Conquer Your Food Cravings
Find the best, research-proven ways to keep chocolate and cookies and chips from wrecking your diet.
If Your Answers Were Mostly A's: You have it under control. You can
safely sample $60-a-pound chocolates and still lose weight. But if you
occasionally need help resisting temptation, check out the "Give In" tips.
If Your Answers Were Mostly B's: You're clearly not a mindless eater
(that's good), but you sometimes bite off more than you should be chewing. You
can follow the "Give In" advice unless there are particular foods that call to
you. If so, familiarize yourself with the "Give It Up" tips.
If Your Answers Were Mostly C's: You have a tendency to go one
truffle over the line, so you need to stick with the "Give It Up" advice until
you master the tricks for staying in control.
If You Can Safely Give In...
- Have a little bit of really good stuff. You're more likely to be
satisfied with a small amount of the real thing. "Otherwise, what can happen is
that you say to yourself, 'I want chocolate, but I don't want the calories,'"
says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., associate professor of nutrition at Boston
University. "So you start with some cocoa, then go on to other foods that don't
satisfy your craving, and you end up having the chocolate anyway."
- Never eat a treat by itself. Feed your yen for chips, but have only
a few with a low-fat dip (like hummus or a yogurt-dill mix). Include something
healthy and low-calorie, too, like red pepper strips and celery, recommends
Susan Roberts, Ph.D., director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts
University. Filling out your snack will help you resist downing a bag of chips.
And the veggies are full of fiber, which will make you feel full — all for a
- Go the distance. Don't keep treats in the house. "It's like living
in a bakery," says Blake. "You won't be able to resist them." If you really
want something special, go to the store and buy a snack-size amount — just one
small pack of cookies or chips.
- Clear your palate. Once you've had your little taste, have a drink
of water or brush your teeth, suggests weight-loss coach Janice Taylor. "If the
taste of that food lingers in your mouth, it will trigger more eating."
- Schedule your delights. Plan your daily menu, and include a couple
of 100- to 150-calorie treats. A group of dieters in Roberts's program not only
gained more control over their trigger foods doing this, but also lost, on
average, 22 pounds in 16 weeks on a 1,400-calorie diet. "Even people who
thought they'd never be able to eat chocolate again lost 20 pounds while
occasionally indulging," says Roberts.
If You Need to Give It Up...
- Tap your forehead. It may sound woo-woo, but there's science behind
this five-second trick to displace your craving thoughts. Since the working
memory is small, you can crowd out your food desires by placing the five
fingers of one hand on your forehead, spaced slightly apart, and then, at
intervals of a second, tapping each finger while looking upward and watching
it. You may need to do some reps "until your thoughts go elsewhere," says
- Walk for 15 minutes. That's how long it took for a group of 25
chocoholics to exercise off their desire for a chocolate bar. And their
resistance was severely tested: In the University of Exeter study, the
scientists had teased the subjects with mental challenges (stress triggers
cravings) and an actual chocolate bar — which participants had to unwrap.
- Take a whiff of mint. A study at Wheeling Jesuit University in West
Virginia found that people who sniffed peppermint periodically throughout the
day ate 2,800 fewer calories during the week. "When you focus on the scent,
your attention is driven away from cravings," says psychologist Bryan
Raudenbush, Ph.D. (Peppermint inhalers are available at sportsinhaler.com and in
sporting-goods stores — mint also can improve athletic performance — for about
- Call a friend. Studies in rats suggest that eating comfort food
reduces stress response, which may explain why turmoil sends you to the kitchen
for your best friend, cookie. "It does help you temporarily," says diet expert
Elizabeth Somer, R.D., "but better to vent with a girlfriend. That always
- Be at peace with your cravings. A study done at Drexel University
found that people who'd been taught to use techniques similar to mindfulness
meditation were better able to resist a treat — in this case, a package of
Hershey's Kisses — than those who didn't have the training. Mindfulness teaches
that thoughts are just thoughts and don't require any rush to judgment or to
action. "If you try to make them go away, all your focus is on the
food," says researcher Evan Forman, Ph.D. "But if you just exist with the
thought, it loses its power." One way to make that easier: Think about what you
want out of life that feeding your craving might deny you. To be fit enough to
hike with your kids? Slim enough to wear a slinky red dress to your cousin's
wedding? "Identifying what's ultimately important to you will allow that goal
to direct your behavior, rather than a food craving," says Forman.
- Never be hungry. That's the other lesson from the Roberts program in
which participants lost weight while still enjoying their favorite foods. And
it's the one tip that will allow you to go from depriving to indulging yourself
— even having chocolate every day if you like — without fear of bingeing. "If
you eat the right foods, you won't be hungry," says Roberts. "The people in my
program were eating three meals a day with two snacks, and almost 100 percent
of them said their cravings weren't bothering them anymore." Won't it feel nice
to finally get that Chunky Monkey off your back?