Learn how to stop food cravings before they start with these 11 tips to help you lose weight and take back control of your eating.
How to Stop Food Cravings
We all know food cravings are intense and trying to stop them in the moment is tough!
Over the course of my own 100-pound weight loss journey, I’ve had more cravings than I can count and know how strong they can be (just ask me about my love affair with Little Debbie Nutty Bars)!
That’s why prevention is key here.
There are so many things you can do to prevent those food cravings before they hit – both physically and mentally – to stop them in their tracks.
I’m not saying you’ll never experience a food craving again (I sure do!), but now I build these strategies into my life to have:
- less cravings
- more confidence
- more control over my food choices
(These are the 4 steps that took me from calorie counting to food freedom.)
And you can, too! Check out the 11 ways to prevent food cravings below
1. Eat More Real Food
So, let’s be real here. Cravings are rarely for foods packed full of nutrients. Very few people crave carrots (if that’s you, please, teach me your ways!).
The fact of the matter, junk food is addictive.
When you eat foods like cookies, chips, and those deliciously fluffy Texas Roadhouse rolls, it often leaves you wanting more.
Basically, your food choices now affect your food cravings later.
The more you focus on filling the bulk of your diet with lean protein, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, the better you’re setting yourself up to avoid cravings later.
Less sugar, less flour, less processed food will mean few food cravings.
2. Drink More Water
Our brains are tricky beasts.
When we aren’t hydrating our bodies enough (which is pretty important for it to function properly), your brain tries to get your attention.
It may feel like thirst sometimes (which would make sense), but it may also feel like major junk food cravings.
Instead of responding to a food craving by giving in or simply telling yourself “no,” try drinking a glass of water.
It not only helps your stomach to feel more full, but it will also calm the food cravings if the problem was dehydration.
Do you struggle to drink enough water? Check out these 7 tips to drink more water.
3. Make Sure You Are Eating Enough
If you are trying to watch your calories (or count points), eating less is a major victory.
But make sure you aren’t eating too few calories.
If you aren’t fueling your body well with that real food we talked about, it may kickstart junk food cravings.
The last thing you want to do is undo a week’s worth of healthy choices by giving in to a junk food binge.
There are a lot of great calorie calculators out there (I especially like this one), but beware of sites that may give low recommendations. For the most part, I love My Fitness Pal and use it often, but they can really lowball your calories sometimes.
I try not to go under 1400 calories when I’m trying to lose weight for myself.
4. Have A Healthy Snack
Your food cravings will change with different seasons in your life.
Sometimes I’m most tempted to eat junk food in the evenings and sometimes it hits right after lunch. Lately, my food cravings have hit between 4 and 5, right as I’m finishing up work and starting dinner before my husband gets home.
Those cravings are like a beast. I felt so satisfied 10 minutes before, then all of a sudden, I feel like I NEED to down a Little Debbie’s Nutty Buddy and a bag of chips.
Once I noticed the pattern, I started setting my phone alarm for 3:45. Even if I was still working, I would pause, go grab a clementine and a cheese stick, and get back to work.
Eating the healthy snack before temptation hit all but stopped those cravings in their tracks.
Check out this post for over 50 healthy snack ideas for weight loss for some suggestions (all of them have the calories listed!).
5. Manage Your Stress
Sometimes we know we are eating because we’re stressed out.
Had a rough day at go? Go out and have drinks with your coworkers.
Going through a rough breakup? Drown your sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
About to lose your temper with your kids? Hide in the closet and gulp down a Snickers.
Those are pretty obvious examples of stress eating, but sometimes your stress affects you in more subtle ways.
The “normal” stress in your life raises your cortisol levels (increasing your cravings for fatty, sugary foods) and increases your hunger hormones, which just sets you up perfectly for a junk food binge.
Stress management is important for your overall health, but especially for your weight loss journey. Make sure you are intentionally planning in stress relieving activities in your life and minimizing the stress wherever you can.
Click here to read more ways to recognize and manage your stress.
