Suddenly the urge overcomes your whole being: You. Must. Have. Chocolate. Now.
Most of us have been guilty of having—and satisfying—food cravings like this. But if you cave into cravings every time, you're not doing yourself any favors. Before or when a craving hits, try one of these tips to help outsmart it.
1. Take a walk. A recent study found that even a short burst of exercise (such as a brisk walk for 15 minutes) can help you regulate food intake. Why? Exercise may lower the boredom, fatigue and tension that can lead you to make unhealthy food choices.
2. Chew sugarless gum. What better way to prevent you from eating than chewing a stick of gum? Just stick with a sugar-free variety to keep your dentist happy.
3. Keep yourself busy. Eating is no way to drown your sorrows or your boredom. Consider listening to music, reading a book, calling a friend or doing laundry to distract yourself from eating. Most cravings start, rise and then recede. Occupying yourself with non-eating activities will separate you from the craving, giving you the space and time to reflect on why you want this food in the first place.
4. Toss temptations in your kitchen. Think about what foods might be your triggers. For example, consider what you'd turn to if you came home tired after a long day at work. After you toss the tempting but not-so-healthy foods, restock your fridge with healthy fare like lean meats and poultry, low-fat dairy foods, fruits, veggies and whole grains.
5. Think in moderation. If you must have that food, watch your portion sizes. For example, dole out a box of cookies into smaller bags or containers. That way you'll only eat a serving's worth of the food. Or buy single servings or 100-calorie packages of the foods you crave.
6. Turn to dark chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate contains phytochemicals that may help protect your cardiovascular system. Indulge in a small square (it does contain calories!) if you're really craving sweets. Just look for dark chocolate that doesn't list sugar as its first ingredient.
7. Keep yourself full. Processed foods like potato chips will only briefly satiate hunger. Healthier foods are digested slower, so they're in your system longer, and you'll be less likely to be hungry soon after you eat. Plus a healthy food like a carrot takes longer to chew before you can swallow it compared to an unhealthy chip. Reach for filling fare like grapes with low-fat string cheese or peanut buttered-covered celery sticks. Or go for a handful of protein- and fiber-filled almonds or pistachios.
8. Look to alternatives. If you want potato chips, munch on a low-fat or fat-free brand. Try a baked apple if you want something sweet. For crunchiness, try a salad loaded with veggies. Sure, a salad won't offer the same crunchiness as a chip. But over time, it may do the trick.
9. Sip plain or flavored water or something hot. You may not be hungry; you may just need a glass of water to curb your dehydration or make you feel full. Not flavorful enough? Drink water infused with cucumber, basil, mint or another flavor. It can satisfy a craving without adding any calories. (Just avoid artificially sweetened beverages which may feed into your sugar cravings.) You can also sip a warm beverage such as a cup of tea. It's filling and takes time to consume, hopefully distracting you from your cravings.
10. Brush your teeth. Brush or floss your teeth and rinse with mouthwash. Your craving may disappear when you change the taste in your mouth. And you likely won't want to mess with a mouth that's fresh, minty and clean.
11. Take a nap. You may be confusing exhaustion with hunger. Take a 15-minute power snooze if you're near a bed. If you're at work, try sitting at your desk or a quiet area of your office with your eyes closed briefly to help reenergize you.
12. Reach out to your squad. You may not be craving food; you may just need some social support or interaction. Phone or text your best friend or partner. He or she may be able to talk you out of polishing off the pint of ice cream or bag of chips.
Did you follow tips like these and still can't curb the constant cravings? Speak with your health care provider. Your provider can perform blood tests to see if you have any underlying health conditions (such as a vitamin deficiency) that may trigger cravings.