Hi, my name is Dana, and I'm a gummy bear-aholic. In case you were wondering, no, I’m not at all ashamed—mostly because I know I’m not alone. We all have our dietary Kryptonite.
Even if your most urgent snack attacks don’t strike too frequently, there’s no denying that some days those brightly-colored candies are easier to ignore than others. To find out why those “I want it now!” feelings fluctuate between intense urges and mild, passing thoughts, Eat This, Not That! looked into the science of cravings and checked in with some top-notch nutrition experts. We have some good news: Battling that burger craving doesn’t have to be so hard. In fact, you might be sabotaging your own diet success by waging war against every single urge to snack. Break these habits to ride out those cravings carefree:
You’re Constantly On the Teeny-Weeny Bikini Diet
We get that you want to look trim and fit on the beach when you go on vacation, but trying to stick to a restrictive diet to reach your goals is a recipe for disaster! “When my clients feel like they aren’t able to enjoy something indulgent from time to time, it often leaves them with hard-to-ignore cravings,” says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN a New York City-based Registered Dietitian. “I allow my patients to eat 100 discretionary calories each day so they can satisfy their cravings without falling off track. Knowing they can have another small treat tomorrow makes it easier for them to cut themselves off before they overdo it.” Nine Peanut M&Ms and a single Reese's Peanut Butter Cup both come in right around 100 calories.
You Keep Temptation In Your Kitchen
“Whether it’s ice cream, cookies, candy, chips or other items, just knowing that your trigger foods are in the kitchen or office desk can derail any healthy eating program,” says Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND, a Chicago area registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant. “This is especially true between 3:00 p.m. and bedtime when cravings tend the be the most difficult to ignore.” One of the best ways to overcome a passing craving is to keep the foods you typical crave out of the house. “If you have to leave your home or office every time you get a craving, you’ll be less apt to give in,” explains Palumbo.
Can’t imagine kicking your favorite cookies out of the house for good? Kaufman suggests individually portioning the foods you tend to overeat. If you know each Ziplock bag of cookies is 150 calories, you’ll be less likely to go back for a second serving. Another tactic? Hide tempting treats in the back of the pantry behind something healthier like a box of KIND bars. This way you’ll see the healthier option first and be reminded of your better-body goals.
You Don’t Get Enough Shut-Eye
If you’ve been having intense cravings for sugar- and carb-laden treats, those late nights may be to blame. “Studies have found that the less sleep we get, the more apt we are to crave foods that we believe will give us energy,” explains Kaufman. “I always recommend about seven hours of shut-eye to my patients to help keep cravings at bay,” says Kaufman.
You Try To Fool Your Taste Buds
If you’re jonesing for a big, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chunk cookie, a low-sugar Chips Ahoy just isn’t going to cut it. Plus, you’ll likely down too many of them in an attempt to fulfill your craving. “I have never been a fan of reduced-fat or low-sugar versions of indulgent foods because, nine times out of ten, no matter how many of them you eat, your craving won’t be satisfied. You’re better off giving into your craving with the real deal. You may be surprised to find that you’re actually satisfied with less,” says Palumbo.
You Don’t Fight Back Against Your Hormones
If the fudgy brownies in the break room look extra tempting in the days leading up to your period, you’re dwindling serotonin levels are likely to blame. When you’re PMSing, stress hormones spike and the feel-good hormone, serotonin, dips. This hormonal fluctuation boosts cravings for carbs and sugar-rich foods—like cookies—because these nutrients help increase the feel-good hormones. Although you can’t stop your hormones from running amuck, you can alter your diet in the weeks leading up to your period so your cravings aren’t as strong. Focus on eliminating junky processed fare, caffeine and refined carbs—food that couldn’t hurt to cut back on anyways. This will help keep your cortisol and blood sugar levels stable and cravings at bay.