Food cravings are the dieter's worst enemy.
These are intense or uncontrollable desires for specific foods, stronger than normal hunger.
The types of foods that people crave are highly variable, but these are often processed junk foods that are high in sugar.
Cravings are one of the biggest reasons why people have problems losing weight and keeping it off.
Here are 11 simple ways to prevent or stop unhealthy food and sugar cravings.
1. Drink Water
Thirst is often confused with hunger or food cravings.
If you feel a sudden urge for a specific food, try drinking a large glass of water and wait a few minutes. You may find that the craving fades away, because your body was actually just thirsty.
Bottom Line: Drinking water before meals may reduce cravings and appetite, as well as help with weight loss.
2. Eat More Protein
Eating more protein may reduce your appetite and keep you from overeating.
It also reduces cravings, and helps you feel full and satisfied for longer ().
One study of overweight teenage girls showed that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings significantly ().
Another study in overweight men showed that increasing protein intake to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60%. Additionally, the desire to snack at night was reduced by 50% ().
Bottom Line: Increasing protein intake may reduce cravings by up to 60% and cut the desire to snack at night by 50%.
3. Distance Yourself From the Craving
When you feel a craving, try to distance yourself from it.
For example, you can take a brisk walk or a shower to shift your mind onto something else. A change in thought and environment may help stop the craving.
Some studies have also shown that chewing gum can help reduce appetite and cravings (, ).
Bottom Line: Try to distance yourself from the craving by chewing gum, going on a walk or taking a shower.
4. Plan Your Meals
If possible, try to plan your meals for the day or upcoming week.
By already knowing what you're going to eat, you eliminate the factor of spontaneity and uncertainty.
If you don't have to think about what to eat at the following meal, you will be less tempted and less likely to experience cravings.
Bottom Line: Planning your meals for the day or upcoming week eliminates spontaneity and uncertainty, both of which can cause cravings.
5. Avoid Getting Extremely Hungry
Hunger is one of the biggest reasons why we experience cravings.
To avoid getting extremely hungry, it may be a good idea to eat regularly and have healthy snacks close at hand.
By being prepared, and avoiding long periods of hunger, you may be able to prevent the craving from showing up at all.
Bottom Line: Hunger is a big reason for cravings. Avoid extreme hunger by always having a healthy snack ready.
6. Fight Stress
Stress may induce food cravings and influence eating behaviors, especially for women (, , ).
Women under stress have been shown to eat significantly more calories and experience more cravings than non-stressed women ().
Try to minimize stress in your environment by planning ahead, meditating and generally slowing down.
Bottom Line: Being under stress may induce cravings, eating and weight gain, especially in women.
7. Take Spinach Extract
It helps delay fat digestion, which increases the levels of hormones that reduce appetite and hunger, such as GLP-1.
Studies show that taking 3.7–5 grams of spinach extract with a meal may reduce appetite and cravings for several hours (, , , ).
One study in overweight women showed that 5 grams of spinach extract per day reduced cravings for chocolate and high-sugar foods by a whopping 87–95% ().
Bottom Line: Spinach extract delays the digestion of fat and increases the levels of hormones that can reduce appetite and cravings.
8. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is about practicing mindfulness, a type of meditation, in relation to foods and eating.
It teaches you to develop awareness of your eating habits, emotions, hunger, cravings and physical sensations (, ).
Mindful eating teaches you to distinguish between cravings and actual physical hunger. It helps you choose your response, instead of acting thoughtlessly or impulsively ().
Eating mindfully involves being present while you eat, slowing down and chewing thoroughly. It is also important to avoid distractions, like the TV or your smartphone.
One 6-week study in binge eaters found that mindful eating reduced binge eating episodes from 4 to 1.5 per week. It also reduced the severity of each binge ().
Bottom Line: Mindful eating is about learning to recognize the difference between cravings and actual hunger, helping you choose your response.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Your appetite is largely affected by hormones that fluctuate throughout the day.
Sleep deprivation disrupts the fluctuations, and may lead to poor appetite regulation and strong cravings (, ).
Studies support this, showing that sleep-deprived people are up to 55% more likely to become obese, compared to people who get enough sleep ().
For this reason, getting good sleep may be one of the most powerful ways to prevent cravings from showing up.
Bottom Line: Sleep deprivation may disrupt normal fluctuations in appetite hormones, leading to cravings and poor appetite control.
10. Eat Proper Meals
Hunger and a lack of key nutrients can both cause certain cravings.
Therefore, it's important to eat proper meals at mealtimes. This way, your body gets the nutrients it needs and you won't get extremely hungry right after eating.
Bottom Line: Eating proper meals helps prevent hunger and cravings, while also ensuring that your body gets the nutrients it needs.
11. Don't Go to the Supermarket Hungry
Grocery stores are probably the worst places to be when you are hungry or have cravings.
First, they give you easy access to pretty much any food you could think of. Second, supermarkets usually place the unhealthiest foods at eye level.
The best way to prevent cravings from happening at the store is to shop only when you've recently eaten. Never -- ever -- go to the supermarket hungry.
Bottom Line: Eating before you go to the supermarket helps reduce the risk of unwanted cravings and impulsive buying.
Take Home Message
Cravings are very common. In fact, more than 50% of people experience cravings on a regular basis ().
They play a major role in weight gain, food addiction and binge eating ().
Being aware of your cravings and their triggers makes them much easier to avoid. It also makes it a lot easier to eat healthy and lose weight.
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