Food cravings get a bad rap. When we feel those familiar urges for sugar, salt or carbs, we’re quick to curse them—and ourselves, for “failing” at being healthy. However, food cravings can actually be really helpful. They provide information about what’s happening in our bodies and what might make us feel better. By reframing food cravings as tools for understanding what we need, it becomes easier to let them go.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to tackling food cravings:
Step 1: Acknowledge
Food cravings happen to the best of us; no point in denying it. When you notice a craving, just acknowledge it for what it is rather than spending energy trying to suppress it. Ignoring what’s really going on is not only draining but also counterproductive because it gives your cravings outsized importance. Take control and call them out for what they are—without judgment.
“When you acknowledge your craving, can you do it without judging yourself or judging the craving as good or bad?” asks Kait Hurley, a meditation and fitness teacher in Portland, Oregon. “Neutral self-talk can go something like this: ‘Hmm. That's interesting. I have a massive craving for chocolate, and it's the only thing I can think about right now.’”
Step 2: Be Curious
Once you acknowledge your food cravings, investigate a little bit. Be curious about where they might be coming from. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Am I tired and looking for energy?
- Am I trying to soothe myself?
- Is stress triggering this craving?
- Could it be related to my menstrual cycle?
- Did I eat enough today?
- Am I dehydrated?
- Do I want a special treat that brings me joy?
“You may think you need another coffee, but maybe what you really need is a power nap, or to start going to bed earlier,” says Hurley. “You may think you’re hungry for that cookie or bag of chips, but maybe you just need to drink more water. Dehydration causes us to feel hungry, which can ramp up the intensity of cravings. Understanding where your cravings are coming from will help you identify how you can give your body what it really needs.”
Step 3: Find Alternatives
Sometimes, the only way through a craving is by indulging it. Fortunately, there is almost always a relatively healthy option to satisfy whatever craving you’re having. You can still get a dose of sweet or salt while avoiding foods that are overly processed or loaded with unhealthy fats.
“Grab a spoonful of almond butter and an apple, or try an avocado with some light salt,” says Hurley. “The healthy fats will keep you full and mitigate your desire for foods that aren't as nourishing. Look for alternatives that won't cause a blood-sugar spike and leave you feeling hungover the next day.”
And every once in a while you need that chocolate fix. “One of my favorite ways to satisfy my chocolate cravings is these 5-Ingredient Chocolate Bites,” says Hurley. “I keep some in the freezer so I can reach for them in a pinch.”