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Cravings: Why They Strike, How to Curb Them

Why you’ve just gotta have certain foods -- and how to regain control

Good Mood, Bad Mood continued...

But happy moods might be even more likely culprits. In Wansink’s survey of about 1,000 Americans, 86% craved comfort foods when they were happy, and 74% had cravings when they wanted to celebrate or reward themselves. Only 52% had cravings when they were bored and 39% when they were sad or lonely.

The happy eaters wanted to maintain their upbeat mood, Wansink explains: "I want to do something to extend my happy feeling or my happy experience,” he says. They tended to prefer "more meal-like, healthier foods," while people in sad moods were much more likely to seek out ice cream, cookies, or potato chips.

Taming Your Desires

In his book, Wansink writes about models who attempt to crush their cravings by carrying around a candy wrapper just to sniff it, or by taking one bite from a candy bar and then spitting it out. He says not to waste your time with these methods. Instead, try these tips:

Eat the Food You Crave Less Often. You may have heard that having a little bit of what you crave is a good way to break the craving. But continually eating the food you crave only strengthens the habit. "The more you eat sweets, the more you reinforce the cravings for sweets," Pelchat says.

So should you go cold turkey? Not exactly, Wansink says. Feeling deprived of a favorite food often backfires, and you end up eating too much. "You can indulge in it, but just do it less frequently," he says.

Use Portion Control. "Allow yourself to have a food, but do it in a portion-controlled way," Pelchat says. For example, don't keep tempting foods at home, because it's too easy to wolf down excessive amounts. Instead, go out for one scoop of ice cream or one slice of pizza.

Trick Yourself. Portion control doesn't work for everyone, especially if tempting foods are on hand. Hide the food in the back of a cupboard; don't keep it on a kitchen counter or in plain sight. “If you resist, you weaken the link between [environmental] cues and mindless eating,” Pelchat says.

Substitute a Healthier Food. "You may be dying for that chocolate sundae, but eating something that's healthier will eliminate that craving almost as effectively," Wansink says. For instance, eating apple slices with peanut butter might satisfy you as much as if you did splurge on ice cream, he says.

The sense of satisfaction might not happen immediately or even in 5 minutes, but it will kick in 15 to 20 minutes later, he says. Just make sure to eat an amount equal to the volume of the desired food. Otherwise, you’ll still be hungry, and your craving will still be there -- waiting for you to give in.

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