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Conquering food cravings: a tips list

When I'm trying to lose weight, sometimes I'll be tripping merrily along when suddenly, out of nowhere, a craving calls. Whether it's for pizza, a cheeseburger, a Snickers bar or a bowl of Ben & Jerry's, a craving can call my weight-loss campaign to a screeching, if temporary, halt. Is there a way to overcome their powerful allure? Guest blogger Judith Beck, author of "The Beck Diet Solution" and "The Complete Beck Diet for Life," tells us how to conquer those cravings. - Jennifer

Whether you're trying to lose 10 pounds, like Jennifer, or 100 pounds, you will have to learn what to do when cravings hit. It will take practice, but you can get really good at consistently resisting them. It does take a set of skills and lots of practice, though. Here are a few techniques you can use:

  • Motivate yourself to resist a craving. Read a long list of reasons you want to lose weight and read it every morning and again just before your most vulnerable time of day. You never know when a craving will hit, so prepare yourself daily.
  • Eat in a healthy way. Do allow yourself to indulge in a moderate portion of a favorite food once every day. But if it's a sugary food, you may develop a physiological (not to mention psychological) craving for more -- so eat it before bedtime, then brush your teeth and go to bed.
  • Label your experience. In fact, write a card to read every day, BEFORE you get a craving. It could say something like, "This is just a craving. Big deal. It will definitely go away. I can make it go away faster by declaring that I'm definitely NOT going to eat it and turning my attention to a compelling activity. If I'm wishy-washy about it, I may end up eating. That will give me a few moments of pleasure, but I'll feel badly for a much longer time afterwards."
  • Respond to that sabotaging voice that says, "It won't matter if I give in to this craving this one time." Read another card every day that says, "It DOES matter. Every time I give in, I strengthen my 'giving-in muscle,' which makes it more likely that the next time I'll give in and the next time and the next time. Every time I resist a craving, I strengthen my 'resistance muscle,' which makes it more likely that I'll be able to resist the next time, and the time after that and the time after that."
  • There are lots of other techniques, but I'll mention just one more. Eventually, you'll get to the point where you notice a craving and automatically go on with what you're doing. But it's difficult to do so initially, so you may need to deliberately change your focus.
  • Make yourself a "distraction box" in which you put lists of activities that are highly distracting to you (e.g., friends to call or e-mail, Web sites to visit, computer games you like to play, chores that need to be done) and objects you can use to distract yourself (a word puzzle book, a favorite DVD or CD -- if they're distracting enough -- a catalog, etc.) For women, an excellent addition to the box is a bottle of nail polish. By the time your nails dry, your craving will be gone.
It is incredibly liberating once you have gained the skills to resist cravings and have confidence that you can get yourself to use them consistently. In fact, the frequency of your cravings, if you're eating well, will go way down. And you'll never have to be afraid of experiencing cravings again!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  April 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger , Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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Induling in a small portion of what one is craving does not work for people that overeat. All it does is make me want more right away. And advising people eat right before bed is bad advice! No doctor would recommend that -you're just asking for GERD. What helps me is this: remind myself it's not about willpower, it's about discipline. For some reason, I can easily convince myself that I have no willpower, but I can't tell myself that I don't have the ability to discipline myself.

Posted by: LilyBell | April 12, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Whew - I never knew food cravings could be so hard! It sounds like someone I know who has a smoking addiction! I am trying to eat healthy and make better choices and have found that by not even purchasing the junk foods - I am not only willing, but excited to eat salads, veggies, fruits and whole grains like Kamut and Quinoa which are now my favorites! The distraction box sounds like an excellent idea!

Posted by: smilinggreenmom | April 12, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Obesity should be considered a reason for denying health care coverage. That should cure some of it. For the rest of them, let's hope that they die before they have a chance to procreate and pass their inferior genes to another generation.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | April 12, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Distraction helps, chewing gum helps, popping grapes or raspberries helps, gorging on popcorn (without butter) helps. Some days, I just say, the heck with it and eat something bad. But I am trying.

Posted by: MrsKirby | April 12, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Najjar, Can you begin to understand how offensive your comment is? Have you ever considered going back to your homeland and sparing us the genes from your inferior gene pool?

Posted by: dc1020008 | April 12, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Najjar is really hitting the nail squarely on the head - except for the inferior genes part. That was a little harsh. Obese or overweight people need to realize they have phychological difficulties and need to consult a phychologist. They are wasting their time with diets. As the old saying goes "Diets don't fail, people fail". Never diet, just eat properly. Legislators make it WAY too easy to get sick in the United States. You just trundle on down to your doctor's office, get some pills and pay a little $20 or so co-pay. There is no incentive to actually take care of yourself. Health insurance should be like car insurance. The more claims you put in then the higher your monthly payments and co-pays are.

Posted by: jimsandy1 | April 12, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

As a nutritionist, I offer two more strategies that work with my clients. Fuel yourself properly throughout the day. Many cravings are the result of low blood sugar from being too hungry! Also, make sure your meals and snacks are balanced, including a protein, carb and fat. This will go a long way in preventing cravings for foods that are "missing" from meals.

Posted by: 2eatwell | April 13, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Indeed it is getting a bit harsh “up there”. We are mixing apples and oranges. Everyone gets food cravings; and this is a great article. My patients report that “my trick” works also: keep a water bottle filled with cold water at hand and just take a “shot” of cold water; now they even have flavorings without artificial colors or sweeteners if you don’t “like” water. Regarding obesity; MANY people have undiagnosed hormonal deficiencies and compulsive eating due to neurotransmitter deficiencies, so let’s not assume everyone is just being gluttonous! I have helped a LOT of patients in this position.
Kim Crawford,M.D./Anti-Aging Mind,Body,Skin Care

Posted by: doctorkim1 | April 13, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

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