That being said, here are seven ways that I think are helpful for managing cravings:
- Know yourself and your triggers. Do you eat when you're bored or anxious? Do you always want something sweet after lunch or dinner? These are cravings that you can see coming, so be prepared with fresh fruit, dried fruit, or banana soft serve. For crunchy/salty cravings, try air-popped popcorn with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, carrots and hummus, whole grain crackers, baked chips and salsa, or mixed nuts.
- Say yes. Have a small serving of what you love but make it the best quality that you can find. As far as I'm concerned, life just isn't life without chocolate. Instead of eating a Hershey bar, though, I buy really good quality dark chocolate. I only need a square or two to satisfy my chocolate monster.
- Eat often. Try to eat something every 2-4 hours. If you wait too long between meals, your blood sugar will be lower and your desire for sugary foods will be stronger. Also, you're likely to eat far more calories if you're ravenous every time you eat.
- Eat protein, fiber, and good fats. Foods that contain protein, fiber, and/or monounsaturated fat will fill you up faster and keep you feeling full longer than a meal or snack containing only simple carbs (sugar, white flour, etc.). For each meal or snack, choose a "vehicle" (wheat bread, whole grain crackers, brown rice, wheat pasta, etc.), a protein source (nuts, seeds, soy products, protein powder, beans or lentils, etc.), and include a bit of good (monounsaturated) fat (avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil). We need some fat in our diets to aid in our absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Avoid saturated fat and trans fat (hydrogenated oil).
- Eat nutrient-rich foods. By choosing foods that are high in nutrient value you will be meeting your body's needs for for multiple vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. Eating "empty calories" (soda, white bread or rice, potato chips, etc.), adds no nutritional value. Those foods will likely leave you feeling like you need to eat more because your body is still craving the essential nutrients in healthier foods.
- Eat what you want to crave. Have you heard people who have recently cleaned up their diets say things like, "I actually crave healthy food instead of cookies now!"? That reaction to eating a healthy diet isn't just psychological. Removing foods that make you unhealthy from your diet will make you feel healthier. It is like putting high quality gas in your car! Also, consider what happens when you overdo it on sugar; your blood sugar crashes shortly after the "sugar rush" and, in addition to feeling tired and irritable, you are likely to be craving even more sugar.
- Watch out for caffeine. Ever get shaky after a sugary breakfast with a bunch of coffee? A little caffeine is ok but too much can speed up the low blood sugar crash.