People think food cravings are all about willpower but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Food cravings are one of the most complicated parts of dieting and living a healthy lifestyle. I’d be lying if I said I never wanted to eat anything unhealthy. But as a personal trainer and nutrition guru, over the years I’ve learned how to manage my cravings and channel them into healthier habits. Check out my simple seven steps to handling food cravings—no obsessing or starvation required!
1. Figure out What You’re Craving Exactly
Often the hardest part of a craving is to figure out what you’re specifically craving. When your cravings hit, do you go for sugar or salt? Creamy or crunchy? Once you figure out what you’re specifically craving (whether it’s pizza, ice cream, or ice cream topped pizza), you’ll have a much easier time pinpointing what you really want. Remember, there is nothing wrong with sitting with your hunger/craving until you figure out exactly what you want to eat.
2. Are You Eating out of True Hunger? or Another Emotion?
This brings me to my next point. Is your craving out of hunger? Or are you craving food because of another emotion? If you can’t pinpoint your craving down to a specific food, chances are you’re just hungry and it’s time for a healthy meal! But sometimes we crave food when we’re bored, stressed, upset, or even happy. Figuring out what triggers your cravings is important when learning how to manage them.
3. Are You the Kind of Person That Can Handle ‘Cheat Meals’?
I ask this question because some people simply can’t handle cravings or cheat meals that involve foods they’ve been craving. I am actually one of those people. Cheat meals and meals involving foods that I crave usually happen for just one meal. For some people, a cheat meal can turn into a cheat day or even a cheat week. Be honest when asking yourself if you can handle working these foods into your diet. Some people can and some people can’t, and either choice is totally okay!
4. Indulge in Your Craving at Specific Times, like Holidays or Special Events
A special event like a holiday, birthday, or other celebration might be a great time to strategically eat a fattening food you’ve been craving for some time. There was once a time last winter where I was almost always craving cake. But by strategically waiting until Christmas Day to indulge in my mom’s divine chocolate cake that she only makes once a year, I was able to participate in the holiday tradition and fulfill the craving I had for cake.
5. Truly Savor Each Bite of This ‘Forbidden’ Food, and Remember That Other Opportunities to Eat This Food Will Arise
Instead of looking at foods as ‘forbidden’ or off-limits, remember that you will have plenty of opportunities in your life to eat these unhealthy foods you crave. If you avoid French fries like they’re the plague, you’re definitely going to overindulge when you allow yourself to eat some. But if you realize that there are going to be plenty of other times to eat French fries, you’re more likely to be able to stop after eating only a few.
6. Evaluate How Your Eating Experience Went
After consuming some of the food you’ve been craving, evaluate how the experience went. Were you successful? Did you overeat? Where in your craving experience did things go wrong and right? Looking back on these experiences can help you adjust accordingly and manage your cravings better in the future.
7. What Are You Going to do Next Time a Craving Hits?
So what are you going to do the next time a craving hits? Are you going to distract yourself for 10 minutes until your craving subsides, make a healthy version of the food you’re craving, or realize it’s time to eat a healthy meal? Honestly, these are all healthy options and I can’t say which one is right for you. Listen to your body and determine what strategies help you manage your cravings best.
Food cravings don’t need to be a death sentence to your healthy lifestyle. They don’t have to be an excuse to eat everything in the fridge, and they don’t need to be a torturous moment where you’re totally miserable. Managing food cravings is a completely individual experience, so figure out what works for you!