6. Get More Sleep
Whether you are sleep deprived because of a newborn or you just really wanted to stay up late binge-watching Netflix, that sleep deprivation is going to affect your diet.
When your body doesn’t get enough sleep (anything less than 7 hours for most people), your brain releases extra amounts of a chemical called ghrelin. That chemical tells your brain you’re hungry.
At the same time, in your sleep deprived state, your body releases less of a chemical called leptin, which tells your brain your stomach is satisfied.
As you can imagine, when your body is telling your brain that you are extra hungry and your stomach is not at all satisfied right now, you are going to want to overeat.
The release of those chemicals has absolutely nothing to do with the calories your body is lacking. It’s just a sign that you need more sleep.
Prevent this by doing everything you can to get full nights of sleep regularly.
Obviously, there are situations that disrupt your sleep that are completely out of your control (here’s lookin’ at you, hungry infant!), but there are also a lot of little things you can control.
Check out these 10 tips for a better night of sleep.
7. Retrain Your Brain
Cravings are more a mental battle than a physical one.
It takes a lot of willpower to fight cravings and change bad habits.
One of the things I had to teach myself was that,
The answer to a food craving is always NO.
That’s not to say that you can never eat the foods you crave, but timing is everything when it comes to food cravings.
If you teach yourself that whenever something sounds good, you can just go ahead and eat it right then and there, you are getting into a very bad habit (and chances are, you will eat WAY too much of that food when you give in because the feeling is so strong).
Willpower is like a muscle. You have to work hard to train it to become strong enough to fight cravings when they come.
Get used to telling yourself no, or at least not yet.
I often use Bible verses to help me grow in self-control (check out these 15 Bible verses on self-control).
Don’t let your cravings dictate your behavior.
Cravings aren’t rational, but you can be if you don’t decide rashly in the moment when the urge is super strong.
If you really love chocolate cake, then you can plan it into your weight loss plan and savor every bite of it, not wolf down 3 slices and hardly even taste it as you shovel bites into your mouth.
8. Beware of Ads
Unfortunately, marketers understand our cravings well. That’s why they include messages like,
- You deserve it.
- You’re worth it.
- This will make you happy.
When I’m already craving a doughnut and I hear those messages, that’s exactly what I want to hear (and will probably find the nearest doughnut shop right afterward).
And it doesn’t help that there are professionals styling food in the most appetizing ways, making it even harder to resist those already tempting treats.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid ads altogether. They are on billboards, commercials, and internet ads everywhere we look.
But you can be proactive about this.
Know that ads are trying to play into your temptations. Avoid them whenever possible.
- Bounce your eyes away from billboards.
- Mute commercials and walk out of the room when they’re on.
- Train yourself to scroll right on past internet ads.
9. Order Your Groceries
I’m sure you’ve heard the weight loss advice telling you to never go to the grocery store hungry.
Again, grocery stores know what foods tempt us most! You don’t see them creating beautiful displays of apples and lettuce in the checkout line.
No, they know to line the areas where we stand and wait with those hard-to-resist temptations like candy bars and chips. Those items that weren’t on your list, but you just really want them.
You can avoid a lot of that temptation by ordering your groceries online and picking them up at the store.
I’m a huge fan of the Walmart grocery pickup. It’s free, it saves me a ton of time, and they do a great job (90% of the time).
It’s not just for burning calories. It turns out exercising can save you a lot of calories, too!
Exercise is already good at boosting your mood, helping you become stronger, giving you confidence, and all kinds of other benefits, but there’s even more!
When you exercise regularly, even just taking regular walks, you are actually changing the structure of your brain, which can give you the mental strength to resist food cravings.
11. Food Cravings Spray
This one is a bit more controversial for me, as it doesn’t so much prevent food cravings from hitting as it does change them once they’ve hit.
I’ve never used a food cravings spray myself, although I’ve heard they work.
The thing is, I want to learn the tools to resist cravings in any and every situation, growing in self-control and willpower.
The spray only works temporarily to change your taste buds.
There are certainly pros and cons to this one and it’s not one I’m planning to pursue myself, but I’ve heard some people swear by this stuff.