Smart Strategies to Bust Big Cravings

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By: , – Healthy Eating Expert
2/21/2013 12:00 PM   :  29 comments   :  25,676 Views

There's more to healthy eating and weight loss than simply tracking your food. The way you think about food, respond to hunger, and deal with cravings also affects your diet and overall health. Look up ''crave'' in the dictionary and you will find that it means ''to long for; want greatly; desire eagerly.'' So, it makes sense that you don’t usually crave specific foods due to physical hunger; cravings are often complex and happen for a variety of reasons, both physical and emotional. There is a big difference between a craving and actual hunger.

But cravings are not necessarily ''bad.'' They are normal and can have a place in any healthy lifestyle. However, constantly giving in to your cravings can lead to overeating and an unbalanced diet. Learning to satisfy your cravings in a controlled manner will keep your relationship with food in balance. Here are some common scenarios when cravings tend to strike—and how to bust them in a healthy way.

Craving culprit: You constantly crave specific (often sugary/salty) foods.

Bust it! Recognize that it’s okay to give into your cravings sometimes; it’s all a matter of portion control and moderation. Instead of immediately giving in to your craving, evaluate how you can satisfy it without derailing your meal plan for the day. Sometimes, the solution might be to have a small amount of what you’re craving. Other times, it might be best for you to find a healthier option for what you crave. Some people can handle having smaller portions of what they're craving, but others might feel that they won't be able to control themselves around any amount of certain ''trigger'' foods. This is a very individual response that varies from person to person, and it might take some time to find what works for you. Here are a few examples of how to bust some common food cravings, whether by downsizing what you're craving, or by substituting the craving with an alternative choice:
 
Instead of: Try: Or:
Regular potato chips straight from the bag One pre-portioned serving of regular potato chips One pre-portioned serving of baked potato chips
Countless chocolates from the candy bowl at work One pre-portioned serving of chocolates from the candy bowl at work A couple squares of dark chocolate, laid out on a plate
Ice cream straight from the carton One scoop of ice cream in a bowl One scoop of lower-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt in a bowl
A medium pizza Two slices of pizza A personal-size pizza made with a pita bread crust and piled with veggies
A large bowl of pudding (or other creamy dessert) A small bowl of pudding (or other creamy dessert) A serving of Greek yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey
A large milkshake A small milkshake A smoothie made with fruit and low-fat milk
Multiple chunks of baguette, topped with unmeasured butter One piece of baguette, topped with one serving of butter A piece of whole-grain bread, dipped in a drizzle of olive oil and herbs
A large latte with whipped cream A small latte with no whipped cream A hot cup of tea
An entire bowl of pasta from a restaurant Half a restaurant portion of pasta A homemade dish made with spaghetti squash instead of pasta
A large order of French fries A small order of French fries A serving of homemade baked fries
 
 
Craving culprit: You always crave foods at a specific time.

Bust it! Many people find themselves craving food at night time, or while they’re doing a specific activity (like watching TV). Track your cravings to help you notice patterns. If you tend to crave certain foods at night, always have a nutritious snack planned for the evening. Or, take up a nightly hobby that gets you out of the house and away from the kitchen, like taking an after-dinner walk with your family. If your cravings accompany an activity, try to associate that activity with something other than food. For example, if you always crave popcorn while watching a movie, try doing something else to keep your mouth and/or hands busy, like chewing gum, knitting, or squeezing a stress ball.
 
Craving culprit: You crave something simply because it’s in front of you.

Bust it! Always have snacks on hand in places where you know food might tempt you. Do donuts always seem to show up in the break room at work? Keep a stash of healthier snacks in your desk to munch on instead. Do you get hit with fast food cravings while on the road? Take something healthy with you to munch on in the car. By anticipating those triggers, you’ll be more prepared to face your cravings head-on.
 
Craving culprit: You crave foods for emotional reasons (stress, sadness, boredom, etc.)

Bust it! Stress can be a big trigger that causes people to overeat. Try taking a few minutes to de-stress before you reach for a bag of chips to see if reducing your stress curbs that impulsive desire. If you find you want to eat when you’re not hungry due to boredom, try getting outside for a walk or spending at least 10 minutes on an elliptical or treadmill. Try walking up and down the steps a few times, or soak in a hot bath. By doing an activity instead of immediately reaching for the food, you'll get your mind off the craving and onto something more productive.

