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How can I Handle Food Cravings When Dieting?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Most people who diet have to fight the battle of food cravings, those sudden urges to eat everything in the house — or restaurant, or movie theater. There are ways to fight these cravings and move past them without wrecking your diet, but you may need to try out a few methods to find the ones that work best for you. Cravings often occur when a diet is too restrictive, so make sure that you're getting the right balance of nutrients in your food. Finding ways to distract yourself, such as through exercise or meditation, can also help you handle the desire for unhealthy foods.

Many people put themselves on diets that are too restrictive, which means cravings can signify actual calorie deprivation or real hunger. Consult a good nutritionist about the right combination of diet and exercise that will help you lose weight without feeling hungry constantly. You are also likely to suffer from cravings more if you don't eat regularly. Any good diet should stress the importance of three protein and complex carbohydrate rich meals a day or, alternately, the same foods prepared in smaller amounts for six small meals.

Food cravings can also be a result of dehydration. Virtually every known diet, and all medical professionals, recommend adequate fluid intake. You should aim to drink at least eight 8 ounce (0.24 liters) glasses of water a day. When you feel that food craving hit, hit back by drinking a large glass of water first.

You can address some cravings by eating, but stay way from the things with high calorie content or low nutritional value. Instead, munch on carrots or other vegetables, apple slices, strawberries, 1 ounce (28.35 grams) of nuts, preferably dry roasted and unsalted, or white meat skinless chicken. Stock the refrigerator with snacks that pack a nutritional punch, but won't significantly increase your calorie load for the day. While you're stocking up on healthy things, get rid of those temptation foods that are just begging to be eaten; it is much easier to beat a craving when you know you don't have immediate access to high calorie, low nutrition value foods.

There are plenty of other tips for sticking to a diet and beating food cravings. Consider a cup of unsweetened but heavily aromatic tea; ginger, mint, and the many fruit teas are excellent choices. The urge to eat may arise out of less stimulation to the senses, so another suggestion is to take a bath or try some aromatherapy with your favorite calming or invigorating scents.

Respond to a craving with light exercise. Take the time to do a few yoga poses, or walk straight out the front door and keep walking for ten minutes. Run in place, vacuum the floor, or clean out a closet.

Try to shift your focus from wanting food to something completely different. Pick up your knitting needles or engage yourself in any hobby that will help keep you from thinking about a craving. Avoid watching television, since studies show that looking at pictures of food can make you feel hungry.

Some people find meditation or prayer extremely helpful in beating food cravings. Don't underestimate the power of prayer for calming the mind. Recovering addicts all over the world say the famous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) "Serenity Prayer," whenever they feel cravings to drink or use. This can help when you're hit with an unbelievable food craving too, since you are eliciting the help of a higher power in your battle to become healthier.

Many of us feel deprived on diets, and that deprivation can make us crave food more than we normally would. It is important to build in treats to indulge in from time to time. If you really love chocolate cake, let yourself have one piece once a week, and take the time to savor and enjoy it. People who love chips and salsa should have them once in a while. Allowing the occasional treat can reduce emotional feelings of deprivation, and help lessen urges.

When a food craving hits, don't beat yourself up about it, and if you do cave in, don't let that be an excuse for ending your diet. We all slip, make mistakes, and want things that we probably shouldn't have. Negativity and giving up won't help you in the end. Committing to healthy eating and exercise most of the time is a great way to live, so even if you slip, get "back on the horse" and recommit.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon954648 — On Jun 03, 2014

I have just realized due to sleep deprivation why I am craving foods, but have gone the right way in eating nothing but an apple, almonds and drinking herbal teas.

By shell4life — On Oct 29, 2012

@kylee07drg – I guess fruit juice helps you with overcoming food cravings even more than water, since it contains calories. I have found that certain fruits that have a high water content can help keep me full and keep me from indulging in bad food.

I can fill up on grapes rather quickly. I like the big, juicy, seedless kind, because I don't have to stop and pick out all the seeds.

Watermelon is also a good filler. It's nutritious, and it contains so much water that it will satisfy an empty stomach.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 28, 2012

I drink fruit juice, and it helps reduce my food cravings. I only buy the kind that has no sugar added, though.

Fruit has natural sugars that are better for you than the kind that is added to drinks and foods. So, I don't think it will contribute as much to weight gain as a high calorie snack with the same amount of calories as the juice but with more fat content.

I drink orange, cranberry, and apple juice. I have one small glass before I eat a light snack of nuts or berries, and it keeps me from eating nearly as much as I would have otherwise.

By StarJo — On Oct 27, 2012

I don't see how aromatherapy could help anyone control food cravings. If I burn a vanilla candle, it makes me want cookies even more! If I burn a lemon scented candle, I crave lemon frosted cupcakes.

By cloudel — On Oct 26, 2012

@bestcity – Having a little of a treat can definitely help curb food cravings. I started doing this when I went on my portion control diet.

My aim was to reduce the amount of food I ate, whether a snack or a meal, by nearly one half. So, at first, I felt a lot of pangs and cravings, but I managed to brainwash myself into thinking I was full, and over time, I actually did fill up quickly on much less food.

However, I knew that if I made any food taboo I would crave it and give in. So, if I wanted a gooey caramel chocolate brownie, I would have one small square that was about the size of one good bite. If I wanted potato chips, I would eat four and eat them very slowly, so I could get the flavor out of each bite and it would work toward curbing my craving.

By summing — On Oct 21, 2012

I ate a lot of celery when I was dieting. It was not delicious, and it doesn't fill you up, but it also doesn't go to your hips, so its a compromise.

By whiteplane — On Oct 20, 2012
I have tried dieting many times and have always failed because there doesn't seem to be any way for me to stop food cravings. I have realized that if I am going to lose weight, I can't eat less, or I have to at least eat less frequently.

So I am wondering if anyone knows of any low cal snacks that I can eat a lot of but not compromise my diet? They do not need to be sweet or salty, just something that I can chew on. I think that is the only way I am going to be able to loose weight.

By chivebasil — On Oct 19, 2012
I went on a pretty strict diet about three years ago and ended up losing 30 pounds that I have been able to keep off ever since!

At first it was really tough. I didn't enjoy what I was eating and I had terrible cravings. But I was able to make it a little easier by drinking a lot of water.

Of course, water is no substitute for a cookie but it did make me feel a little more full.

By anon168927 — On Apr 19, 2011

lots of perks to getting a bit older. I find that food cravings are less irresistible now than when I was younger. And although I do not really agree with bestcity above in giving in to cravings - most cannot stop at "just a nibble" once they've given in - I can actually do that now that I am older. Of course, it's probably mostly that I know that the diet is not just for fashion, but major health motives.

Weight is supposed to be cute as we age. Fat fills in the wrinkles, but it is not, and with all the money I save on treat foods, I bought the face spa and fitness center for the wrinkles and feel and look very nice. To be realistically pleased with the self-image is important.

By bestcity — On Nov 30, 2008

Another tip about food cravings is to actually have a little of the food you crave, but it matters when. It appears that if you eat the food earlier in the day you will need less than if you keep postponing and then succumb later in the day. It is all related to the daily rhythm.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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