Giving in to cravings has got to be the easiest way to sabotage a diet or a healthy lifestyle.
There are a boatload of reasons why cravings render us helpless — marketing; restaurant foods high in sugar, fat and salt; loneliness; anger; boredom; habit; stress; restricting certain foods; lack of sleep; PMS; skipping meals; blah, blah, blah.
Craving something once in awhile isn’t a problem, but craving something (and giving into it) every day is a red flag that something in your life needs to change. Be mindful. When does the craving pop up? Same time every day? Then you’ve created a habit that your body expects. Break that habit and you’ll find the craving will disappear too. Are you letting yourself get too hungry? Then your blood sugar plummets and you’ll give in to whatever fatty/sugary/salty food that pops into your head or that’s seducing you from the vending machine.
If you’re not sure how often you’re actually having cravings or giving into them, keep a log or save up the wrappers. At the end of the week, if you have a jar stuffed with candy wrappers, you can’t fool yourself any longer. That’s tangible evidence your cravings are out of control.
But cravings are easy to tame, once you realize what’s happening.
Use these strategies whenever you feel a craving rearing its ugly head.
• Substitute — Humans crave sugar, salt and fat over healthier fare. If you’re craving sweets, eating a stalk of celery probably won’t do anything except exercise your jaw, but eating a piece of quality dark chocolate will do the trick. If you’re craving unhealthy potato chips, substitute some airpopped corn or whole grain crackers.
• Holler Uncle — Give in to your once-in-awhile craving. If you want ice cream, then have some. But don’t grab your spoon and dig into a half gallon. Instead, go buy yourself an individual size of the best ice cream you can find. Or go to the ice cream parlor and buy a single scoop of your favorite flavor. Really savor it. Enjoy the bejeebers out of it. But don’t make it a habit. Save it for the treat it really is.
• Change Your Mindset — If you’re craving something that has absolutely no redeeming qualities (doughnuts, fast food, soda) then drink a big glass of water and look at yourself in the mirror. Will you look better or feel healthier with a bigger butt or belly? Will you be proud of yourself for eating that doughnut? If the answer is “no, that junk food isn’t actually in my plan for good health,” then smile and get on with your day. Of course, this is always easier if you don’t keep your trigger foods handy!
• Get Active — When a craving hits, indulge in activity instead. Sit in the sun for a few minutes. Take a walk. Stretch. Keep a stash of greeting cards and write a note to someone. Do some deep breathing. Indulge in some funny YouTube clips — it’s the laughing that’s active; not the watching! Clean out your wallet, purse and/or desk drawer. Fold some laundry.
• Eat Better Meals — Eat protein instead of carbs for breakfast. In fact, eat lean protein with every meal. Say “no thank you” to rice in your burrito or chips with your sandwich. Wrap your sandwich in lettuce leaves instead of bread. Eat olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds with every meal. Eat better quality food and you may find you don’t have any cravings at all.
• Take A Whiff — Peppermint has magical properties that perk you up and help you consume fewer calories. Find some peppermint oil or brew some peppermint tea. The smell of coffee slows down your urge to snack too. Keep a handful of coffee beans handy.
• Eat Something Mindfully — Slowly peel and eat an orange or a hardboiled egg. Actively preparing and thinking about the food you are about to eat gives you a time-out from your craving. (But if you’re craving an orange or a hardboiled egg, go ahead and indulge — in fact, have two if you want!)
• Drink A Cup Of Green Tea — Again, it’s healthy, the prep and sipping redirect your brain, and it gives you a breather to step away from the craving.
• Adjust Your Recipe — If you’re craving fried chicken, faux-fry it. Coat it in whole wheat flour, Panko crumbs, or finely crushed nuts then bake it on a sheet sprayed with 0-calorie cooking spray at 450° for 15 minutes or so. It still gives you the crispy chicken you crave but it’s healthier.
• Go For Quality — If you’re craving a chocolate chip cookie, don’t buy the low-sugar, low-fat icky diet cookies at the grocery store. You won’t be satisfied and you’ll eat the entire package. Instead, go to a bakery and buy one gorgeously decadent full-flavored cookie. If it’s huge, share it, or put the other half in the freezer for another day.
• Make A Fist — The next time you pass the doughnut box on the break room table, squeeze your fist and keep a-walkin’. Clenching a muscle — any muscle — increases willpower but it only seems to work when you are thinking about a healthier treat while face-to-face with your unhealthy nemesis. Weird, but it costs nothing and it just might work. Plus, every time you have a “willpower success” like that, it reinforces the healthy behavior in your brain. Try it!
What is your krytonite? What food brings you to your knees and renders you helpless? How do you handle your cravings?