How to Take Control of Your Cravings
Fight the Fatty Cravings
You think: After a crazy day at work I deserve a big pile of fries.
Why you can't resist: Stress intensifies cravings for comfort foods because your body wants the soothing hit of dopamine they provide. Eating something you love also happens to take your mind off what's bothering you, says Susan Albers, PsyD, author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.
Take control by: Jotting down your worries in a journal instead of numbing them with food. "You'll become more aware of your negative emotions so you can find ways to work through them," Dr. Albers says. Getting enough magnesium may also help halt binges since it aids in curbing the stress response, says nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. Try whole grains, nuts, and soy products.
You think: If I see chocolate I eat it. There's no stopping me!
Why you can't resist: It's not just the taste that makes chocolate so tempting -- it's also the blissed-out feeling you get from eating it. When chocolate's potent blend of fat and sugar hits your bloodstream, it signals the reward center of your brain to release dopamine, a chemical that produces feelings of euphoria. The sensation is basically a mild version of the high that people get after consuming drugs or alcohol, says Joe Frascella, PhD, director of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Take control by: Walking off the urge to indulge. Researchers at Britain's University of Exeter found that taking a 15-minute stroll may help curb chocolate cravings.
You think: When I'm feeling sad, I pop doughnut holes like mints. They're the perfect pick-me-up.
Why you can't resist: Carbs stimulate production of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which dips when you're depressed. "In a sense, foods such as doughnuts or pasta act like edible tranquilizers," says Judith Wurtman, PhD, coauthor of The Serotonin Power Diet.
Take control by: Eating carbs (seriously!). This is one craving you should satisfy because your body needs serotonin; without it you'll be stressed, tired, and irritable, explains Dr. Wurtman. She recommends limiting yourself to a "therapeutic" amount of low-fat carbs when a craving kicks in. "Eating just 25 grams -- about the amount in a cup of plain Cheerios or a small English muffin -- can help you feel better in 20 to 30 minutes."
You think: When I have PMS chocolate is a need, not a want.
Why you can't resist: Chocolate contains ingredients that can boost production of feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, and phenylethylamine, a chemical the body releases when you fall in love. But another reason you're cuckoo for cocoa is because you -- heck, pretty much all American women -- have come to associate chocolate with that time of the month. "Women in this country think of chocolate as a taboo food," says Debra Zellner, PhD, a professor of psychology at Montclair State University. "And because it's hard to resist temptation when you feel lousy, you're more likely to give in and eat chocolate when PMS symptoms start."
Take control by: Soothing premenstrual tension the healthy way through exercise, deep breathing, or yoga. Once you cut stress, your candy bar cravings will be less intense. To break the chocolate-period association in your mind, Dr. Zellner recommends eating small servings of chocolate throughout the month. "If you rarely give yourself permission to eat it, you're more likely to overdo it and to binge the few times you do decide to indulge," she says.