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Additional strategies and nutrition recommendations to manage food cravings, explained by a Long Island Certified Dietitian Nutritionist

Woman eating ice cream

Last week I discussed some physiological, emotional, and psychological reasons we experience cravings. Now that you have a better idea of why you have cravings and have started implementing the strategies I recommended in my last blog, it is time to understand the nutrition component.

As a Long Island registered dietitian, my job is to help my patients develop a healthy eating plan. Whether you are trying to lose weight, manage blood sugar levels, improve renal health, need to improve cardiovascular health, or simply want to feel better, it’s important to modify and moderate. Small changes can make a big difference.

What to eat, what not to eat, and how to eat when you’re experiencing cravings:

Foods that contribute to cravings:

  • Ultra-processed, refined carbohydrates increase cravings and decrease both fullness and satisfaction.
  • Beware of all foods with sugar added – that means any form of added simple sugar (e.g., brown sugar, corn syrup, fructose)
  • Insufficient quantities of unrefined starches at meals

Foods that may reduce cravings:

  • Unrefined, minimally processed carbohydrates (e.g., whole-wheat products, quinoa, legumes)
  • Fiber
  • Fats – in moderation

Meal Planning to decrease cravings:

  • 3 timely meals – provides structure and controls for hunger
  • Meal composition – starch, vegetable, protein
  • Quantities consistent with hunger and fullness cues

Additional Tips to keep the cravings at bay

  1. LOOK AT CRAVINGS AS SUGGESTIONS TO EAT, NOT COMMANDS TO OVERINDULGE

Overeating doesn’t have to be an automatic response to a craving. Instead of being a helpless victim at the mercy of your cravings, you can decide how to tame them. Will you eat now, later, or not at all? Will you choose to eat the food you’re craving or try something else? It’s up to you.

  1. THINK MANAGEMENT, NOT CONTROL

Control is almost always doomed to failure. You try to control a sudden longing for ice cream. You walk, you shop, read a book — anything to get your mind off the ice cream — but it’s the ice cream that’s dominating your moves. Eventually, the ice cream wins. Your control boomerangs and you dive headfirst into a pint or more. Managing that craving does not mean denying it. Try satisfying it with a single dip, or even two of ice cream. You won’t feel deprived, and you won’t lose control.

  1. EAT AT LEAST THREE WELL-BALANCED MEALS A DAY

Skipping meals intensifies hunger – and food cravings. Satisfy hunger with a variety of appealing foods. Add snacks if you need them. Your food cravings probably won’t disappear, but they will diminish to manageable proportions.

  1. UNDERSTAND THAT CRAVINGS PASS

Cravings peak and subside like waves in the ocean. Practice “riding the wave” until it goes away. Knowing that you can manage your craving by satisfying it if you really want to make it easier to ignore.

  1. DON’T LABEL FOODS AS “BAD,” “ILLEGAL,” OR “FORBIDDEN”

You can have some of anything you want. Just manage the amounts.

  1. GIVE UP GUILT INSTEAD OF THE BROWNIE

One brownie never made you fat, but huge servings of guilt might. Believing you’ve cheated can trigger feelings of failure — and fuel the impulse to eat the whole package instead of just one.

  1. TAKE CHARGE AND DISARM YOUR CRAVINGS WITH THE 5 D’S
  • DELAY at least ten minutes before you eat so that your actions are conscious, not impulsive.
  • DISTRACT yourself by doing something that requires concentration.
  • DISTANCE yourself from the food— leave the room, ask the waiter to remove the plate, or walk a different way.
  • DETERMINE how important it is to eat the food you crave, and how much you really want it.
  • DECIDE what amount is reasonable and appropriate. Eat slowly and savor every bite.
  1. EXERCISE REGULARLY

Exercise will help you manage food cravings, just as it helps to manage your weight. Exercise not only relieves tension, but it is a good way to delay, distance, and distract yourself from food.

As a registered dietitian, my goal is to empower my patients to choose the best foods for their unique needs. Managing your cravings will help you reach your nutrition and weight goals.

 

For more information:

Gender-Related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity

How to Stop Carb Cravings

Harvard Health, Cravings