Do you eat healthful, balanced meals all day long until 4 p.m. or so, when a sudden and irrepressible craving for rich, dark chocolate or salty, crunchy chips strikes? Does your mind consistently wander to that pint of coffee-chip ice cream, tucked away behind the frozen broccoli, an hour or so before bed?
Lately, a popular theory attests that craving a particular food means you must be deficient in one of its ingredients. For example, you might believe that hamburger hankering is due to your need for the iron in red meat. But what's really behind those seemingly uncontrollable cravings, and how can you get a handle on them before they wreck your diet plan?
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While some cravings may indeed relate to a need for certain nutrients (as you'll see below), employing this reasoning as a blanket justification for nibbling on foods that are packed with fat and calories will only result in one thing -- weight gain. Many doctors and nutritionists dispute the claim, citing a lack of good evidence, and raise a solid point: If you're truly deficient in iron, say, why not crave other iron-rich foods, such as spinach or black beans? When it comes to food cravings, researchers believe there are other biochemical and psychological processes at work. And they agree that understanding the cause behind a certain yen is the key to prevention.
So follow these basic strategies for staving off any kind of craving, then identify your specific food lust and learn how to stop it in its tracks!
Dodge the desire
Be a grazer. Nutritionists suggest that eating several small meals throughout the day (or three meals and a few light, low-fat snacks) can help to prevent cravings later in the day. Choose high-fiber, low-fat foods to keep hunger at bay longer.
Go cold turkey. Some research has shown that completely giving up a particular food can result in losing a taste for it. According to Elizabeth Somer, M.S., R.D., author of Food and Mood (Owl Books), the longer you go without eating a particular food, the less you'll crave it.
Get distracted. When you feel a craving coming on, do something that will get your mind off of it. Go for a walk or make a phone call. After 10 minutes, you may notice that the craving has passed.
Fast fixes for the top four cravings
Although we all have our favorite must-have foods -- ranging from pickles to pastries -- there are some common threads when it comes to the provisions we pine for. Here, identify the type of food you desire, then read on to conquer that craving.