How to Resist Junk Food Cravings
No More Excuses
It was three days before my best friend's wedding when I saw it: a big slice of flourless chocolate cake, beckoning to me from the bakery case. Yes, I had a formfitting bridesmaid's dress hanging in my closet, but I'd been good lately, and I could always double up on my gym time. Just like that, my resolve went up in smoke.
"We're at our most creative when we're trying to justify giving in to a craving," says David Colbert, MD, a coauthor of The High School Reunion Diet. Luckily, scientists know more than ever about using our powers of persuasion for good, not evil. Here's how to talk yourself out of temptation.
Old Excuse: "If I deprive myself now, I'll just eat more later."
New Mantra: "I'm making a choice, not a sacrifice."
We tend to want what we can't have. But when it comes to cravings, not getting what you want can dampen your desire. "Studies show that we crave what we eat," says Stephanie Middleberg, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. "So if you eat good-for-you foods, you'll start wanting them instead of cookies and cake." The key is getting your mind on board until your body can take over.
Smart strategy: Reframe the story. "Depriving yourself is about resisting, and resistance is difficult. Choosing whether to eat something, on the other hand, is empowering," says Michelle May, MD, the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. So instead of trying to defeat a craving, put it on the back burner until you've fit in a workout or finished dinner. "That way you can indulge, but in your own time and on your own terms," says Keri Gans, RD, the author of The Small Change Diet. The tactic may also help you eat less: A study found that people who were told to put off eating chocolate consumed less than those who were told to eat it immediately. The researchers believe that when you wait to indulge, you're probably in less of an impulsive mind-set and in more of a reflective, ready-to-savor one.
Old Excuse: "I deserve a treat after the kind of day I've had."
New Mantra: "I deserve kindness, not calories."
Sure, satisfying a craving can give you a quick hit of the pleasure hormone dopamine (and if you're doing it with carbs, a rush of calming serotonin too). But research shows that chocolate's comforting effect lasts only three minutes. And once the high passes, you're left with the same frustrations as before -- plus regret.
Smart strategy: Verbalize what's making you feel lousy. While emotional eating can add to your woes by pushing up your pants size, "pinpointing your problems is the first step to resolving them," says Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and the author of The Self-Compassion Diet. Give yourself a few minutes to write about a problem in an email, then read what you've written and delete the draft; according to research published in Psychological Science, virtually throwing away your woes makes it easier to let them go in real life.
If you still can't stop thinking about what went wrong, do something soothing that doesn't involve consuming calories, like taking a walk. Or snuggle with a pet or a loved one, a proven way to make stress hormones plummet and the feel-good chemical oxytocin spike. Whatever you do, don't get hung up on the past: A study from Wake Forest University found that dieters who didn't beat themselves up over a perceived failure ate less candy than those who were self-critical.
Old Excuse: "It's a special occasion."
New Mantra: "Special doesn't mean stuffed."
"It would be crazy to pass up a piece of your own birthday cake," Gans says. But that doesn't mean you have to eat a ginormous slice -- or two.
Smart strategy: The satisfaction you get from any one food often drops off with every bite, and research shows that small portions can be as satisfying as large ones. So if the situation merits a calorie-packed treat, try eating just a few forkfuls, and give them your full attention: Scientists at the University of Birmingham in England concluded that focusing on what you're eating helps you consume fewer calories later on.
And remember that you'll have a lot more fun if you feel sated, not stuffed. "You want to experience what's happening to the fullest, and being in a food coma makes that difficult," Fain says.
What do you think of this story? Leave a Comment.