Hungry for more tips? Check out these craving-busting ideas from SparkPeople members and experts!
  • Sometimes, dehydration can set off cravings. If you think you could use more fluids, keep a water bottle with you at all times, or try sipping on salt-free seltzer water with lemon or lime to fill you up and hydrate.
     
  • Veggies are the perfect way to curb a crunchy craving. Carrots, celery, and bell peppers dipped into low-fat dressing make a satisfying snack. Ever try cherry tomatoes to fill a craving? They are sweet and good for you. They can also make a great topping for low-fat cottage cheese.
     
  • Remind yourself that just because you crave something doesn’t mean you have to have it. NOTHING will happen if you don't give into the craving—but you might regret it if you do and go overboard!
     
  • Try having a small serving of what you crave and take a long time to savor it. Instead of gobbling down a chocolate bar, take a quarter of it and see how long it can take you to eat it. Savor each and every delicious bite to feed your soul while you feed your craving.
     
  • Some people who follow a reduced-calorie weight-loss plan struggle with hunger that gets confused with cravings. Eating more frequently throughout the day can help with feelings of fullness and satiety and diminish hunger and cravings.
     
  • Go for volume! Eating more water-rich, low-calorie foods will help fill you up for minimal calories when a craving hits. Consider soup as an option, especially when you have a craving for something salty. Soup is a high-volume food that is often low in calories when it is broth-based. Choosing a low-sodium variety will still curb your salty tooth without spiking your sodium intake for the day.
     
  • Drink peppermint or apple cinnamon tea. Certain teas have a natural sweetness from fruits and herbs and can help curb a sweet tooth for little to no calories. Plus, the warm liquid will help you feel full until your next balanced meal.
     
  • Many of us crave chocolate on a regular basis. Selecting calorie-controlled chocolate fixes will satisfy your cravings without putting a dent in your calorie budget. Consider a cup of low-fat chocolate milk or a serving of a fat-free chocolate Jell-O pudding cup as a nutrient-rich option for your next chocolate craving.
     
  • Make sure you’re eating enough! If your body isn’t getting enough calories and nutrients, you could be setting yourself up for persistent food cravings. Make sure you’re tracking your food and and consistently hitting all of your appropriate levels for the day.
     
  • Get enough sleep. Sometimes, food cravings can be brought on by fatigue, so make sure you’re getting at least 8 hours of shut-eye per night to get a handle on your cravings.
 
What are your most common food cravings? How do you usually bust a craving?


