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Food cravings and how to get past them

A quesadilla.

When your head says you're hungry but your stomach doesn't agree.

Food cravings are normal. But they aren't driven by hunger. They're driven by emotion. Bad day at work? We drown our stress in ice cream. Frustrated by a friend? We sullenly order a pizza and take to the couch.

This kind of emotional eating is a coping mechanism. It isn't real hunger. But there are real steps you can take to get past the craving.

Coping with your cravings

One way to cope with cravings is to recognize them for what they are—and aren't. When you get a craving, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Why am I reaching for this food?
  • Am I really physically hungry?
  • When was the last time I ate?
  • Do I have a headache? Is my stomach growling?

If you just ate lunch an hour ago and you're not feeling a real need, acknowledge to yourself that this is probably an emotional craving. Then ask yourself:

  • What else is going on?
  • Am I bored, stressed or upset?
  • Am I trying to make something more enjoyable than it is?

If you are bored, go for a walk. Stressed or upset? Call a friend for a talk. The good news is, cravings don't last very long.

Other tricks to resist the craving temptation include:

  • Keep the foods you usually crave out of eyesight. Push the bag of potato chips to the back of a top cabinet, and put a bowl of fresh fruit on the table.
  • Choose individually packaged treats. Take the time to unwrap one and savor it.
  • Stop a craving with a stick of sugarless gum. The sweet flavor and chewing action can keep you from eating something higher in calories.
  • Crave in moderation. If you can't resist your craving, at least eat the food in moderation. And don't use your momentary weakness as an excuse to give up trying to deal with cravings.

Keep track of your cravings

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

Seeing your habits spelled out before you can help you know when to adjust your eating patterns. For example, if your app reveals that you usually end your evening meal with something sweet, try fruit instead of high-calorie cake.

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.

Are you sabotaging your diet? Find out by reviewing these seven common diet mistakes.

Sources: American Heart Association; HelpGuide

Reviewed 4/12/2024

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