14 Proven Ways to Control Your Strongest Cravings
Stop making excuses and use these tricks of the trade from researchers and experts to stop your cravings right at this very moment!
Play a game on your smartphone
Cravings typically last for ten minutes so try to distract yourself with something simple like playing a game on your phone. In a study in Addictive Behaviors, volunteers reported when they had cravings for food, coffee, alcohol, sleep, and more. They were also randomly sent texts throughout the week telling them to play Tetris on an iPod. After playing the game, participants’ craving levels dropped by about 20 percent. “Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery,” study author Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth said. “It is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.” Make sure you know what your food cravings can reveal about your health.
Take a walk
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
A University of Exeter study found that walking briskly for 15 minutes reduced cravings for chocolate—the most commonly reported food craving—during the walk and for at least 10 minutes afterward. The researchers say exercise could alter brain chemicals that help regulate cravings.
Consider the consequences
One study had participants use four different thinking strategies to overcome the urge to eat: thinking about something else, recognizing they don’t need to act on their thoughts, considering the negative long-term effects, or considering the immediate reward of the food. Remembering the long-term consequences of eating the food reduced the craving the most, the study found. If you’re dieting, here are 6 ways to curb pesky cravings without skipping a meal.
Imagine yourself eating
iStock/Sjoerd van der Wal
If you do give in to the urge to eat, a bit of imagination before digging in can help satisfy your craving sooner. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University had participants imagine putting quarters in a laundry machine or eating M&Ms before eating the candies in real life. Those who imagined eating 30 M&Ms and inserting quarters three times ate significantly fewer chocolates than those who imagined adding 30 quarters and eating three M&Ms, or just putting 33 quarters in the machine. The researchers guess that imagining yourself chowing down makes you feel like you’ve already eaten, so you’ll be able to stop eating sooner. Follow these 10 ways to train your brain to hate junk food.
When you’re stressed, the hormone cortisol floods your system, triggering the urge to eat foods high in fat or sugar. If you find yourself reaching for food to deal with stress, try taking a few moments for meditation. Studies have shown mindfulness meditation can decrease stress and make it easier to resist binge eating. Check out the other medical reasons why you’re hungry all the time.
Make a fist
Tightening your muscles could give your willpower a boost. In a Journal of Consumer Research study, participants who clenched their fists, tightened their biceps or calf muscles, or stretched their fingers while making food choices picked healthier foods than those who didn’t. The researchers say firming your muscles while trying to exert self-control could strengthen your resolve.
Steer clear of your trigger foods
“You crave what you eat, so if you switch what you’re eating, you can weaken your old cravings and strengthen new ones,” says Marcia Pelchat, PhD, of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. This can happen pretty fast. For five days, her study volunteers drank bland dietary-supplement beverages. During that time, they craved fewer of their trigger foods. By the end of the study, the volunteers actually wanted the supplements instead. The first few days are always the hardest, and you probably can’t completely eliminate your old cravings. But the longer you avoid your trigger foods, the less likely you may be to want them. In fact, you’ll probably begin to crave the foods you eat, a real bonus if you’ve switched to fresh fruit.
But cut yourself a break
Going cold turkey on guilty pleasure foods could end up backfiring. Women who were told not to eat a favorite snack for a day ate more of that food the next day than those who weren’t told to avoid the food, found a study in Appetite. Treat yourself to a square of dark chocolate every day and you might be better able to resist devouring three pieces of cake at your next office party. You could even whip up one of these delicious treats dietitians eat to beat their sugar cravings.
Destroy your most tempting foods—literally
If you’ve succumbed to a craving and bought a box of cookies or some other trigger food and start to feel bad while eating it, destroy it. “Don’t just throw it away; run water over it, ruin it. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that you’ve licked your binge,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, director of nutrition and weight management at Boston Medical Center. Don’t give it a second thought about the money you’re wasting because you’re doing this for your health and wellbeing.
Take a power nap
Cravings sneak up when we’re tired. Focus on the fatigue: Shut the door, close your eyes, re-energize. In fact, a good night’s sleep, will help banish those sugar cravings, in particular. A study from researchers primarily based at the King’s College in London found that slightly sleep-deprived participants who got just 20 minutes of extra sleep ate an average of nearly 10 fewer grams of added sugars each day compared to those who didn’t make any changes to their sleep schedules. Aside from tiredness, here are the 8 other feelings you mistake for hunger.
Go nuts for nuts!
Drink two glasses of water and eat an ounce of nuts (6 walnuts, 12 almonds or 20 peanuts). Within 20 minutes, this can extinguish your craving and dampen your appetite by changing your body chemistry, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic. Nuts aren’t the only food that banish cravings! Here’s how eating this one food can stop your junk food cravings for good.
Jolt yourself with a cup of joe
Try sipping a skim latte instead of reaching for a candy bar. The caffeine it contains won’t necessarily satisfy your cravings, but it can save you the calories by quenching your appetite, says Dr. Roizen. As an added bonus, the warm richness and ritual of making or buying one will distract you.
Get minty, fresh breath
Brush your teeth; gargle with mouthwash. “When you have a fresh, clean mouth, you don’t want to mess it up,” says Molly Gee, RD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Plus, most foods don’t taste great after using a minty toothpaste or mouthwash.
Plan out your cravings
Try to map out time in your day to either indulge in a craving or find a way to avoid it. If you can’t walk by your favorite pizzeria without buying a slice of cheese pizza, then find a new walking route. Or if you know you’ll be face-to-face with an irresistible birthday cake, allocate enough calories to fit it into your diet for the day without going overboard or feeling guilty. Next, read up on the 15 best foods for your belly.