Photo: Suger cookies

by Sabra Leomo, RD

We have all been there—it’s the middle of the day or after winding down after dinner and you just can’t stop thinking about a certain food. Food cravings can be intense; the very definition of a craving is a strong desire. There can be nothing stronger than the desire for that certain sweet or salty food that is stuck in your thoughts. Typically food cravings center on foods that are high in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates. When ingested these types of food release feel-good chemicals that temporarily boost our mood. Unfortunately, that good feeling doesn’t last long and we are left with a sugar crash and a host of health problems if we overindulge on a regular basis.

You can’t always control your food cravings but you can control how you react to them. Try these tips to help manage the next time a food craving hits you hard:

  • Distract - If you change your environment or thoughts you can distract yourself from your food craving. Cravings are like a wave; they grow in intensity, peak, and then subside if you don’t give in. Go for a walk, take a hot shower, or call a friend. Pick an activity that you enjoy and that will take your mind off your craving until it passes.
  • Identify - Ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” Hunger is a physical need for food versus a craving that is often based on stress, boredom, or anxiety. If you are actually hungry have healthy options available to fuel your body.
  • Hydrate – Thirst can sometimes be confused for hunger. Drink a glass of water and wait 10-15 minutes. Do you still have the craving? Often the craving will subside once you are hydrated.
  • Exercise - Not only is exercise a good distraction from food cravings, it also releases feel-good endorphins that can eliminate cravings.
  • Sleep - Getting a good night’s sleep is beneficial in so many ways. Aren’t we are all more pleasant people when we are rested? Additionally, a good night’s sleep is beneficial to weight management and curbing cravings. When we are tired we often reach for sweet refined carbohydrates to give us a quick boost of energy versus healthier options that provide long term satisfaction.
  • Breakfast - How many times have you heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? For good reason, a healthy breakfast that includes a good source of protein helps you feel full longer and have fewer cravings throughout the day.
  • Mindfulness - When we eat in front of the TV or in the car as we rush from one place to another we don’t appreciate what we are eating. Mindfully eating takes away many of the distractions we face in our busy world. Take the time to focus on what you are eating and be aware of the senses associated with eating.
  • Awareness - Along the same lines of being mindful when you eat, have awareness when it comes to your food cravings. What type of food do you typically crave? Is there a certain time of day you have cravings? Are there events surrounding your cravings? How are you feeling emotionally? Basically, be aware if you are eating for reasons other than being hungry. If you can take a moment to be aware and understand your food cravings you are better able to manage them when they hit.

While it is OK to indulge occasionally—we should enjoy our food—most of the time stick with delicious and healthy options. Think moderation versus abstinence. Find a way to enjoy special treats so that you don’t feel guilty or upset afterwards. Have a happy and healthy holiday season!