Cupcakes! You suddenly started thinking about their sweet, frosty goodness and now you want—no, you need—to have one. But seeing as you had a satisfying lunch and don’t make a habit of eating sugary snacks every day, you can’t help but wonder how this torturous temptation popped into your mind. Even more pressing: How do you get it out?
“First and foremost, be mindful of your why,” says Erin Clifford, J.D., a Certified Holistic Health Coach. “Are you really hungry or is it something emotional? Are you lonely? Bored? Stressed? Pay attention to your patterns and figure out an alternative plan for when your cravings hit.”
We all know that unnecessary constant snacking (a snack once in a while is totally normal and fine!) interferes with your weight loss or weight-maintenance goals, but it also makes you sluggish and irritable, which, in turn, sets up a never-ending cycle of even more sugar and carb cravings.
Related: Shop appetite-control products.
Since the trick is to avoid your triggers and recognize when you’re teetering on the edge, these tips, straight from Clifford’s playbook, can help you shift your focus away from those midday cupcake cravings.
1. Stop the Cycle
If you always reach for a bag of cookies after a stressful day at work, call a friend and hit up a yoga class instead. Redirect the energy you’re giving your craving toward something positive. Once you do the work, you’re less likely to destroy it by bingeing on junk that rewinds your progress.
2. Change Your Environment
If you’re bingeing on caramel-coated popcorn while you’re Netflix-and-chilling, get off the couch, pop a Crave Crush lozenge (which blocks sweet taste receptors), and go take your dog for a walk. If you give yourself a time out, the cravings will usually subside.
3. Aim for Satiety
Including protein at every meal (lean meat, beans, eggs, nuts, yogurt, etc.) will boost your energy levels and keep you feeling satisfied—which should keep your cravings at bay. According to the Nutrition Journal, high-protein snacks improve appetite control and satiety, and reduce subsequent food intake.
What triggers a craving, anyway? Check out our Science of Cravings video:
4. Meal Frequency
Eating smaller, more frequent meals was related to lower body mass index (BMI) and maintenance of weight loss in a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Not only will this approach to eating stabilize blood-sugar levels and keep your energy levels on track, it’ll leave you less likely to give into your cravings.
5. Don’t Skip Meals
Set yourself up for success by sticking to regular meal times. And always have breakfast (you’ll want to reach for a protein-packed morning meal like overnight oats, a goat cheese frittata, or a banana with almond butter).
6. Stay Hydrated
Next time a big craving hits, try drinking a large glass of water. Many times when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually simply thirsty, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A word to the wise: We’re talking about regular ol’ water here—sugary liquid calories from sodas, juices, lattes, sports drinks, or iced teas will spike your insulin and blood sugar levels, causing cravings. Not into plain H20? Add fruit, herbs, or ginger for a special kick. Or, drink tea, unsweetened.
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Aim for 64 ounces (or 1900 milliliters) of water per day.
7. MEDITATE And Breathe Deeply
When you’re feeling the urge to plow through a bag of potato chips, take 10 minutes to center your mind and induce a feeling of calm. Or focus on your breathing, explains Clifford, in the ratio 1-4-2 (inhale for eight seconds, hold for 32 seconds, exhale for 16 seconds). Many devices and apps, like Fitbit and Breathe, have programs to help you meditate or count. Furthermore, according to the Mayo Clinic, practicing mindful eating and remembering that food is actually fuel (and not just fun, tasty stuff) can help prevent overeating.
8. Get Your ZZZs
If you don’t get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you might feel the urge to eat carbs and sugar, since you disrupted the hormones ghrelin and leptin. According to the International Journal of Endocrinology, hormones like these are closely associated with sleep and circadian rhythm. Ghrelin is the go hormone that tells you when to eat, while leptin is the stop hormone that tells you when you’re full. Thus, more ghrelin plus less leptin equals non-stop cravings. In short: Get enough sleep so that your hormones work appropriately.
9. Brush Your Teeth
Cravings You Can Sink Your Teeth Into
“If you simply cannot help yourself, then stick with foods offering nutritional value, such as non-fat Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit, a handful of veggies and hummus, or a handful (10) of almonds,” says Clifford. And, according to a new study in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, walnuts can help as well: The study suggests that these tasty little nuts decrease feelings of hunger and appetite. So, grab a handful of walnuts and munch away.
A few of Clifford’s other favorite go-to snacks:
- Chocolate smoothie: A scoop of chocolate protein powder, half a banana, and ice. Add 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds or chopped almonds/almond butter for a nutty flavor.
- 4 celery sticks with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cranberries or raisins, and cinnamon.
- 1 serving of dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon almond butter.
- ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with ½ cup berries or pineapple.
- 2 Wasa crackers with ¼ cup hummus or 1 piece of part-skim string cheese.
- 10 blue corn chips with ¼ cup hummus and salsa.
- Pizza crackers: 5 flax seed crackers topped with 1 piece of Munster cheese or low-fat Jarlsburg divided and sprinkle with red pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.
- Homemade herb popcorn (makes 6 servings): Pop 3 oz. of popcorn without oil in an air popper, melt 4 tablespoons coconut oil and drizzle over the popcorn with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, and 2 tablespoons mixed dried herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, and oregano). Toss to coat.
Conceding to Cravings: A Last Resort
We get it. Sometimes you just need to give in because life is too short.
“If you’re only eating for emotional reasons, then you want to do your best to avoid indulging in your cravings,” says Clifford. “But if you’re craving pizza because you love pizza, then go for the occasional sampling—in moderation. For instance, if you have plans to meet your girlfriends out at your favorite Neapolitan pizza place, be sure to eat clean all day, order a salad to complement your meal, and stick to your clean eating and workout routine the following day.”