You’ve had your dinner. You’ve even had your dessert. But for some reason, it’s 7pm, and those cookies in the pantry won’t stop calling your name. Or that pint of ice cream in the freezer. Or that bag of potato chips you just bought—it’s still sitting on the countertop in the kitchen.
Craving triggers lurk everywhere, playing on your vulnerabilities. And sometimes, the impulse to eat is so strong, you simply can’t stop yourself. Once you chow down, you wind up feeling guilty, and sometimes eat even more. It can be a vicious cycle.
So, the next time you start to feel a craving bubble up after dinner, or mid-afternoon, or just before lunch, snuff it out with these expert tips. Here’s how to effectively crush a craving in the moment, and tiptoe around your triggers by changing your habits.
Employ the “Halt Method”
HALT before you mindlessly nosh, says Keri Gans, RD, dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet. “If you’ve already had the chocolate or the chips, ask yourself if you’re really hungry,” she says. “Try to identify if you’re eating out of boredom, tiredness or loneliness. Maybe the craving is something else.” If you can identify what you’re actually feeling instead, you might be able to take a nap, call a friend, or do something constructive with your time—instead of wasting calories.
Eat a Pickle
Oftentimes, a craving just won’t die until something passes your lips—especially if you’re craving a salty or crunchy snack. Gans suggests busting up that urge with a pickle. “Yes, they’re high in sodium, but they’re so low in calories,” she says. One or two spears will definitely do the trick, without adding to your waistline. Just grab a bottle of water to flush some of that sodium after you polish ‘em off.
Sip Hot Tea or Coffee
Gans says that whipping up a hot or iced drink is great if you need to nix a sweet craving. “A soothing cup of tea can relax you and fill you up on fluids,” she explains. (Choose calorie-free flavored varieties like peach, apple, cinnamon or berry for your sweet fix.) Ever the coffee addict, Gans also suggests spiking a cup with a little vanilla soy or sweetened almond milk to crack that midday craving.
Slap an Activity List on Your Pantry Door
If you generally reach into the fridge or the pantry when you have nothing better to do, stop yourself with a list, says Candice Schreiber, RD, a dietitian at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “The list should include things you can do other than eat when you get a craving,” she explains. “For example, read a book, take a walk or go on Pinterest.” Sometimes, pinning new food recipes can be cathartic if you need to nix a craving — otherwise, get out of the house and away from the food!
If You Must Snack, Choose Wisely
Sometimes, you really do have to indulge the craving to lose it—so pick your poison, but don’t spend more than 200 calories. Gans suggests reaching for a low-sugar, fiber-filled and protein-packed nut bar, Greek yogurt and berries, or a cappuccino with cinnamon and 1 tsp of sugar if you need something sweet. If you want a salty fix, try a serving of mixed nuts or cottage cheese. She also recommends single-serve desserts if you tend to indulge after dinner, like a low-fat fruit yogurt (about 100 calories) or a brick of dark chocolate (usually around 150 calories).
Sleuth Out Your Patterns
If you can’t stop craving(!), Gans recommends tracking those urges so you can figure out how to stop them. “Play detective,” she says. “If your cravings are at the end of the day, you might be starved. Add a snack between lunch and dinner. If you always want chocolate by mid-afternoon, try adding a Hershey’s kiss after lunch. It’s small and there are so few calories, but often that little fix does the trick.”
You may have to tinker with your diet until you find a satiating, sustainable set of patterns that work. And if you slip up and overindulge? Move on as quickly as possible. “At the end of the day, don’t beat yourself up,” says Gans. “The key is what happens next. Think, ‘I did it, I ate it, I enjoyed it, and maybe I feel a little more guilty than I should.’ Use that guilt as a motivator to make better choices in the future, but don’t let it consume you.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.