How can I manage my food cravings?

Judith Beck, PhD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)
  1. Label it. This is just a craving, it doesn’t mean I have to give in. Just because I want to eat this right now doesn’t mean I should.
  2. Firmly make the decision to NOT give in. 
  3. Distract myself. The moment my attention is on something else is the moment the craving starts to go away. If I’m highly distracted, there is no way I’ll be able to focus on the craving.
Heidi Skolnik, MS
Sports Medicine Specialist

Do you have a sweet tooth? How about a sweet-salty-crunchy one? In this video, sports nutritionist and Dr. Oz Show guest Heidi Skolnik explains how to manage your food cravings and drop those extra pounds, once and for all.

Eating smaller, clean meals throughout the day helps to keep cravings away. Include a portion of lean protein (about the size of the palm of your hand) and a portion (about the size of your fist) of a healthy carb every 2 to 3 hours. Set a timer so you don't forget. After 5 to 10 days, your body will become your timer and let you know exactly when it's time to eat again. The wonderful thing too is that your body will be craving nutritious wholesome foods when it's time to eat. Missing a meal can cause cravings for unhealthier foods. Of course, remember to drink your water too!

Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

These are some strategies to manage food cravings:

  • If you notice that you eat when you are bored; find another activity such as carpentry, taking a walk or calling a friend
  • Keep tempting foods out of your fridge and kitchen
  • Plan ahead, keep nutritious foods around the house such as: grapes, apples, popcorn, whole grain crackers and yogurt
  • Chew some gum; a recent studies shows that chewing gum may reduce your food cravings
Laura Katleman-Prue
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The only way to stop wanting unhealthy food is to stop eating it. Here's why:

  • When you stop eating the food and decide that it's out of your life forever—not just for a day or a week or a month—you stop thinking about it.
  • When you stop thinking about it, you stop desiring it.

We're used to thinking, "Gosh, if I stop eating this food that I love, I'll feel deprived and want it all the more." This is true if you cut out pleasure foods temporarily, but if you decide that those foods are no longer in your life, you stop thinking about them. And if you stop thinking about them, you stop craving them. If you stop craving them, you stop eating them, and—wonder of wonders—you lose weight! It takes thought to create desire. No thought, no desire. It's just that simple.

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Kate Geagan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Did you know cravings peak, like a wave? If you can ride it out, the craving will pass. For many of us, if we’ve indulged in the same patterns for years, this behavior has strong emotional ties that reinforce the pattern. (Example: Arrive home. Open ice cream. Sit. Eat.) The stories we tell ourselves matter, too: Many women report peak chocolate cravings around their period, for example, but researchers haven’t found any correlations between hormone levels and cravings.

The best way to break a craving cycle is to replace it with a fresh new alternative routine that works. (Example: Arrive home. Greet dog enthusiastically. Chew sugarless gum. Walk dog for 10 minutes.) Commit to your new routine for 30 days before you decide if it’s working. By then, it will have truly hardened into a habit, making it seem downright easy. The more you can interrupt your craving pattern and reprogram your mind and body with a new pattern, the greater your odds of success.

Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

When you get a craving, it doesn't work to deprive yourself, which will often result in bingeing. Try to find a healthier substitute for the food you crave. For instance, if you think you need a chocolate bar, try something made with cocoa instead. Cocoa has little saturated fat, few calories and no cholesterol. Chocolate milk is a great choice. If that doesn't do the trick, then have a small amount of the food you're craving. This will lead to better self-control.

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Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

You do not have to sacrifice your diet to satisfy your cravings. Learn more on this topic in this video by Dr. Oz.

Kirsi Bhasin
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Here are the top tips I give my clients to reduce their cravings:

  1. Eat the right carbs. A sugar craving is simply your body asking for energy. When sugar is digested in the body it becomes glucose. Glucose is what fuels our body and cells and essential for maintaining your energy levels.  Eating the right type of carbs helps your body maintain a steady flow of energy into the body and wards off blood sugar highs and lows. All carbs contain sugar but depending on their chemical structures—simple or complex—they are processed differently. Most simple carbs are highly processed, contain refined sugars and have little or no nutrients which you will find in many processed foods. Instead go for natural foods like fruit which do contain naturally occurring simple sugars but are high in fiber so it helps slow down digestion, limiting the amount of sugar that flows into the cells. Try whole grains too, like brown rice, quinoa, barley or even millet. Sweet vegetables can be really effective as well to ward off sugar cravings. Try carrots, sweet potatoes and beets.
  2. Find balance. Eating a balanced diet coupled with a balanced lifestyle is key to being healthy, maintaining your ideal weight and reducing cravings. Our bodies sometimes trigger a craving in us when we are off balance. For example eating a diet too rich in sugar may cause a craving for meat. Foods that maintain balance and help curb your cravings are whole grains, beans, vegetables and dark leafy greens.
  3. Do something you love. Often we feel a need to reach out for our favorite food when we are stressed, anxious, bored or even just sad. Instead of reaching out for the oreo or bag of chips when our emotions get the better of us, do something you enjoy. Talk to a friend, go on a walk or to the gym, dance, sing or whatever makes your heart sing. 
Daphne Oz
Health Education Specialist

A great way to manage a food craving is to actually have a little bit of it, so that you satisfy what you are longing for. Watch health educator and author Daphne Oz explain how giving in to a food craving is ok, as long as you don't overdo it.

Therapist Angela Taylor tackles a commonly asked question, "How can I stop obsessing about food?"

Dr. Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

You can't completely change your diet overnight, and making slower changes will provide more lasting results. If you are truly committed, there is no rush, because your goal is a lifelong change in eating habits. It's also okay to have occasional setbacks. In fact, I would encourage you to listen to your cravings. If they become overwhelming, consider eating a small amount of the food you crave. As your eating pattern improves, when you do give in to your cravings, you will find that you relish the abandoned food more from an emotional and nostalgic association than because of its taste. Think about whether it's really as good as you remember; chances are that it won't be. Gradually leave the fatty, salty, sugary foods behind in favor of a healthier diet.

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Managing food cravings is a simple but difficult process. In my experience, I have seen that most often when an individual makes an emotional judgment and gives into eating when they are not hungry it is often do to temporarily losing sight of their goal(s) and/or continuation of habits.

Try these tips for controlling food cravings:

  • Develop a mantra. Something like: "I feed my body and my needs, not my taste buds."
  • Ask yourself questions like: "Why am I going to eat this? Is it because I actually want it and need it or am I reactively responding to an immediate desire?"
  • Keep focused on your goal. Post it in sight at work and at home and refer to it often.
  • Drink a glass of water to slow the decision making process down. Water can make you feel a little fuller AND it will give you something to do while deciding if you are actually going to give in to your cravings.
Keri Gans
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Cravings tend to hit less when you eat regular balanced meals, including breakfast and healthy snacks. Exercise may also help control cravings. Research has shown that regular exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins into the body, which boost your mood and reduce stress.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.