DAYTON, Ohio -- As a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and anxiety disorders, Dr. Joyce Nash knows what she's talking about when it comes to food cravings.
"I can't stress enough that while food cravings may seem unbearable, it is possible to recognize them as being thoughts, nothing more, nothing less, that your thinking mind is using to trip you up," she said.
Controlling what you allow yourself to eat is crucial whether you're on an official quest to lose weight or just want to be healthy, Nash added.
"It's crucial that you control what you allow yourself to eat rather than letting what you want to eat control you," she said.
"The more we dwell on the idea of a particular food, the more we think about how much we want it and how great it would be to eat it, the more a craving grows. A predetermined game plan is needed if you don't want to answer [when a certain food is calling you]."
Responding differently to cravings involves accepting your thoughts as just thoughts and feelings as just feelings, and remembering that these are nothing you must act on.
Tips to create a winning strategy against food cravings:
Recognize cravings early on. Think of a craving like a weed: If you're going to eradicate unwanted plant life from your yard, better to spray weedkiller early rather than wait until the entire lawn is infested. Likewise, interrupting a craving before it gets out of control means you're much more likely to stop it.
Remove temptations. It's amazing how many people persist in placing temptations in their path. If you allow yourself to be around a food that you know breaks down your defenses, you have only yourself to blame when you cave.
Get into the habit of putting away leftovers promptly and storing any tempting food out of sight. Shop with a list and don't go to the grocery store when you're hungry. If you don't buy it, you can't eat it.
Divert your taste buds. If possible, brush your teeth and gargle with strong mouthwash or put a strong mint in your mouth when you feel food cravings coming on. The majority find it more difficult to feel like eating afterward.
Another short-term solution that seems to work: Try dabbing cologne or strong-smelling ointment under your nose.
Watch how you talk to yourself. Self-talk can sink you or it can help you clinch the victory. Remember that the reality is that you have complete control over what you eat.
Don't let hunger gain the upper hand. The calories we ingest for reasons other than hunger are the ones that get us into trouble. When you're extremely hungry, unhealthy foods are much more likely to look attractive to you. With a little planning you can completely avoid this pitfall. Don't skip meals, eat every three to four hours whenever possible, and drink plenty of water.
Strict deprivation of all treats never works long-term. While it's obviously a bad idea to throw in the towel each and every time a craving rears its head, remember that with a healthy, well-balanced diet, you can indulge in your favorite foods now and then. When you do indulge, simply watch portions, and enjoy without guilt.