Most of us occasionally get a craving for unhealthy food. But here’s the thing: Unless you’re pregnant or nursing, such cravings are usually emotionally linked. We most often want certain foods when we’re feeling anxious, stressed or lonely, not because we have a biological or physiological need for a particular food or nutrient.
While there’s some evidence to suggest that a combination of fats and carbohydrates has a calming effect, that doesn’t justify downing a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling tense. Instead, consider these 5 strategies to quiet cravings:
- Notice subliminal messages. Whether it’s a commercial on TV or a pop-up ad online, marketing messages have a powerful impact on the foods we crave. Even just seeing someone eating something sweet as you pass by their office door can be enough to drive you to the cookie jar. Once you’re aware of these subliminal messages, you’ll be better equipped to talk yourself out of a food fixation.
- Distract yourself. Since cravings often stem from stress and anxiety, substitute other soothing activities when you have the urge to eat. If you walk around the block, soak in the tub, or go for a bike ride when you’re feeling frazzled, you’ll be less likely to grab a candy bar. You can even arm yourself with a list of things to do instead of eating – and post it on the refrigerator.
- Indulge responsibly. Serve up a small portion of your favorite food before you get the urge to overindulge. If you know you crave chocolate around 3 p.m., allow yourself two chocolate kisses before the mid-afternoon slump sets in. Want salt? Eat a handful of popcorn rather than a bag of potato chips. And if there’s a food you can’t eat in moderation, keep it out of your house.
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry. When you skip meals or eat too little, it’s difficult to determine whether you’re craving a certain something or just hungry. Your best bet: Eat a mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat at least every four hours while awake to stay satisfied. Eating smaller portions throughout the day in a predictable pattern will make you less likely to overeat.
- Write it down. Take time to identify which emotions trigger specific cravings. Write down everything you eat and how you felt before, during and after you ate it. Were you hungry or just stressed? Were you happy or sad? After a few days, you’ll have a good idea of which emotions send you straight to the refrigerator. A bonus: writing down what you’re about to eat and your mood (i.e., I’m stressed!) buys you time to figure out if you’re truly hungry or if just trying to soothe yourself.
There’s no perfect formula for satisfying cravings. If two chocolate kisses will calm your sweet tooth, go for it. But if you know that two chocolate kisses will lead to you polishing off the entire bag, try to identify lower calorie ways to combat that craving (a glass of chocolate milk, an individual cup of chocolate pudding or a frozen fudge bar, for example).
If your cravings enter the bizarre realm – like dirt or soap – then visit your doctor. Craving non-food items may be connected to a vitamin or mineral deficiency or other health problems.
To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).