Why does it always seem that the minute you decide to clean up your diet and make healthier choices the food cravings kick in? It’s been weeks, maybe months, since you’ve wanted a candy bar, but now it’s all you can think about. The mind is a very strong “muscle”—but it can be trained. First, it helps to understand why cravings occur, then you can use some unexpected methods to conquer them.
Sometimes our bodies crave certain foods because we’re tired (“I want sugar!”), not getting enough nutrients (“I need healthy calories!”) or hormonal, due to your monthly cycle, pregnancy or menopause (“Give me chocolate…now!”). If you feel a particularly strong craving coming on, give one of these tricks a try:
Eat something sour
Want something sweet? Go for something sour instead. Having that sour taste in your mouth may help curb cravings for sugar. Munch on sour pickle chips, sour cherry peppers, pickled veggies, olives or even a grapefruit. After a few bites, that brownie or bowl of ice cream probably won’t seem as appealing.
Drink hot tea or coffee
If you’re feeling tired and hungry, instead of reaching for a sugary snack, try sipping on a mug of coffee or tea. Drinking a warm, caffeinated beverage can help keep hunger at bay until your next meal, while also providing a little jolt of energy without the sugar high and crash you’d experience after eating a sweet treat.
Chew some gum
After eating a meal, your palate may demand dessert. Instead of indulging in something sweet, pop in a piece of peppermint gum. The minty flavor will distract your taste buds, and the chewing motion will keep your mouth busy until the cravings subside. If you chew natural peppermint gum, you may even get some stomach-soothing benefits from the herb.
Eat enough protein along with healthy fats
For many people, eating enough protein works to keep hunger under control. When your body is getting enough of the healthy nutrients it requires, fewer cravings occur. Aim to eat 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily (for example, a 125-pound woman would need a minimum of 125 grams of protein a day). If you think drastically cutting back on fat is a smart plan of attack, think again. Lowering fat intake too much can cause cravings because your body needs some fat to function. Be sure to include healthy fats, such as almonds, natural nut butters, avocados and olive oil, in your daily diet.
Vegetable are almost a free pass! Eat as many as you’d like (with the exception of carrots, peas and corn, which are high in sugar). When you fill up on broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, pepper, and celery, you’re also getting the fiber, vitamins and minerals your body needs. Veggies will keep you full, stop hunger from spiking and may help prevent deficiencies in certain vitamins (which could cause cravings!).
When you feel a craving coming on, grab a bottle of water and get moving! Even if you just walk around the block or your office building, take a break and move your body. Exercise will get your blood flowing and help keep your mind off food. Plus, drinking water will fill you up and provide hydration.
Trainer tip: Try not to give in the moment a craving hits. Be consistent with your healthy eating (make sure to eat enough, ideally every 3-4 hours), and you’ll notice cravings will start to become less frequent. Here’s a simple, quick recipe to help combat cravings for sweets (it’s my favorite healthy carb and protein treat):
Microwave a sweet potato. When cooked, mash the insides and mix in a scoop of chocolate protein powder. Eat half and refrigerate the rest for later.