yoga, dance, lift weights, or engage in other movement.
7. Check in with yourself
Practice mindfulness. Notice your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations and observe and accept them without judgment.
Write down the triggers you think led to the craving.
Were you too hungry? Too fatigued? Too sad or bored?
Think of ways to manage those triggers without eating the craved food. Eat a nutritious snack to curb hunger, go to bed early, call a friend, or do something interesting.
When you crave something, your mind focuses on that one item. To overcome it, practice a calming activity, including deep breathing, a body scan, or muscle relaxation.
Or, close your eyes and imagine a place or person that calms you.
9. Practice self-talk and self-compassion
You are not alone.
Many people have food cravings and find it hard to avoid or have small portions of certain foods. Practice self-compassion. Remind yourself of your nutrition, weight, and health goals and that a food craving is just a thought. You get to decide how to respond to it!
10. Make it easier to enjoy the foods your crave in moderation
When you’re shopping, buy only a small portion of the craved food. Also, set a limit on how much of it you will eat, or mix the craved food in with another more nutritious food so that you eat less of it.
Practice mindful eating while you eat the craved food. Eat slowly and pay close attention to the food’s taste, smell, texture, and temperature when you are eating.
Share the craved food with a friend or loved one. Or, choose a lower-calorie version of the craved food.
With these 10 strategies, you can satisfy or overcome your food cravings without sabotaging your progress.