Diet advice: Coping with cravings

When you're trying to cut calories, it's hard to avoid temptation. Food cravings are normal. And, more often than not, it won't be carrots your taste buds are crying out for.

Research suggests that cravings are commonly associated with high-fat foods such as pastries and French fries. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, cravings may be linked to a need to resupply the body with nutrients it lacks, or they may be reinforced by emotional and social links to certain foods.

So what do you do when you're drawn to that coffee-break doughnut or standing in your kitchen next to a full cookie jar?

The key to dieting success is to learn how to manage your cravings, says nutrition counselor Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, former national spokeswoman for the academy. It's OK to eat high-calorie foods now and then, but giving in to cravings every time they occur can interfere with your healthy diet plan, she cautions.

Recognize real hunger

One way to successfully cope with cravings is to learn to recognize whether you're feeling true physical hunger or emotional hunger.

"When you're physically hungry, you hear stomach rumbling. You may feel light-headed, weak and have a headache. Because you're hungry, the craving doesn't go away," Taub-Dix says.

In contrast, emotional cravings may be stimulated by the sight or smell of certain foods, or because you're feeling stressed or bored, or they may be influenced by a social situation.

Keep track of your cravings

To understand what causes your cravings, you might find it useful to create a food diary. Use your diary to write down when, where, what and how much you eat. If you know the calorie count of the food you're eating, write that down too. It may also be helpful to keep track of what you're feeling when you eat.

Seeing your habits in black and white can help you know when to adjust your eating patterns. For example, if your diary reveals that you usually end your evening meal with something sweet, try fruit instead of high-calorie cake.

Be prepared to resist

When a craving strikes, these strategies recommended by Taub-Dix, the academy and other experts can help you resist:

  • Don't starve your body. When people try to diet, they often let themselves get too hungry. This may cause them to make poor food choices or feel it's OK to go on an eating binge.
  • Hide temptation. Don't leave delectables sitting on the counter where you can see them. Store them in a cupboard—or don't buy them at all.
  • Fool your tastebuds. Replace foods rich in sweetened fat with foods that have a similar consistency but less fat—savory dips made with low-fat yogurt, dessert sauce made with pureed fruit or a milkshake base made with buttermilk.
  • Distract yourself. When your food craving is emotionally driven, listen to music, take a hot bath, do relaxation exercises, go walking or phone a friend.
  • Plan ahead. Keep healthy foods handy so you can easily dig in when hunger strikes.
  • Count calories. You can enjoy some high-calorie foods as long as you eat fewer calories overall than your body uses.
  • Don't spike your appetite. Processed foods, such as white bread and pastries, cause your blood sugar to spike, then fall quickly. As a result, you may feel hungry again shortly after eating. Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads keep blood sugar on a more even keel.

Stay strong

Cravings are normal among people who are dieting. Try to stay strong, but be patient with yourself. If you occasionally give in to a craving, don't give up. Forgive yourself and move on.

reviewed 3/15/2019

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