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Body or Mind? continued...

Emotions play a big part in food cravings, too, Wilborn says. "When we're stressed, anxious, frustrated, lonely ... all those feelings can trigger our cravings." She adds that we may have memories of how good certain foods made us feel when we were younger.

Sensory triggers, like smells and visual cues, can also set off cravings, says Wilborn. If you walk by the pizza stand on your trip through the mall, chances are you're going to start salivating.

How to Cope

If you're not physically hungry, Wilborn offers several recommendations for handling your cravings:

  • Brush your teeth and gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine. "Part of wanting to eat is the taste. Nothing tastes good after you've gargled with Listerine," Wilborn says.
  • Distract yourself. "Take yourself out of the situation for 45 minutes to an hour," says Wilborn. "Then if you still want whatever it is you're craving, have a small amount."
  • Exercise.
  • Relax with deep breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Choose a healthy substitute. If you want ice cream, spoon up some fat-free, sugar-free ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet. Wilborn also recommends freezing a container of Dannon Light yogurt. "It takes on a wonderful consistency," she says. If you want potato chips, try baked tortilla chips instead.
  • Listen to your cravings. If you want something salty, you may very well need salt. Add salt to your food instead of having salty snacks.
  • If you know what situations trigger your cravings, avoid them if possible.
  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. "Often hunger is a signal that we're thirsty," says Wilborn.

But allow yourself some moments of weakness, too. "Give in now and then," Wilborn says. "It's really not healthy to be so rigid."

Jennifer Grana, a registered dietitian with the Dr. Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease in Pittsburgh, agrees that if there is no medical reason for you to avoid your favorite snacks, you should cut yourself some slack. "If you're reaching for a bag of chips only now and then, that's OK." As long as 80% of your food intake is good for you, you can play with that other 20%, she says.

Think of your favorite foods as a reward, she says -- a small treat after you've finished your exercise for the day, perhaps. "Don't think of a food craving as a negative," she says. "For most people, anything is OK in moderation."

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