We’ve all experienced it—that sudden “need” to have a chocolate bar after a stressful day. But for some people, food cravings occur regularly, sabotaging their efforts to get healthy and undermining their self-esteem.
Think of crushing food cravings as a two-part action plan: prevention and in-the-moment. The easiest craving to resist is the one that never strikes, so prioritize strategies that prevent cravings. These include meal planning, eating a nutrient-dense diet, healthy lifestyle practices (sleep, exercise, relaxation), and adjusting the food cues in your environment. If occasional cravings still arise, having a toolkit of readily accessible techniques (texting a buddy, doing a mini meditation) is key to shifting out of craving mode.
Food Craving Prevention Strategies
Planning the day’s meals and snacks ahead of time helps crush cravings in two ways. Regular, balanced meals provide appetite-quelling nutrients that prevent blood sugar swings that perpetuate the craving cycle. Knowing a satisfying meal is waiting makes it easier to resist impulsive snacking.
Deficiencies in nutrients such as zinc, iron, B vitamins, and magnesium or healthy fats can leave you tired and stressed. This depleted state can trigger cravings. A diet rich in high-quality protein, lots of colorful plant foods, and natural fats is the best insurance against deficiency-driven cravings. Meals planned around whole foods also crowd out processed junk foods, which can drive cravings because of their highly palatable flavor combinations and additives. Many of them are engineered to be addicting!
Studies show that sleep deprivation causes dysregulation of hunger hormones, leading to more impulse snacking. In addition to sleep, prioritize regular exercise. It suppresses appetite and combats stress, another craving trigger. Yoga, mini meditations, and playing with a pet also work.
Just like Pavlov’s famous dogs, humans react to environmental cues that prompt us to eat. Even a simple strategy like keeping snacks in a cupboard across the room instead of visible within arm’s reach can contribute to an environment that encourages mindful food choices.
In-the-Moment Craving Crushers
Mindless snacking thrives in isolation. When a craving hits, reach out to a trusted friend who will offer nonjudgmental support. The social connection provides external accountability and counteracts emotions like loneliness and boredom that often fuel cravings
Activities that shift the body’s state can help the mind break free of a craving. Try taking a few deep, expansive breaths with hands clasped on the top of your head or take a brisk five-minute walk.
The more you can use these strategies before you reach for food, the better you’ll get at distinguishing between real hunger (which usually builds gradually over time) and cravings, which tend to strike with sudden intensity.
“Association of Leptin with Food Cue-Induced Activation in Human Reward Pathways” by M. Grosshans et al., Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2012
“Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol” by E.C. Hanlon et al., Sleep, 3/16