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Comments

  • JONESMELINDA22
    29
    I feel sometimes we need to give in to a craving othewise we may continue to crave this food and then over-indulge - 2/28/2013   6:43:17 AM
  • MEMAKEOVER
    28
    Sometimes it is better to give into a craving...in moderation. If I try to "replace" what I'm craving I find that I eat a lot of non-satisfying foods and end up eating what I wanted to begin with. So for me, it's better to eat what I am craving (in a portion-controlled way) to begin with because I load up on extra calories I don't need. - 2/27/2013   8:21:34 AM
  • 27
    For me, chocolate pudding or other substitute doesn't do the trick when I crave chocolate. But making a small portion of my favorite chocolate treat last a long, long time works great. My family jokes about how long I can make my dessert last. I'm as satisfied as I would be if I had wolfed down the whole thing (and maybe another!), but have stuck to my eating plan. Win-Win! - 2/26/2013   11:11:28 PM
  • 26
    Thanks for the tips. Im a sweets junkie so this will be helpful - 2/23/2013   10:37:48 PM
  • LIVELYGIRL2
    25
    very useful article. Thanks! - 2/23/2013   9:44:03 PM
  • 24
    my problem is at night - 2/23/2013   2:21:55 PM
  • 23
    Distracting ourselves with other activities is always good...I liked the having a snack with me already when I am on my way home from work. Lately I have saved a piece of fruit for the commute home from work which is 30 minutes. It kind of destresses me from the day and I concentrate on the sweet and tart flavor. I have been bringing water with me b/c I am thirsty more frequently than not. This has been a big help with filling up and getting the water in. Great ideas! - 2/23/2013   12:52:43 PM
  • 22
    I really like chocolate as many of us do. I try to keep sugarfree Chocolate pudding in the house to nip a craving in the bud. I also drink hot chocolate which is 80 calories not the sugarfree brand. Then I may get mint patties which is lower in fat and have them. Normally I do have Dark Chocolate on hand which I've noticed takes away my hunger. Thanks for sharing these great suggestions! :))) - 2/22/2013   8:12:59 PM
  • 21
    I live in a house full of sons and a husband who are NOT on "diets" so "not having it in the house" has NEVER been a choice for me. But, I have learned to SPIT IT OUT. When I have had cravings (always at night) I know I can take the food in the bathroom, look in the mirror, take a bit and chew it up and then SPIT IT OUT. I know a craving is only wanting the TASTE. Dr. Phil says a craving will pass in about ten minutes, and the do. Looking in the mirror helps me to see what I'm doing. It is NOT necessary to swallow the food and then afterwards have that critical voice in your head tell you what a failure you are. SPIT IT OUT. Oh, that is wasting food? Well, eating it and flushing it down the commode the next day has it end up in the same place, but my way just keeps it out of my body. I have less cravings now that I no longer drink sugary drinks. - 2/22/2013   6:35:39 PM
  • MISTYDAWN55
    20
    I just can't have temptation around the house, or it is all gone in no time. If I really, really want something. I must leave the house to get it, then I don't get it from the grocery store or fast food place and take it home. I get one wonderful, best quality serving I can from say an ice cream parlor. I enjoy every bite to its fullest, when I'm done, I'm done and go home. I had to make an effort to get my craving fix, paid big bucks for a premium quality treat, and enjoyed every bit of it. No quick and easy fixs are allowed, the treat must be worth the effort or it is not indulged. Needless to say the temptation goes way down when all that effort is needed instead of walking to the freezer. - 2/22/2013   3:20:11 PM
  • MISTYDAWN55
    19
    I just can't have temptation around the house, or it is all gone in no time. If I really, really want something. I must leave the house to get it, then I don't get it from the grocery store or fast food place and take it home. I get one wonderful, best quality serving I can from say an ice cream parlor. I enjoy every bite to its fullest, when I'm done, I'm done and go home. I had to make an effort to get my craving fix, paid big bucks for a premium quality treat, and enjoyed every bit of it. No quick and easy fixs are allowed, the treat must be worth the effort or it is not indulged. Needless to say the temptation goes way down when all that effort is needed instead of walking to the freezer. - 2/22/2013   3:10:49 PM
  • 18
    @ciocco Regarding bread, when I realized that it was wheat (bread, pasta, especially) that made me feel bloated and lethargic, I found it fairly easy to go cold turkey. My husband stopped eating bread in the house and we used up or gave away the pasta. Then we just didn't buy any until I felt I could control it. I went out to eat with friends, ate a roll, and it made me uncomfortable the rest of the meal.

    Now there's bread in the fridge again, but I don't ever eat it. Cold turkey worked best for me.

    About sweets cravings, I read recently that L-Glutamine powder in a bit of water takes the craving away. I tend to take it in the morning, and never remember when I have a craving for sweets, so no personal experience on this. - 2/22/2013   2:50:20 PM
  • KATHYJEANSUE
    17
    I like these coments - 2/22/2013   12:07:20 PM
  • 16
    The only way I lost weight is to eat only a serving, like tortilla chips, wheat thins, I follow that so I don't over eat, it does satisfy you to eat just a little. good tips! - 2/22/2013   11:18:05 AM
  • 15
    My favorite healthy substitution is real fruit popsicles. I have a huge sweet tooth & eating a popsicle makes me feel like I just ate ice cream (sometimes I'll even crunch up a popsicle in a bowl & pretend it's ice cream)! I'll also do sugar-free hot chocolate (about 60 cals per pack) when I have a major chocolate craving. If I'm feeling especially like a treat, I'll add a tiny splash (less than 1 serving) of French Vanilla creamer to my hot chocolate. So yummy!! - 2/22/2013   10:30:40 AM
  • 14
    Great stuff!!! Love the ball idea!! I think it'll be a help along with the little bags filled with little portions of grapes,chips & whatever else.
    I do notice that once I wrap my hands around a bag or container I tend to not let go and that leads to a lot more munchin!! Thnaks for the great ideas!! - 2/22/2013   9:43:29 AM
  • 13
    I am bad if chocolate chip cookies are around. Some have suggested putting them in the freezer....nope, I just take them out and put them in the microwave....better warm anyway. So, I tend to try to eat them all up so they are gone. This time I bought 24 for my daughter's Brownie field trip and then school was closed for ice/snow. I ate 2 1/2 (they are from Sam's so they are big). I have decided to wrap them up pretty and take them to the school for the auction for tomorrow night. Out of sight out of mind, doesn't work for me. I know where they are if they are in the house. They must be out of HOUSE OUT OF MIND. :)

