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Fight Food Cravings

Fight Food Cravings

Eating healthy would be a lot easier if we didn't experience cravings. Those deeply felt longings for food or drink that can sabotage our diet plans. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the urges and even eliminate the desire. You've got to fight back on multiple levels.

Start by substituting one product for another. Pick up lower calorie, lower fat and lower sugar versions of your favorite foods. Don't pour a serving of pancake syrup (with 240 calories and 50 grams of sugar) on your French toast; instead, try a serving of sugar-free syrup with 30 calories and no sugar. You can enjoy the taste without the guilt.

When substitutes don't work, try limiting yourself to a smaller serving of the real thing. If you normally eat a large slice of cake, cut it in half or even a third and savor the taste.

For some people, food substitution or smaller serving sizes won't work. That first taste of ice cream sets off a hunger that isn't satisfied until you've eaten the entire container. Foods that cause that kind of problem are called "trigger" foods. You might need to take more drastic action. Avoid the triggers by keeping those foods out of your home.

Distraction is another strategy that can help. An intense craving typically only lasts 10-15 minutes, so you've got to occupy your mind until it passes. Clean something, do a crossword puzzle, call a friend to chat, go for a walk around the block, play a game with your family or take a bubble bath. I brush my teeth and gargle with mouthwash. Do something to occupy your mind and stop thinking about that food.

It's also important to make sure you've eaten enough. Our bodies get energy from the food we eat and if you haven't had anything for three or four hours, you need to get some calories in you. Eating things that are higher in fiber will slow down the digestion of food and keep your blood sugar on an even keel. A bowl of air-popped popcorn is good and so is an ounce of nuts with a large glass of water.

After eating something, set a timer for 15 minutes. Then re-evaluate your hunger again when the buzzer goes off. If you're still hungry, your body may not have taken in enough calories and you can have another small serving. Make sure to limit yourself to only one "second helping."

Cravings may also be a sign you're overtired. If it's the afternoon, try and get away for a 20-minute refresher nap. If it's the evening, just go to bed. Get a good night's sleep and wake up in the morning refreshed.

The long-term solution is changing what you crave.

A technique I've found that works is retraining your tastes. It's not easy, but if you're serious this is what to do. For one week you need to drink nothing but plain water and eat bland food.

For breakfast have unsweetened oatmeal, whole-wheat toast and egg whites or low-fat pancakes without syrup. A small fruit or raw vegetables are good for your midmorning and afternoon snacks. Lean meat sandwiches, low sodium soups or a salad without any toppings is what you have for lunch. Steamed vegetables, baked or grilled meat and a small yam, brown rice or whole wheat bread is dinner. No dressings or sauces.

After a week of eating healthy but bland food, you'll find those intense cravings start to diminish. Then even small things like some pepper on your eggs, a spoonful of mustard in a sandwich or oil and vinegar over a salad provide real excitement for your taste buds.

The longer you can avoid trigger foods, the less likely you are to want them. Eventually, you'll start to crave the healthy food you regularly eat, instead of the stuff that's bad for you. Cravings can be beaten, but you've got to take active steps to win.

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Updated 4/17/2018