Training your mind and body to control food cravings takes time and practice but not impossible. Controlling your food cravings boils down to adopting healthy food habits that stay with you forever. Research shows that it just takes 21 to about 66 days for humans to build a new habit. And healthy habits are hard to break.
That means you need to have will power to say “no” to unhealthy foods for only a short period of time. I’m talking about weeks, not years. Once you develop healthy eating as a habit, opting for the right food choices becomes automatic. The sugary drink you used to crave would taste too sweet that you can’t take more than a sip. You’ll wonder how on earth you were able to gulp down so much of it in the past.
If weight loss and a healthy lifestyle are your ultimate goals, you’ll realize that once you start resisting your cravings for unhealthy food, it becomes easier to say “no” the next time. You will also be motivated once you start seeing results. Will power leads to good eating habits which leads to a healthier, slimmer you.
What cravings are we talking about here?
The culprits are basically sugar, salt, processed food and fried food. Let us look at how to limit those cravings by training your mind and taste buds towards eating right.
Craving for sugar
We all know that limiting sweets and salty snacks is the first step towards healthy eating. Sounds all too familiar. But how?
- Don’t buy them. If you don’t stock them in your pantry you will stop looking for them eventually.
- Do you have a sweet tooth? Try reaching out for fruits or dry fruits when you start craving. Pack some to work or when you step out.
- The trick is to start small and proceed step by step. Reduce the sugar in your coffee gradually from 2 tsp to 1 1/2 for a few weeks, then to 1 tsp.
- Try replacing white sugar with palm sugar or honey. Less refined, so lesser evil. Palm sugar is known to have a lower glycemic index than white sugar.
- If you are used to drinking flavored milk (which is laden with sugar) replace half of the cup with low-fat plain milk.
Craving for salty food
- Adding extra flavor to your dish will help reduce salt without compromising on the taste. Use the same method as for sugar. Train your taste buds by starting small and proceed step by step.
- Avoid boiling vegetables with salt. Adding salt after cooking will help preserve nutrients and you will also need lesser salt.
- It may sound silly, but using a smaller spoon for salt and sugar really works. It tricks your mind into thinking that you are adding too much when you take more spoonfuls.
- Another option is to replace salt with soy sauce. Soy sauce has an intense flavor, so here less is more.
- To repeat, healthy eating starts at the level of grocery shopping. So avoid the snacks section or at least limit the quantity. Never fall into the marketing trap like the ‘buy one get one’ or ‘value pack’ offers. Buy smaller packs even if they cost more.
Craving for fried food
- Invest in a conventional oven if you don’t have one already. Be it vegetables, meat or fish, roasting rather than deep frying is easier, tastier and healthier. Try making french fries in the oven. They taste as good as the fried ones.
- To satisfy your craving for fried food, try recipes that require shallow frying.
- There is no oil that is ‘light or ‘fat-free’ when it comes to deep-frying. So don’t trust those misleading advertisements.
- When you do grocery shopping, buy oil in smaller packs, like 1 liter or 500 ml so that you can have a check on the amount of oil you use.
Craving for processed food and refined carbs
- Eat food that is closest to its natural form as much as possible.
- The thumb rule is not to buy any food product with ingredients you haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce, even if it says “healthy” or “low-fat”.
- Not all carbs are bad for you. It is the family of refined carbohydrates that you should limit. Muffins, bagels, white bread, cakes, cookies, white rice, pasta are some of them.
- Millets, quinoa and oats are some high fiber healthier options. High fiber food keeps you full longer so you don’t reach out for those unhealthy snacks.
- Swap white rice with brown rice, white bread with wholemeal bread and pasta with the whole wheat variety.
- Ask for these healthier options when you eat out too.
- While shopping for bread and other baked food, don’t be fooled by the phrase “wholemeal”; find out how much “wholemeal” is in there. There should be at least 70 percent for it to actually make a difference.
- “Multigrain” is not necessarily whole grain. It may be a combination of refined grains.
More steps to control your food cravings
1. Ensure your body is well nourished
When you are not hungry, you are less likely to give in to cravings. Fill yourself up with healthy nutritious food rich in protein and fiber so that you feel satiated and don’t think about food until it’s time for the next meal.
2. Eat mindfully
Enjoy your food. Eating right is not about fearing food. If you want that donut so badly, you can allow yourself occasionally. Instead of feeling guilty about it, make a note (yes, write down in a journal) that your cheat meal is done with, and continue to eat subsequent healthy meals.
3. Plan your meals
Plan your meals in such a way that you avoid getting very hungry at any time. Always carry healthy snacks like fruits and nuts when you step out, for those in-between-meals hunger pangs.
4. Manage stress
Food cravings arise from emotional needs too. Stress is cited as the most common reason for binge eating. Once you know how to de-stress effectively, you can stop your cravings and unhealthy eating habits.
5. Sleep well
Lack of sleep leads to mood swings and stress. This again increases the urge to give in to cravings and binge eating. Not to mention late-night snacking which can single-handedly derail your efforts to stop food cravings. Nurturing yourself with good food and enough sleep helps you de-stress and relax so you are less likely to crave comfort food.
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Is there anything you would like to add from your own experiences? I would love to hear. Please share in the comments section.