    rumbamel - 2/22/2013   9:05:40 AM
  • 12
    Interesting blog post. I like some of the suggestions, but if someone's not actually hungry, is it really a good idea to "satisfy" the craving by eating something that's not quite as bad for you? One option that wasn't discussed is to eliminate the cravings before they even happen. It may not work for everyone, but it has worked remarkably well for me...no need for willpower or "better" substitutions if cravings are avoided in the first place. I just wrote a blog post about this very subject yesterday. www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_j
    ournal_individual.asp?blog_id=52584
    13
    - 2/22/2013   8:37:52 AM
  • 11
    This is good, but for the one that says "If it's there, I eat it!" I don't think having MORE snacks/food around is a good answer (I'd just eat it all!). Avoidance might be best in this case. - 2/22/2013   8:18:32 AM
  • BETH.SWALLOW
    10
    Great article! Craving is very individualized as the author says. What works for one may not for another person. My biggest challenge is when out with friends and everyone else is having what I want too. My goal is to have just a bite of someone else's which works sometimes, but not always. - 2/22/2013   7:26:40 AM
  • 9
    I usually crave sweets so I have some dark chocolate in my fridge. It is healthy in small portions and a square of it savoured slowly hits the spot. If I am hit by a craving while grocery shopping I read the nutritional data; what a turnoff. lol - 2/22/2013   6:48:18 AM
  • CIOCCO
    8
    craving, sigh!
    I usually crave for bread and immediately I feel bad;
    I know everything about avoiding it but.....I'm missing the power to do it.
    Can somebody help? - 2/22/2013   4:42:45 AM
  • 7
    When I get chocolate cravings I make hot chocolate. The one I use is only 90 cals. I make it using my kettle so it takes a few mins to heat the water and then it takes awhile to drink cause its so hot at first. Sometimes I don't even finish the cup because the craving subsides before-hand and its very filling... - 2/22/2013   12:13:28 AM
  • 6
    One of my biggest food cravings is so typical.... chocolate. And, when I decide to make chocolate chip cookies, I am prone to eating too much dough and too many cookies. It happened just tonight. I tried to think through why it is that I feel so "out of control" with making and baking chocolate chip cookies. Then I had a small emotional/psychological breakthrough. The day my dad died I was making chocolate chip cookies --- they were his favorite. I was only 12 and I think the whole process of making them, eating them, etc. reminds me of a time when I had absolutely no control over the cancer that was taking my dad's life away from me. Cravings often stem from emotional baggage that we carry around. Now I have to learn how to deal with the emotions instead of cover them up with over-eating. - 2/21/2013   11:19:54 PM
  • 5
    I keep wintergreen life savers on hand. Having to suck it gives me time to know that my sugar craving is being satisfied. - 2/21/2013   4:51:22 PM
  • 4
    I keep Hershey Kisses around for a mainline chocolate fix. 22 calories per kiss and one or two usually does the trick. I also keep low calorie fudge bars around for that ice cream craving that usually hits me a night. I eat it slow and lick it so it lasts a long time before it is gone. - 2/21/2013   4:29:33 PM
  • 3
    I've been working on allowing myself that craving especially the sugar one. I just keep telling myself that a small portion is all I need. I don't need to fill up on it. So far, the majority of the time it works. - 2/21/2013   3:57:21 PM
  • 2
    Good article. We all go through it. MommaCassey has another good point. I have overeaten trying to get through a craving. Get a little piece of what you crave and succumb. - 2/21/2013   3:17:57 PM
  • 1
    Beating back cravings can sometimes be hard even if you have a very big stick, and having options like mentioned in this blog are definitely a good idea.

    I agree that it's wise to set out a portion if you know you won't stop after a handful of chips or a few bites of ice cream, but I disagree with some of the substitutions.

    Usually, when I'm craving something, it's very specific, and I can try to substitute it all day until I break down and go for my craving, and by the end of the day, I've manage to eat more calories than if I had just given in to the craving in the first place. - 2/21/2013   1:02:49 PM

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