We all have cravings for certain foods at certain times, even though we are not really hungry. Giving into these cravings too often can lead to weight gain. Here we discuss the best strategies for dealing with cravings. Different strategies will work for different people and in different situations. Think about what might work for you and give one a try.
1.KNOW your triggers
Think about what triggers you to crave certain foods. Is it certain situations or just certain foods? Avoid foods that you know trigger you to overeat them. If you know that there is no chocolate in the cupboard then you are much less likely to get the craving to want chocolate.
Supermarkets know all about these trigger foods, so think about avoiding certain aisles. Pay attention to the small print on food labels, and be wary of self claimed ‘healthy food’ products that can be full of sugar.
Stock up on healthy foods. It is going to be much easier to stick to your plan if your kitchen is well stocked with healthy nutritious foods.
2. Distract yourself
Take your mind off your craving and you may find that it completely disappears. Physical activity is the ideal distraction. It may help reduce cravings as well as helping you reduce stress and keep your weight down. Going to the gym or swimming, a short walk, or something useful like doing the housework or gardening are all good.
Other strategies for distraction that some of our clients have used are to take up a hobby that cannot be combined easily with eating, for example knitting, art or even colouring in.
In addition, quick ‘re-set’ distraction techniques can include brushing your teeth or having a glass of ice-cold water.
3.Build up your ‘resistance muscle’
In some situations it is just not possible to avoid a situation or even distract yourself. Think about social situations for example, the lady in the office who keeps bringing in home-made chocolate brownies, or just your partner sitting next to you on the sofa in the evenings munching crisps! In these situations it can be difficult to say ‘no thanks’. However once you start saying no, and that becomes a habit, it will become easier and easier. You may even train other people to stop offering you tempting foods that you don’t really want to eat.
Practising how to say no can really help. You don’t need to give an excuse, just say ‘no thanks I’m fine’ to unwelcome offers of food. If you feel you need to give an excuse you can just say ‘I’m not hungry’ or ‘I’ve just eaten’.
4. work out what you are really ‘hungry’ for
Sometimes we can use food to try to ‘self-medicate’ and to make ourselves feel better. This could be learned behaviour from when we were young and given sweet ‘treats’ as a reward or to cheer us up. A technique known as HALT can be useful. When you get a craving ask yourself, I am hungry, I am angry (or stressed), am I lonely, am I tired (or bored). Once you are more aware of your feelings you might want to try another strategy for soothing these emotions. Think about what is going on and address that rather than using food to ‘numb’ your emotions.
Are you stressed or in need of comfort (and using ‘comfort eating’ to self medicate?). If so what else would work, eg a long bath, a good book, a bit of ‘me’ time, a relaxing walk, a meditation tape.For stress and boredom we recommend you focus your attention on getting fitter – see our pages on physical activity.
5. Commit to your goals
Have specific goals and commit to them by writing them down and monitoring your progress against them. Link your goals to your priorities in life and remind yourself of these regularly too. Review how you are spending your time and whether you can commit more time to achieving your goals.
6. Use positive self talk
Try being aware of your inner voice and reminding yourself of your achievements. Positive self-talk is known to help with weight loss. Practice ‘reframing’ negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example if you have a thought that goes like ‘I’m useless I am never going to do this’, reframe it by thinking ‘I have achieved X and I can achieve this if I put my mind to it’. Use your time to think positive, healthy and useful thoughts about how you can plan healthy delicious meals and snacks.
7. be mindful
Rather than get involved with our thoughts, and cravings, we can practice simply observing them. Try out the technique ‘surf the urge’, which involves noticing the sensations in the body that rise and fall with a craving. You can also practice general mindful techniques. We like the free Headspace app for this.
Being mindful can also help you be aware of behaviours that are habits and help you break these habits. Sometimes cravings can be part of an association in the brain with something else. Do you associate something sweet with being a ‘reward’ for example. Awareness can be the first step in swapping to healthier habits.
Any healthy eating plan will only work over the long-term if you view the foods that you are eating as delicious, satisfying and intrinsically rewarding. Think about healthy fresh produce as ‘treats’, and how you are rewarding your body by choosing nourishing foods that fuel and energise.
8 get social support
Getting social support can be important to help you deal with cravings. Getting your friends to go along with a healthy get together can really help. Other forms of support would be joining a fitness group or give health coaching a try.
9. Nourish your body(and soul) and get enough rest
Focus on eating healthy foods that will nourish your body and give you energy. Read how to use the Eatwell Guide to ensure that your diet is healthy.
Regular planned meals and snacks can train your body when to expect food and help avoid cravings. Read up on how to plan your meals.
Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day have a higher risk of becoming obese. This is believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone). See our top ten tips for getting a good nights sleep
10.visualise your success
A study has found that looking at a motivational picture or quote to help you deal with food cravings.
11 Think about whether banning certain foods works for you
For some people giving up certain foods, such as added sugar is great, it works, their cravings diminish and they lose weight. For other people as soon as they have ‘banned’ a certain food they start to crave it even more. It is interesting to note that one of NHS Choice’s ‘top tips for weight loss’ is “Don’t ban any foods from your weight loss plan, especially the ones you like. Banning foods will only make you crave them more. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy the occasional treat“.
Our take on this is find what works for you, everyone is different. Some people like to set goals around completely giving up sugary foods. If that works for you then that is great. Others might have a goal to eat these foods only at certain times of the day or week, or at certain occasions. This one really is up to you.
Article updated in June 2017