Food cravings are a fascinating, terrifying thing.
I mean, how could a little salt, sugar or fat have such a powerful effect on us? How could it force our hand to snatch up a Snickers bar with lightning speed in the grocery line, even though we firmly decided not to? Or throw on flip-flops and dash to a convenience store just for a bag of Ruffles?
Sure, certain foods light up the pleasure centers of our brain. But beyond that, it seems like the craving itself is part of the thrill. It becomes like an itch that we just have to scratch…
Or at least, marketers say we do. From the Taco Bell “Cravings Menu” and “fourth meal” (because midnight fast-food runs are so manly) to Pringles’ tagline “Once you pop, you can’t stop”—we’re always being told it’s exciting to give in and pig out. (Really exciting… until we step on the scale again.)
Even nutrition experts often recommend indulging just a little. The logic is that if you scratch the itch it’ll go away. Better than bottling it up until it explodes into the purchase of 10,000 bags of chips.
Except that, how often does an itch, once scratched, actually go away? Usually it just keeps itching until we slap the skin so hard that it burns instead. And sometimes it’s the same with cravings.
Take the foods we crave that are chemically designed to be addictive. When it comes to things like chips, we really can’t eat just one. Psychologists also say that giving in to cravings can prolong them by priming our brains for future behavior. Since we’re validating the act of indulging the craving, we’re more likely to do it again.
So tapering works sometimes, but other times, a good hard slap is better. Here are four ways to stop those runaway cravings *before* you’re elbow-deep in a bag of potato chips.
Let’s call them the 4 D’s: divert, distract, display and delay.
- Divert. Create a diversion by directing your craving toward a healthier snack instead. You can add spice, a dash of herbs or a creamy avocado wedge to a meal to make it feel indulgent. Brianna, a Shape-Up Challenge first-place winner, says she swaps candy bars for protein bars.
- Distract. Do something! When the first salt-fat-sugar pang hits, get absorbed in a creative project. Run errands. Or exercise like Brianna, who lost 20 pounds. She explains, “On bad days, instead of eating cake, I went for a walk.”
- Display. Putting out a jar of your candy wrappers (rather than slipping the evidence into the trash) never fails to put things in perspective. Better yet, keep score of every craving you did resist, in a visible spot like on the fridge.
- Delay. Tell yourself you can have it in an hour if you still want it. Then go have some water or a meal bar with fiber… and voila, you’ll probably be full. Over time, the longer you resist a craving, the weaker it gets—eventually, IdealShapers tell us, it just disappears.
Sometimes just a bite of that mint chocolate brownie really is all you need. (After all, the first bite is the best bite). But if you find yourself sneaking back for more “just a bites,” then call on the 4 D’s.
By Chelsea Bush