Combat Food Cravings, Part 2: When to Fight and How to Indulge

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Hopefully you’ve taken the past week to identify your food craving triggers (Step 1).  Feel free to use the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal.  And as promised, here’s the second part, which contains steps 2 and 3 to combating  cravings.

How will you be combating your food cravings?  Comment below.

Step 2: Determine How You Fight Back Best Against Food Cravings

Once aware of your triggers, you can take steps to fight them.  While there are many tactics, the only ones that matter are the ones that work for you.  How do you know which ones work for you?  Educated trial and error.  Start with the list below for ideas – give one a shot for a week and see how it goes.  If it’s working, keep going.  If not, try another.  I’ve broken down ways to fight back into four categories – omission, substitution, preparation and distraction.

Omission – Get temptations or cravings out of sight, and therefore out of mind.  Get rid of the candy bowl at work or remove tempting foods from the house.

Substitution – Making a healthier choice, or having a healthier choice available, in response to a temptation or craving.  Choose a piece of dark chocolate after dinner instead of cookies.  Think of, and write down, non-food ways to cope with a stressful day: problem solve your work issues, exercise, meditate, or just sit up tall and take ten deep breaths.

Preparation – Plan ahead to give yourself options to make a better choice.  Bring healthy snacks to work from home, so you’re not at the mercy of the office vending machine at 3 PM.  Or review the menu of a restaurant you’re going to ahead of time and choose a healthy option so you’re not tempted when you’re actually there and hungry.

Distraction – Do something that will get your mind off the craving.  Bored at work?  Drink water instead of eating.  Sitting around the house?  Do some housework, call a friend, go exercise or start a hobby that involves using your hands like knitting or playing the guitar.

Another great resource that I was interviewed for:

For Emotional Eaters – This is by far the hardest craving to deal with, but my friend Adam Gilbert, founder of has a great piece of advice:
When we get emotionally “hungry” it’s worth asking ourselves a few questions:

1. How long has it been since I’ve eaten?
2. What am I really hungry for?
3. Is anything bothering me?
4. If I had an ‘EASY’ button to magically help me with what I’m dealing with, right now, what would I use it for?

Perhaps, what you’re really hungry for is affection, assistance, rest, excitement, peace of mind…

Is it possible to have the need met by someone? How about by yourself?

Here’s the challenge: Many times we feel like our needs can’t or won’t get met – so food becomes our escape.  When we’re “hungry” that is a need we feel like we can actually control. Sometimes, it can be very helpful to explore what it feels like to have the need go unmet by simply writing about it. Many clients have reported that this eases the discomfort tremendously. This is also how you can find out what you might really want out of your life because typically we’d shovel food into our mouth so we don’t have to experience or face the feelings. Because when we’re not suppressing feelings, they’ll come to the surface, and we’ll be able to see what it is we really want.

Food is ONLY love when it is used to feed our true physical hunger and we actually enjoy and relish and savor the experience. Otherwise, we’re using food to cover up feelings. Feelings that are preventing us from becoming the person we really want to be.

Step 3: Decide What’s Worth Indulging On – How Much & How Often

Effectively dealing with food cravings doesn’t mean you have to swear off all sugar, alcohol and chocolate for the rest of your life.  The goal is to be in control of how and when you indulge, so you can enjoy it without guilt – and still get the weight loss or fitness results you want as well.

First: List your five favorite indulgences.  Think about what satisfies you the most.  Make sure you only have one of those as an indulgence – not the random doughnut lying around the office (unless that’s one of your five).  You can always change your “fav five.”

Second: How often do you feel like you need to have an indulgence to feel satisfied, not restricted?  Note that “how often” and “how much” are usually opposites.  In other words, do you prefer to have a little treat every day, or one day per week where you can have what you want.  Regardless of what you choose, moderation is still important.  Two slices of pizza, not half a pie.

Interestingly, research has shown that smaller portions work just as well as larger ones in satisfying cravings.  If you’re taking from a larger bag or box, place your portion in a bowl or on a plate and put the larger container away.  One client told me she’s safer with a gallon of ice cream in the house than a pint because she can’t sit down on the couch and polish off a gallon of ice cream like she can with a pint.

Third: Plan where and when you will have those indulgences.  Will you be going out to dinner twice a week with friends?  Will you have a piece of dark chocolate at home after dinner every evening?  Planning your indulgences keeps you focused on what you want most, gives you something to look forward to and allows you to savor some of your favorite, less-healthy foods guilt-free.  The other great thing about plans is that you can adjust them: If you end up having an unplanned indulgence, choose which planned indulgence it’s replacing – guilt-trip free.

*Extra Tip: Make sure any treat you keep in the house or at the office is one that you have a low-risk of overeating.

After combating food cravings for a few weeks, track your indulgences again to measure progress and see how your patterns have changed.  Remember, with permanent change comes permanent results.

How will you be combating your food cravings?  Comment below.

Effectively dealing with temptations and cravings is so important that it’s one of the Easy Eight Habits (Habit #5) in Death of the Diet, available on Kindle and in print!

