Q: My husband and I have been dieting since the first of the year. For the most part we’re doing okay, but lately food cravings have been slowing down our progress. For example, last week we both did great – eating healthy foods, getting our cardio and workouts in – up until Friday, and then BOOM. All our diligence during the week went down the tubes when we celebrated a night on the town. My husband’s weakness is salty snacks – and mine? Chocolate. What’s your advice for helping us avoid binge eating? – Natalie; Laramie, WY
A: Yes, it’s definitely hard to fight the lure of sugary and salty carbs. For many of us these foods represent a sort of self-medication, since they trigger the release of those “feel-good” chemicals such as serotonin. But here are a few tried and true techniques for taming those food temptations:
- Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast. Be sure to include protein in every meal since it’s slow to digest, and thus, helps to control your blood sugar and ward off cravings. Try eating several small meals throughout the day so that binge-inducing hunger never kicks in.
- Increase your fiber intake. Like protein, fiber digests slowly helping you feel full longer.
- Be aware of the environmental cues and triggers that cause you to reach for the junk food and chocolate. For example, if watching TV after dinner tends to make you crave ice cream or cookies, try doing something different like going for a walk, reading, or playing an activity-inducing video game. Or take up a hobby like drawing or knitting that keeps your hands busy while you’re watching TV.
- Have plenty of healthy snacks on hand wherever temptations tend to derail you. For example, if you tend to head for the vending machine in the mid-afternoon at work, pack some healthy apple slices or grapes to nosh on instead and see you through to dinner. Also try substituting similar foods for particular cravings. If your weakness is salty/crunchy chips, substitute a handful of almonds. If your sweet tooth is your downfall, reach for a clementine orange or some blueberries instead of chocolate. If a bowl of high fat ice cream is your fancy, go for some Greek yogurt instead.
- Get your steps in. Believe it or not, exercise helps to curb food cravings.
- Cut down on your intake of coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Studies have shown that both lead to sugar cravings.
- Increase your water intake – this will help you feel full longer.
- Chewing gum helps some people gage temptations. If you still feel hungry after 10-15 minutes, grab a healthy snack.
- Try “sampling” your craving. Eat a “mini” candy bar to allow you a taste of something sweet without sacrificing your otherwise healthy eating.
- Finally, contain the catastrophe. In other words, if you’ve fallen to the lure of a bowl of ice cream, don’t chase those calories with a bag of chips. What’s done is done. You can still do a few extra laps on the treadmill or a couple of additional sets in the gym to negate, at least partially, the damage of your cravings. As always, keep in mind that “when you’re moving, you’re improving.”