I know, I know. Life would be so much easier if we were wired to crave broccoli instead of junk food. But unfortunately, life is a daily struggle to hold ourselves back from salty French fries and sweet, sugary treats.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat—you have to #TreatYoSelf every so often, after all!—but when you have little to no self-control on a daily basis, you can set yourself up for weight gain and serious health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer down the road. One recent study even found sugar in particular produces the same cravings and withdrawals as cocaine. (Yikes.)
Good news! You can beat your cravings once and for all by employing these science-backed techniques. From tapping your forehead to playing Tetris, take some time to figure out which option works best for you. Best of all: You’ll feel like a champ in no time. And for more great health advice, don’t miss these 30 Easy Ways to Fight Stress.
Give in (But Just a Little)
Isn’t it funny how the more you tell yourself you can’t have something the more you crave it? Here’s some good news: If there’s a night you want a little chocolate, you can have it—the trick it to just have a little bit.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a small portion of something you’re craving in an overall healthy diet—and it actually keeps you from going off the rails later on. Instead of cutting your beloved junk foods out completely, enjoy a small bite here and there. But if one bite leads to devouring the whole thing five minutes later, this method might not be for you. And for more great health hacks, trying Saying This One Word That Will Boost Your Mood by 25 Percent.
The next time you catch yourself drooling over the thought of just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies, try distracting yourself: In one study, researchers found spending 10 seconds visualizing something—anything!—besides those cookies actually helped do away with the craving altogether.
While the participants pictured everything from a lion in a zoo to a forest, you can choose anything you want. Just close your eyes and use your imagination the best you can to successfully distract your brain and making those cravings disappear.
Try Some Peppermint
It turns out you can smell your way to better self-control. A 2008 study found taking a whiff of peppermint helped participants decrease their cravings, as well as consume fewer calories throughout the day. And crazy enough, the whole mint thing has been said to help people with food-related self-control for years. So much so that one company, Crave Crush, developed a mint you can eat that’s been scientifically proven to bind to sweet taste receptors to help reduce cravings. For more great advice on conquering your day, here are 15 Easy Hacks That Will Make You On Time—All the Time.
Take A Brisk Walk
You’ve probably been told to walk off your cravings, and science actually backs the simple technique up: A 2008 study found that going on a brisk, 15-minute walk can reduce cravings, helping you get a little exercise and avoid devouring that chocolate bar you’ve been drooling over. If you’re heading out for a run, be sure to try The Smart Way to Tie Your Shoes Before a Run.
If you loved playing Tetris as a kid (who didn’t?), this might be the most fun way to beat your cravings. One study showed playing the old-school game for just three minutes reduced cravings by a whopping 24 percent. Yeah, just by playing something you can download onto your phone for free. It’s worth giving it a shot, right? And video games aren’t as bad for your brain as you may think. Here are 8 Cutting-Edge Video Games That Will Make You Smarter.
Jump on the Intermittent Fasting Bandwagon
Everyone has been talking about intermittent fasting lately, and it might help you regain your self-control in a major way. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it can help with reducing cravings throughout the day, making you want less sweet and salty foods. Aside from helping you eat healthier, intermittent fasting has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and even lessen inflammation.
Be More Mindful
Once a craving strikes, it’s hard not to act on it. But by being more mindful of your body and what it really needs (not what it wants!), you’ll be able to pass on those urges before they get the best of you. Participants in one study, for instance, learned common mindfulness-based techniques that significantly lowered their cravings. By listening to your body, you’ll learn to accept them when they come and know they’ll naturally fade, but not give in to them. It sounds tricky and takes practice, but it can be done.
Eat Regularly Throughout the Day
Some people think the best way to control their cravings is by trying to limit their food intake, but you should actually do the opposite: According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s better to fuel your body regularly throughout the day, making sure to keep your meal and snack times consistent—and include a protein source in every meal, if you can. Just eat good foods—like the 10 Best Foods for Your Heart.
Grab Some Modeling Clay
It might be time to bust out the Play-Doh again. A 2012 study had participants spend 10 minutes constructing shapes from modeling clay, and that time working with their hands (and distracting themselves!) actually helped them reduce their cravings more effectively than spending the same amount of time letting their minds wander.
Use Dynamic Visual Noise
Have you ever heard of dynamic visual noise? Think of it as white noise, but for your eyes. When one group of participants watched the dynamic visual noise display whenever they had a craving, they reported less intense cravings and ate fewer calories throughout the day because of that. Want to try it yourself? The next time the urge to devour something sweet strikes, watch this video and see if you have similar results.
Focus on Your Happiness
While being in a bad mood has been shown to make you crave junk food (who doesn’t want a burger and fries after a particularly stressful day of work?), being happy, less anxious, and less stressed can help you fight off those urges and choose healthier options instead.
Sometimes being happy is easier said than done, though. To boost your happiness, the Mayo Clinic recommends doing things like reconnecting with what brings you joy, putting yourself first, and immersing yourself in nature. If you need extra help, here are 30 Ways to De-Stress in Just 30 Seconds (or Less!).
Eat Healthy Fats
While protein is important for curbing cravings, so is eating healthy fats, says the Cleveland Clinic. If you’re trying to break a sugar habit in particular, try and include healthy fats in every meal, like nuts and seeds, fish, and avocado, which are all jam-packed with heart-healthy omega-3s. (Yep, that’s an excuse to eat more guac. You’re welcome.) They’re also super satiating.