Combat Food Cravings, Part 1: Determine Your Triggers

Food Cravings: Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?
Photo Courtesy of dusky,

*Download a complimentary copy of the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal here to determine your triggers and start fighting food cravings today.  Want to discuss your triggers further?  Comment below.*

You’re minding your own business at work, watching TV, being stressed out, or lounging around after dinner and BAM you find yourself craving something sweet.  Or salty.  The craving may general, or for a specific food. Pastry, ice cream, pizza or gooey macaroni and cheese (if I just triggered a craving for you, I apologize).  The more you try to think about something else, the more you get pulled into the craving.  And then you can’t get your mind off it – until you give in.  Are food cravings inevitable?  When they strike are we sentenced to a calorie-laden, guilt-inducing fate?  Or can we fight back?

First, a review of recent research.

Then, a three step process to start overcoming your food cravings.

Recent Research Review

Recent research provides some obvious, but useful insights – well summarized by Melinda Beck in the Wall Street Journal.  While I recommend reading the article, here’s a Cliff’s Notes summary:

  • Food cravings activate the same reward circuits in the brain as drugs and alcohol (sweets and carbs release serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals).  Anticipation, hit, reward.  And eventually it takes larger doses to get the same hit.  Yes, we can become food addicts, especially to sugary foods.
  • Cravings involve a complex mix of social, cultural and psychological factors, heavily influenced by environmental cues.  Makes sense – you tell recovering alcoholics to stop hanging around in bars or reduce spending time with people who drink like a fish (origins of that analogy?).  If you know you can’t resist cookies – why have them in the house.  Or frequent bakeries?
  • Cravings can be culturally specific – “while chocolate is consistently the most-craved food in North America, Japanese women are more likely to crave sushi.”  And why doesn’t anyone crave kale?!
  • Cravings can have gender differences – 85% of men found giving into a craving satisfying vs. 57% of women.
  • “It’s possible to like a food without craving it, and crave a food without liking it.” Have you ever caught yourself eating something that looked tempting, but half way through you’re like, “Why am I eating this, it’s not very good.”  And then you finish it anyways.

Three Steps to Fend Off Unwanted Food Cravings

Fending off unwanted food cravings involves three key steps:

  1. Become Aware of Your Triggers
  2. Determine How You Fight Back Best
  3. Decide What’s Worth Indulging In – How Much & How Often

It’s hard to fight unless we know what we’re fighting against, so Part 1 this week discusses how you can become more aware of your food craving triggers.  Use this week to determine and explore your triggers.  Consider everything from what, where, when, with whom, why, etc.  Part 2 next week will discuss how to fight back and how to decide which indulgences are worth it.

Step 1: Become Aware of Your Triggers

Think back to your most recent cravings – what caused them?  Were you somewhere?  Was it a particular time of day?  Were you stressed?  Five of the most common triggers that make us cuckoo-for-cookies are:

Emotion – Do you find yourself seeking out food when you’re angry, lonely, stressed, tired or even happy?  Physical hunger typically comes on gradually, while emotional hunger is usually sudden, and often for a very specific food (usually not an apple).   Ever have those times when you eat snack after snack and nothing seems to be hitting the spot? Well, that’s because you’re not physically hungry. You’re emotionally hungry. (Adapted from Adam Gilbert,

Habit – Going on auto-pilot can be useful in some cases, but not in others.  Do you always eat dessert or snack after dinner?  Do you always munch on foods while watching TV, or while sitting at your desk at work?  Do you always have chips with your sandwich?  If you “always” eat something for a reason other than physical hunger (especially if you find yourself eating even though you’re full), odds are it’s become a habit.

Boredom – Idle hands can lead to unwanted calories.  Do you find yourself sitting down to watch TV or read and you start munching and munching and munching?  Or how about at work.  Your mind wanders off after a particularly boring assignment – oh and look, there’s free donuts!  When there’s nothing else to do, eating can become an easy default activity, even if we don’t want the calories.

Environmental Cues – Is food the focus of every celebration, or bad day?  Is going out to eat the social activity of choice for your friends and family?  Do you find yourself staring at a candy bowl at work?  Are there treats in the house that you buy for others, but end up mostly eating mostly yourself?  Do you tend to go to certain restaurants or cafes (or ice cream parlors) that force you to make less-healthy decisions?  The saying “out of sight, out of mind” exists for a reason.

Hunger – If you go a long time between eating (or if you eat foods that tend to spike your blood sugar), your blood sugar can drop.  As a result, hunger hormones spike, your brain freaks out and you’re no longer looking for the healthiest option – you’re looking for the closest option, even if it’s cookies, candy or pizza.

You may notice some of these triggers have overlapping causes – if you’re hungry and bored and only junk food is available, the odds are stacked against you.  Let’s unstack them.  Download a complimentary copy of the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal here to determine your triggers and start fight food cravings today.  Want to discuss your triggers further?  Comment below.

Part 2 next week will discuss how to fight back against food cravings and how to decide which indulgences are worth it.

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