NEW RESEARCH shows 10 startling ways to ease food cravings, from playing with modeling clay to doing yoga.
Food cravings derail many people from their resolutions to eat well. Today, I’m sharing some ways—all backed by science—to combat food cravings.
By craving, I mean the desire to eat a certain food, even when you’re not hungry. Any food can be craved, from chocolate to burgers.
As a dietitian, I hope to help with garden-variety cravings, the sort that are bothersome but not dangerous. Two more severe types of cravings are pica and binge eating disorder.
If you experience cravings to eat ice, clay, starch or other things that aren’t food, you may have a condition called pica. This is usually linked to iron-deficiency anemia. See your doctor for a simple blood test. Often, iron supplements can make these cravings go away. But because too much iron is dangerous, I always recommend checking with your doctor.
The other dangerous form of cravings is linked to binge eating disorder.
This involves eating very large amounts of food uncontrollably on a regular basis. Again, see your doctor.
But for lesser cravings, you can try these 10 tips.
1: GET PLAYFUL
One of the most original strategies for controlling chocolate cravings I have seen was a study using modeling clay as a distraction.
Volunteers who played with the clay for 10 minutes found it was more effective at vanquishing cravings than mental distractions such as daydreaming or counting backward by threes. That study was published in the journal Appetite, and the researchers suggested that distractions that were tactile might be more useful than mental distractions.
Using this logic, I suspect that many hands-on arts and crafts such as drawing or knitting would be effective, too.
2: FOCUS FORWARD
Another study found that "reappraisal"—thinking about the benefits of overall healthy eating and appropriate portions—significantly reduced cravings. To use this strategy, focus on the immediate benefits such as feeling energetic and feeling satisfied but not overly full.
It's not helpful to focus on negative feelings such as shame related to overeating, as this can lead to rebound eating.
3: DON'T DIET
Dieting—dramatically restricting calories—has been shown to increase cravings and preoccupation with food. Instead, focus on eating enough healthy foods and including fruits or vegetables with every meal. Regular mealtimes, every four or five hours, can go a long way to preventing cravings.
4. EAT WHAT YOU CRAVE
Plan to include foods you crave in your regular meals. For example, if you often crave chocolate, plan to have some chocolate. It can be helpful, however, to buy single servings rather than in bulk.
5: EAT BREAKFAST
A study in Nutrition Journal of overweight college students showed that those who skipped breakfast reported more severe food cravings. When these same students ate a small breakfast daily, cravings dropped considerably.
6: DRINK WATER
The sensation of mild dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, so be sure to drink enough water.
7: GET YOUR ZZZ'S
Getting adequate sleep has been shown to significantly reduce cravings and calories consumed. The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep a night; children need more.
8: NURTURE FRIENDSHIPS
Loneliness can sometimes be mistaken for a food craving. If you are not physically hungry, consider calling a friend.
9: TRY YOGA
A recent review found yoga fans lost weight and reduced their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A good yoga teacher can help you develop a keen awareness of your body.
10: GET HELP COPING
The craving for sweets is much worse in times of stress, according to Brazilian research. If you find yourself vulnerable to emotional overeating, it may be helpful to seek brief counseling on ways to cope with stress and strong emotions.
11: TAKE 15
Although cravings can feel excruciating for the first 5 minutes, most cravings pass within 15 minutes.
So whether you play with modeling clay or call a friend to distract yourself, there are ways to deal with cravings.
Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. She welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or mailed to Nutrition, The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, VA 22401.