Get Some Spinach Extract
Have you ever heard of spinach extract? Five grams per day of the supplement—which is literally pure spinach sold in powder or capsule form that you can either take with water or mix into your morning smoothie—not only helped participants in a 2014 study lose weight, but also reduced their chocolate cravings by up to 95 percent. This option—made with 100 percent spinach extract—is a great option if you want to give the Popeye-approved method a try.
Keep Your Stress Levels in Check
If you’ve been extra stressed lately, that could explain a sudden increase in cravings. Stress and junk food go hand in hand, and one way to get those sugary foods off your mind is by simply calming your nerves. Since studies have shown increased stress can make you want sweet food in particular (and lots of it!), lowering your stress levels with methods like meditation and exercise can help get your eating patterns back on track.
If you typically skip breakfast, here’s a reason to make it the most important meal of the day again: According to one study, making that first meal a priority decreased both sweet and savory cravings later on. And if you want to really show your sweet tooth who’s boss, make it a high-protein meal by including foods like oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, or tofu, which made it even easier to stay satisfied until the next meal.
Up Your Protein
Speaking of protein, breakfast isn’t the only meal to focus on. Multiple studies have shown increasing your intake is great news for fighting off cravings, but one in particular found that increasing your protein intake to 25 percent of your daily calories could reduce cravings by 60 percent, helping you avoid thinking about food throughout the day and even fight off the urge to eat a late-night snack.
If you already exercise regularly, keep up the good work. And if you don’t, here’s a good reason to make it part of your daily routine: In a 2016 study, researchers found those who exercised often had more self-control than those who didn’t, making them better able to avoid giving in to their cravings. And the best part? The more they exercised, the more their self-control increased—and that benefit lasted the entire time they kept up their workout regimen.
Have a Little Dark Chocolate
If you need something sweet and are simply trying to figure out the best option to satisfy your craving, go for dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate: Not only is the variety made with 70 percent cacao or higher a powerful source of body-protecting antioxidants, but eating it made one group of study participants less inclined to indulge in sweet, salty, or fatty foods later on.
Popping a piece of sweet gum in your mouth when you start thinking about ice cream could do you some favors: A 2011 study found chewing it for at least 45 minutes can significantly suppress your cravings. When you do grab a pack, just be sure to choose the sugarless variety to keep your teeth healthy, says the American Dental Association.
If it’s hard to make thoughts about all the foods you desire go away, disidentification—or “distancing yourself from your cravings”—could be the way to go. The skill has been shown to significantly reduce food cravings, and all you have to do to increase your self-control over time is acknowledge your craving, be aware that it’s just another thought, and then make it disappear by distancing yourself from the thought. It takes practice, but it works.
Eat Dessert with Breakfast
Eating dessert might be what you’re trying to avoid doing in the first place, but one study found those who ate a protein-filled, 600-calorie breakfast with 60 grams of carbs that included a small treat actually lost more weight than the other participants in the study who ate a 304 calorie, low-carb diet. How’s that possible? Well, those who started their day with dessert felt less hungry and reported fewer cravings throughout the day, which made able to stick to their diets better than the other group.
Get Some Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done—there are a countless number of Netflix shows to binge, after all. But when it comes to beating cravings, it’s probably the most effortless tactic. One study showed being sleep deprived makes you more likely to crave junk food, and catching a proper amount of zzzs will ensure you have a little more self-control.
When you were a kid, your parents might have given you a treat for being good—and that doesn’t have to stop as an adult. One study found that rewarding yourself after resisting the temptation to give in to a craving can actually make you have better self-control in the future because you’ll look back at those moments you resisted and be proud of yourself. Whether that’s treating yourself to a movie night at the theater or a new fitness gadget, you’ll be more likely to continue with a good habit when you get something in return.
Tap Your Forehead
It might sound silly, but one study says you could actually tap your cravings goodbye. When participants were asked to either tap their forehead, tap their toe on the floor, or stare at a blank wall when they craved a certain food, the intensity of their cravings reduced drastically in each scenario—but the whole forehead-tapping thing came out on top as the most successful option.
Snack on Walnuts
Walnuts aren’t just a great way to get in your omega-3s—in a recent study, they also promoted feelings of fullness, controlled appetite, and helped the participants deal with their cravings. In the experiment, they drank daily smoothies that each contained 48 grams of walnuts, but instead of drinking your calories, pop some in a baggie and carry them around for when you get hungry throughout the day.
Think About the Long-Term Consequences
When you’re thinking about pizza, your mind is focused on one thing and one thing only: getting that pizza in your belly. But according to researchers, thinking about the long-term consequences opposed to just the immediate satisfaction can actually help diminish those cravings. If you know you’ll be lying on the couch in pain after devouring three greasy slices and really think about that outcome, you’re less likely to want to indulge.
Limit High-Glycemic Index Foods
Obviously high-glycemic foods like sugar, white potatoes, white bread, and white rice are delicious, but when it comes to controlling cravings, one study showed it’s best to avoid them. (Yep, that means French fries, too.) Researchers found high-glycemic foods are easier to overeat and might trigger the same brain mechanism tied to addiction, making your body crave those foods. Luckily, it’s easy to reverse the urges by limiting those foods and eating healthier options instead, like brown rice and plenty of green veggies. (And sweet potato fries, because a life without fries is no life at all.)