Food cravings seem to hit hard and fast, catching you off-guard if you’re trying to eat healthier or avoid certain items that are packed with sugar and too many calories. However, it can be all too easy to reach for a chocolate bar or bag of potato chips when you’re feeling snack-ish or stressed out. How to stop food cravings is the question.
If you find your sweet tooth hinders your weight loss goals, you’re not alone. Cravings can make it difficult to choose healthier foods. If you’re wondering how to stop food cravings in their tracks, read on for some simple tips that can help you kick cravings to the wayside this year.
What Causes Food Cravings?
As with many things in your body, food cravings are caused by brain signals and an imbalance of hormones.1 The brain is responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward, which is why food cravings can seem so insistent. Your brain remembers how much you liked a certain kind of food and wants to make sure you’re happy while still getting the nutrients you need.
However, an imbalance of hormones like leptin and serotonin is what causes more intense food cravings. They can also be a result of a heightened emotional or physical state (like pregnancy or extreme stress), and some research suggests that the body will crave certain foods due to a lack of nutrients in the body that contributes to an increase in appetite and unhealthier food choices.2
How Cravings Affect Your Weight
If you look forward to a scoop of ice cream or piece of chocolate each night after dinner, you may find yourself craving those sweet treats or still feeling hungry if you suddenly stop cold turkey for a new diet regimen. That’s because your body has become so accustomed to a certain amount of sugar that a change in behavior can trigger your hormones, making the temptation to eat a small portion of salty or sugary foods all the harder to avoid.
In fact, some studies have even found that quitting junk food cold turkey causes the body to go through withdrawals that are similar to drug addiction.3 When this happens, giving in to what seems like a small craving can completely topple your body’s ability to regulate the amount of sodium or sugar that’s suddenly flooding back into your body, affecting things like your blood sugar and weight.
Everyone’s body is different. Some may find that giving in to food cravings causes them to not lose weight and instead stay at the same weight, while others may find it causes weight gain. Whatever the case may be, cravings are often an overwhelming issue that’s hard to curb, and that can be detrimental to your weight loss or healthy lifestyle goals.
The good news? There are plenty of ways to overcome your cravings and opt for a healthy meal instead to keep from overeating.
Stopping Unhealthy Food Cravings In Their Tracks
If feeling hungry has stopped your peace of mind or a good night’s sleep, here are some healthy tips the next time you feel like binge eating french fries:
- Drink more water: Some research suggests that cravings typically only last for about three to five minutes (although it seems like the longest moments of your life), and thirst can be confused with hunger. Next time you feel the urge to rummage through your pantry for a snack, try drinking a large glass of water to help curb your appetite. (Not to mention drinking water has plenty of other health benefits, too.)4
- Plan ahead with meal prep: Planning your meals even for an upcoming day or two can help immensely when trying to kick your cravings. By knowing exactly what you’ll be eating for every meal, you’re eliminating the temptation to run to your freezer once you’ve had dinner.5
- Eat more protein: It’s no secret that a high-protein diet has plenty of benefits for your body, and it may also help reduce your appetite and cravings, and thus reduce the number of calories you consume. One study found that eating a high-protein breakfast kept participants fuller longer and found a substantial decrease in cravings6, so be sure to stock up on eggs, peanut butter, and other protein-based fat like avocados and yogurt.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep: Sleep deprivation can knock your body out of whack just like food cravings can, and can even lead to more weight gain if you’re not careful. Plus, getting plenty of sleep ensures that your body has the time and energy to break down food and absorb necessary nutrients, making it a win-win for your mind and body.
- Eat full, proper meals: Just because you’re on a weight-loss journey doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself. Your body still needs carbs and healthy fats, among other things. Ensuring that you’re eating full meals can guarantee that you won’t be standing hungry in front of the fridge right before bedtime or binge eating junk food when emotional eating.
Smart Eating To Support A Healthy Diet
Another great way to kick cravings is to make smart food swaps to “trick” your body into thinking it’s getting the food you love. (Remember the correlation between memory, pleasure, and reward? This plays into that.)
Mindful eating is a great way to still feel like you’re getting to eat the things you crave, like fries or pizza, while still reaping the health benefits. For example, swapping out milk chocolate for dark chocolate for dessert allows you to satisfy your sweet tooth without sacrificing an entire week of healthy choices.7 Same goes with salty foods: Try swapping potato chips for kale chips if you’re still looking for that delicious crunch to go with a sandwich.
Chewing gum can also be another helpful way to stave off a mid-afternoon craving. Experts have found that one of the greatest benefits of chewing gum is that it helps aid weight loss initiatives by curbing cravings and helping manage stress.8
What You Keep In Your Home Is Important
Not only can stopping food cravings help maintain weight, but it can also help your overall gut health, mental, and emotional health, too. That means that what you stock your pantry with is vital to helping you achieve your lifestyle goals.
Try to avoid buying sugary foods and other junk foods you crave that are high in sodium and fat, and instead replace them with healthy meals or snack alternatives. A registered dietitian is a great resource to consult if you don’t know where to start when it comes to making the switch to a diet that’s high in protein, healthy fat, and low (or lower) in sugar and calories.
The most important thing to remember in trying these different tactics is to find the one that works best for you and your cravings. Not everything on this list may benefit you, and that’s okay. Keep trying different solutions – there’s something out there for everyone.
Choosing to kick cravings to the curb in order to focus on your nutrition is a courageous first step in creating the ultimate healthy lifestyle. If anyone can succeed in this endeavor, it’s you. Don’t stress – now is the perfect time to tackle your cravings head on and start feeling great.