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Nutrition Monday: Top Five Tips to Deal with Cravings

April 12, 2010

This morning, I read the blog of a good blogger friend of mine, and it had to do with cravings and emotional eating.  Well, I’m an emotional eater, and while I have no scientific evidence for what I’m about to say, I’m willing to bet the vast majority of overweight/obese people also struggle with their emotional relationship to food.  For some it’s worse than others, I imagine, but I’m perfectly willing to admit I was a complete junkie when I began my reconstruction.  If I had a bad day at work, I had no interest in downing a bottle of wine or having a few stiff martinis.  Nope – an alkie, I’m not.  But if I had a stressful day, I would sure eat the hell out of a box of Fudge Stripe cookies, or a pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream, or most of a pizza, or…well…you get the ugly, way too honest picture.

This past week in fact, I was under a good bit of stress, and I ended up having a few snacks late at night that I normally wouldn’t now that I’ve seen the light, yelled hallelujah, and changed my ways.  The snacks were fairly healthy, portion controlled, and nowhere in the same zip code of a binge, but they were a few more calories than I normally would have eaten that late at night.  And they usually consisted of a craving of one sort of another.

Cravings are a fact of life.  We all have foods that we love that aren’t the greatest thing in the world for our health or our weight loss efforts, and it’s just a given that we’re going to crave those foods from time to time.  In the beginning of my journey – the cravings were intense and frequent.  Now they’re fairly rare, with varying levels of intensity.  The most recent was for a Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit, a craving I tried to blame on my dog.  I’m a firm believer that as soon as you make a food forbidden, you’re going to crave it even more, so one of my little rules for myself before I even went to my nutritionist for the first time was that nothing would be totally off limits.  Over time, I’ve come up with my Top Five Tips to Deal with Cravings – which I’m sure are heavily influenced by tidbits of advice I’ve gotten from my nutritionist, as well as some of my readers, and I’ve put all that advice together with some of my own common sense:

1)  Identify the Source of the Craving (if any)

Are you overly hungry because you haven’t been eating often enough?  Are you stressed?  Did you deny yourself something earlier in the day, week, or month, that you now want?  Sometimes, identifying the source of your craving may help you overcome it.  If you realize you’re craving brownies because you had a run-in with someone that’s now stressing you out, sometimes, it helps to acknowledge that and realize you’re not going to let that @%!^$# drive you face first into a dessert that’s going to add unwanted calories to your day.  Identifying the source of your craving may not always help you put it behind you, but at least you’re aware of what’s going on with your emotional relationship with food, and that’s necessary if you’re going to change that relationship.  Sometimes, there won’t be a source for the craving at all!  And that’s fine, too.

2)  Consider a Healthier Alternative

If the craving hasn’t gone away after you’ve identified its source, or if there was no source, then ask yourself if there’s something healthier you could have that would be just as satisfying.  If you’re craving ice cream, do you have a recipe for a healthy yogurt smoothie that might be just as good?  Sometimes, you’ll find the answer is yes, and that’s great!  But sometimes the answer will be no.  You’re just not going to rest until you wrap your lips around whatever food it is that’s taken over your mind.  And in that case…

3)  Aggressively Control Portions

Indulging a craving can be done without turning into a binge.  If you’re craving potato chips, and you’re just not going to rest until you have them (and you haven’t gotten them out of the house!), don’t just sit down and tie on a bag of sour cream and onion.  Get a small bowl or plate, and determine a small portion that will be enough to satisfy you.  One chip isn’t going to do this for most people, but maybe an ounce would.  At any rate, portion out your indulgence ahead of time, and make a deal with yourself to stick to it.

4)  Time Limit the Indulgence

In addition to controlling portions, don’t let the indulgence of a craving turn into a day long binge.  If you do like I did a couple of weeks ago, and you have that unhealthy breakfast you’ve been wanting, limit it to breakfast and then jump right back on the healthy eating bandwagon with lunch or your mid-morning snack.  Having a little bit of a not so healthy food you crave isn’t going to mess up your weight loss efforts.  Having a day or weekend of these choices might set you back a little more than you’d like, so be careful to put a time limit on what you’re doing.

5)  Enjoy It!

Once you’ve decided to indulge the craving, don’t beat yourself up!  Making healthy lifestyle changes isn’t about being perfect in your diet and exercise, it’s about being healthy most of the time.  When you have the rare treat, don’t feel like you’re off your plan!  Just enjoy it!!!  This is probably the biggest single piece of advice that’s helped me in the mental battle that goes along with overcoming obesity.  Having an occasional treat is no reason to feel like a failure!  It’s part of being a human being, and nobody eats perfectly all the time!

I’m no expert, and these tips may or may not work for everybody.  They have worked for me, though, and I hope some of you will find them useful, too.  What are your strategies to deal with cravings?

  1. April 12, 2010 at 11:23 PM

    And try not to beat yourself up if you do cave… Just pick up and move forward!



  2. April 12, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    Good advice indeed. Heh…although now I’m thinking of going and doing number 5!

  3. April 12, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    Great ideas here. It’s unreasonable to think that SOMETIMES you won’t want to give in…but we can all learn to control the portions….and just enjoy the amount we can have.

  4. April 13, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    These are great tips. Now, if only I could remember them when the inevitable craving comes!

  5. April 13, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    Great post man! keep it up. #5 is great. When you give yourself a treat – treat is as that.

    Really enjoyed it!

  6. April 13, 2010 at 6:13 PM

    I think it is useful to recognize when you are legitimately hungry and need to eat. I grew up eating by the clock. Yesterday, I got really hungry and realized when I was at the gym that my “laziness” was probably more like over-hungry.

  7. April 13, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    These are some really great ideas. I had never thought of the time limit thing. That is an excellent point. I also like #5. Without #5, the vicious cycle of indulging and then feeling guilty never ends!

  8. April 20, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    Perfect Advice. This is a really great post!

  9. April 25, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    This is a great post. I just linked it to my desktop to remind me of your tips when those dreading cravings hit. I’ve gotten pretty good at managing things (like you mention you have) but every now and then something hits I can’t seem to shake. I completely agree if you do indulge you need to enjoy it (and control the portion)!

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