9 ways to kill cravings for sugar and other unhealthy foods

food-cravingsIntense food cravings can feel uncontrollable, and often sabotage dieters’ desire to lose weight and keep it off.

The types of food people crave aren’t always the same, but junk foods with lots of sugar are among the most common.

When you’re overcome by cravings that threaten your health goals, try these strategies for staying on track.

  1. Drink More Water

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between hunger, cravings and thirst. If you suddenly find yourself obsessing about food, pour a tall glass of water and drink it, then wait a little while.

If your body was asking for water, the craving may just fade away. Besides distracting yourself from eating, you may also cash in on some of the health benefits of staying hydrated.

Studies conducted with middle-aged and older adults indicate drinking water before a meal supports weight loss and reduces appetite. (1, 2, 3)

  1. Eat More Protein

Foods high in protein are a dieter’s best friend. Not only do they help you feel full for longer, but they also significantly reduce cravings. (4)

When overweight teenaged girls ate a high-protein breakfast, they reported fewer cravings throughout the day. (5)

Another study with overweight men showed that bumping up protein intake to 25% of total calories cut cravings by more than half, as well as decreasing the urge to eat late at night. (6)

  1. Get Some Distance

Sometimes a change in focus or environment is all you need to beat a craving; many people have good success with simple strategies like taking a short walk, getting in the shower, or switching gears to tackle a chore you’ve been putting off.

Studies with people following moderate calorie-restricted diets show that chewing a piece of gum can also help cut cravings and decrease appetite. (7, 8)

  1. Plan and Eat Proper Meals

Planning ahead so you know what you’ll be eating is very effective at circumventing cravings; at the least, try to plan meals for a day or two; a full week is better.

Get in the habit of sitting down to the meal you’ve planned and truly nourishing your body; this way, you’ll be providing essential nutrients and cutting out the element of spontaneity, which some people find problematic.

  1. Avoid Getting Hungry

Meal planning should help you avoid reaching the point of feeling overly hungry, which often sets off extreme cravings.

If circumstances and timing conspire to leave you truly hungry when meal time is still much too far away for comfort, it’s vital to have healthy snacks on hand that fit with your diet plan.

It’s always best to snack on whole foods, preferably vegetables or a handful of nuts or seeds; a piece of fruit is also an excellent option.

Another tip to remember is always shop for groceries when you’re full and satisfied; heading to the supermarket with an empty stomach is never a good idea. You’ll be much more likely to give in to cravings.

  1. Detour Away from Stress

Women are especially vulnerable to stress eating, and have more problems than men with cravings, as well as changes in food behavior. (9, 10, 11)

If a woman feels stressed, she will usually eat more calories than if she’s relaxed. (12)

Stress also raises levels of cortisol in the blood, and can lead to weight gain in the belly area. (13, 14)

Many people find planning ahead can reduce stress levels, and meditation is also helpful. Making a clear decision to slow yourself down and not rush through the day can be a good strategy to decrease stress.

  1. Take a Spinach Extract Supplement

A relatively new supplement on the market, spinach extract, delays fat digestion, which in turn jacks up levels of hormones in the body that reduce hunger and appetite, like GLP-1.

Made from spinach leaves, this supplement can work in your favor; test participants found it suppressed feelings of hunger for several hours. (15, 16)

Overweight women taking 5 grams of spinach extract daily reported they experienced 87% to 95% fewer cravings for high-sugar foods and chocolate during a three-month trial. (17)

  1. Engage in Mindful Eating

This type of meditation is focused on foods and eating habits, and can help you develop a new level of awareness when it comes to cravings, hunger, physical sensations associated with eating, and emotions linked with food. (18, 19)

You can learn to tell the difference between physical hunger and cravings, as well as strategies for dealing with impulsive food behavior.

When you employ the mindful eating technique, you teach yourself to be completely present with your food; you chew thoroughly and eat slowly, tasting flavors, feeling textures, and noticing responses, including feelings of pleasure, fullness and satisfaction.

Practicing mindful eating can put you back in the driver’s seat when it comes to making thoughtful responses to powerful urges. (20)

A 6-week study conducted with binge eaters showed that mindful eating dropped the number of episodes from an average of 4 weekly to 1.5; participants found that using the technique also reduced the severity of bingeing. (21)

  1. Get Plenty of Sleep

Our hormones fluctuate throughout each day, exerting a significant influence on appetite.

When you’re deprived of the sleep you need, these fluctuations are disrupted; the result can be a larger appetite and more cravings. (22, 23)

Studies show that both children and adults are 55% more likely to become obese if they don’t get enough sleep. (24)

Making certain you get adequate down time may be one of the most effective ways to prevent cravings during the day.

Recap

Intense desires to eat inappropriate foods, overeat, or eat when you’re not hungry are problems many people struggle with; more than half of people surveyed said they experienced food cravings regularly. (25)

Food cravings have been blamed for weight gain, binge eating, and issues with food addiction. (26)

Summary: Pay attention to triggers that set off food cravings; experiment with the strategies listed above to help prevent and limit these diet-busters so you can stick with your plan and reach your health goals.

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19661958
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17228036
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18589036
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18448177
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25098557
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847729
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21718732
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17118491
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24126546
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25173065/
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24879886/
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11070333
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12119665
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16353426
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23632035
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26029978
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25895695
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256293/
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23876574
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21130363/
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22021603
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15602591/
  23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23479616/
  24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18517032/
  25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9134095
  26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9561425
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