How to beat any food craving

by Ali on July 18, 2008

This is the seventeenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

“I need chocolate – NOW!”

Do you ever feel like that? (If you’re female, it might happen a lot at a certain time of the month.) True food cravings are signs of a dietary deficiency, but we all get those occasional “cravings” when we really, really want a particular food. Whether it’s a bag of Kettle chips, a bar of Green & Blacks, a glazed doughnut or a Big Mac … it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation.

Oddly, few people have cravings for fruit and vegetables…

If your reaction to a craving is just to give in, read on! Stop telling yourself that you’re weak-willed … you aren’t, you just don’t know (yet) how you can conquer those cravings.

Don’t keep “trigger” foods at work or in the house

All of us have foods which we find it hard to indulge in sensibly. For many people, a piece of chocolate is just enough … to make them want more, and more. Others find it very difficult to have just one bag of crisps, or one cookie. If you know that you tend to over-eat certain foods, ban them from your house and office. (Or at least keep them in a place that is firmly designated for “Other People’s food” rather than yours.)

The easiest way to beat a craving is not to let it arise in the first place! You’ll find that if you do crave snack foods, the hassle of having to go out and purchase them is usually enough to weaken that craving to a vague “I wouldn’t mind some chocolate right now…”

Wait at least twenty minutes before giving in to your craving

Food cravings can be beaten just by waiting them out. However strong the desire for chocolate (crisps, cookies, cake…), it will fade after twenty minutes. When you have an overwhelming urge for a chocolate hobnob, tell yourself that you can have one in half an hour. Then look at the clock, and take a note of the time – guesstimating when thirty minutes are up is unlikely to work. If it helps, set an alarm on your computer to alert you once the time has passed, and promise yourself you won’t touch the hobnobs till that alarm goes off.

Once the time is up, don’t dive straight for the packet – give yourself a chance to reassess. Do you still really, really want that snack? Or has the desire faded almost completely?

Distract yourself from thoughts of food

Another way to beat a craving is to treat it like a small, whiny child: ignore it. When your craving is screaming “I want ice-cream!”, tune it out, and distract yourself by getting on with something. If you’re at work, get cracking on that report you’ve been putting off, or the backlog of email you keep meaning to tackle. If you’re at home, start on the washing up or ironing, or pick up your paintbrush: anything that keeps your mind and hands occupied.

Cravings only grow when you give them attention: distracting yourself from the craving for a few minutes is often enough to kill it. (Don’t feel bad. Cravings aren’t likely to become extinct any time soon…)

Phone or email a friend who’s supportive about your diet

If you have a diet buddy, a craving is a good signal to give them a ring (or write an anguished email). Unlike the colleagues in your office, who may be getting a little tired of hearing about your daily willpower struggles, your friend will always listen sympathetically. Rant if you have to, complain how unfair it is that you don’t get to eat doughnuts any more – when that stick-thin girl in the office next door can eat three and not gain an ounce.

Once your friend has made the appropriate sympathetic noises, reminded you that you chose to go on a diet, and shared some gossip … you’ll probably have forgotten all about your craving.

The next part in this series will give you the secrets of fitting your diet around your life. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by Sean Dreilinger)

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