Everyone has cravings, and most of the time, you end up craving, well, not-so-healthy food. Hey, when your sweet tooth comes calling and you’re in the mood for some cookies, there’s nothing that can stop you from indulging. But if you’re trying to lose weight, you need to not give in to cravings at all, right?
Not so fast, says weight-loss expert Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D.N., and author of the new book You Can Drop It!, which promises to teach you ways to enjoy those cookies—or any sugary treat for that matter—without spiraling into a sugar-fueled binge.
Muhlstein says the trick to crushing cravings is to make sure you never feel that you can’t have something you’d like to eat. “Deprivation backfires badly and leads to long-term misery, not results,” says Muhlstein, who sits on the Executive Leadership Team for the American Heart Association. Muhlstein developed several effective strategies that helped her to lose 100 pounds while still enjoying carbs, chocolate treats, and even cocktails. So she clearly knows what she’s doing!
Here are 15 easy you can crush your cravings for good. And for more of her insight, be sure to check out You Can Drop It!
The More? Sure! Model
This tool works best for someone with a big appetite or anyone headed to a social event where there will be a long window of eating ahead, she explains. Picture a bicycle wheel, where water is the top of the circle. Start there, with a glass of water. Now as you nibble through the event, roll into vegetables and fill up on those-high-water-content foods. “Next, choose and eat your protein because that kids in your sense of fullness to prevent overeating,” says Muhlstein. “Then if you want a treat, you’ll be much more selective and in control.” If you still want more after that, sure, go ahead, but you have to start at the top of the circle again with a glass of water. Chances are before you even go around again, you lose your cravings.
The Delay, Don’t Deny Method
When faced with a temptation, like stopping at your favorite bakery during a drive, tell yourself, “I don’t need a pastry right now. Instead, I’ll plan on having them at an upcoming special occasion.” How does it work? “You’re simply delaying partaking in a treat, not denying it,” says Muhlstein. “The idea is that you “push off” the eating opportunity until a later time so it stays special.” In time, you realize that the anticipation of delayed gratification actually heightens your self-confidence and the sensory experience when you eventually eat the treat, she says. And if you want to learn more about how your emotions factor in, here are signs you’re eating your feelings.
The DINTEO Question
This is a great tool for developing a new eating mindset. DINTEO stands for the question, Do I Need This Eating Opportunity? “Asking yourself DINTEO doesn’t deprive you, it empowers you!” says Muhlstein. Whenever you are faced with an eating opportunity—and they pop up constantly throughout the day (free pastries when getting coffee, cookies on the counter, etc.)—ask yourself that question. Chances are the answer is going to be “No!” because the food encounter typically happens when you’re not even feeling hungry.
Take a Deep Breath
Your breathing can affect your eating, according to studies that have tied slow breathing techniques to better control of food cravings. A study in the Journal of Psychophysiology found a correlation between low heart rate variability (HRV) and uncontrolled eating behavior. HRV is a measure of nervous system balance. High HRV suggests your body is fit and better able to adapt to your environment, while low HRV indicates that your body is fatigued, dehydrated, stressed, or ill. Researchers found that lower HRV was related to lower dieting success in people trying to reduce calories and higher uncontrolled eating in chocolate cravers. Deep breathing techniques may help to balance our nervous systems and helps us better manage our cravings, researchers say.
Here are two ways to practice:
- Belly Breathing: Sit quietly and place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that you can feel your stomach move out against your hand before you feel your chest rise. Open your mouth slightly and slowly exhale until your stomach falls and ribcage depresses. Pause, then repeat for at least one minute.
- 4-7-8 Breathing: This technique is useful for reducing anxiety and managing cravings of any type, according to Andrew Weil, MD, a pioneer of integrative medicine at the University of Arizona. How to do it: Breath out completely, then breath in slowly through the nose for 4 seconds. Hold that breath for a count of 7 seconds, then exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds, while pursing your list to make a “whoosh” sound. Repeat the 4-7-8 cycle up to four times. Do it twice a day. Note: you may get lightheaded until you get used to the sequence.
Clean Your Kitchen Counter
This is the out-of-sight, out-of-mouth trick: Keeping the cookies, chips, and coffee cake off your kitchen counter is one of the easiest ways to avoid cravings. People who have kitchen counters cluttered with tempting treats tended to consume 40 percent more calories over the course of the day than people with tidy kitchens, according to a study in the journal Environment and Behavior. And if you want to make sure your kitchen is in tip-top shape, here are the 50 Best Kitchen Cleaning Tips Right Now.
Drink Yerba Mate
Not only can drinking tea fill your belly and reduce cravings, this particular green tea is known for its powerful thermogenic effects-meaning it turns up your body’s calorie-burning mechanism—and it can also promote weight loss by improving insulin sensitivity.
Set an Alarm on Your Phone
What happens when you’re too busy and skip breakfast or lunch? You become famished and end up swallowing everything in sight. Skipping meals is like tossing gasoline on a smoldering fire, fueling serious hunger pangs, and causing overeating. To avoid that, set your phone’s alarm to buzz every three to four hours to remind you to have something small to eat. Researchers at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center have found that scheduled eating helps people manage appetite, avoid cravings, and lose weight.
Eat Brazil Nuts
Go ahead and keep a stash in your desk! Brazil nuts are not only rich in the three musketeers of satiating nutrients—healthy fats, protein, and fiber—but they provide a significant dose of chromium. This helpful mineral keeps blood-sugar levels stable, reducing those energy dips that trigger cravings. Broccoli works, too, but is much harder to keep in a desk drawer.
Have Some Chocolate-Covered Almonds
Again, you get protein, fiber, and fat to tamp down those belly grumbles, plus satisfy your hankering for chocolate. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, chocolate is the most frequently craved food in North America—especially by women. Just make sure that decadent coating is dark chocolate, specifically made with 70 percent or higher cacao, the healthiest kind that’s full of satiating fats and antioxidants.
Practice One and Done
Humans naturally crave fat and sugar, so don’t pick a fight with mother nature. Treat yourself to a regular piece of cake or cookie and avoid those tasteless low-sugar, low-fat options. Try taking one bite of a treat and immediately putting the rest away. Train yourself to be satisfied with just a taste and you’ll never feel deprived!
Stifle a Craving with Something Naturally Sweet
This sounds so obvious, but do you really do it? Next time you’re craving ice cream, pop a few frozen blueberries in your mouth. Next time, you’re craving a piece of candy, have a sweet fresh apple.
Crunch a Healthier Chip
When you’re craving crunchy potato chips, cut some carrots, cucumbers, and peppers into chip-sized slices and dip them into hummus. Your mouth will enjoy the crunchy, salty, fatty satisfaction of potato chips without the overload of calories and sodium.
Pop a Mint; Stop a Pizza Binge
Next time you feel like you just have to grab another slice of whatever, pop a mint in your mouth instead! A study published in the journal Neurogastroenterology & Motility found that the peppermint oil in the candy sends a signal to your brain to stop eating.
Gargling Does the Trick, Too
Just try this experiment. Eat a bite of your favorite chocolate chip cookie. Enjoy it. Now, before taking another bite, brush your teeth and gargle. Presto! You will have no desire to go back to the cookie. Better idea: Kiss your partner!
RELATED: Discover exactly how Ilana Muhlstein lost 100 pounds and kept it off in You Can Drop It!
Fall in Love with These Olives
Pick the right olive to nosh on and you’ll likely satisfy cravings quicker. Researchers say Kalamata olives contain higher amounts of heart-healthy, hunger-busty monounsaturated fats than canned olives typically do.