How to deal with a food craving
Posted November 24
It’s 9 p.m. You finally have the chance to sit on the couch and relax from a long day; it’s time for a little me time. You turn on Netflix and start scrolling to find something to watch. All of a sudden, you can’t stop thinking about how much you want some ice cream. You want some and you want it now!
Maybe you start telling yourself you shouldn’t have it. Or maybe you tell yourself you should have it because you deserve it.
But the point is, you’re at a crossroads. You can either choose to give in to your craving or you can choose to say no.
What do you do when you’re craving a particular food?
You might assume that as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’d recommend that you say no to your sweets, treats and snacky cravings. However, I really don’t think it’s as simple as that.
The short answer is yes, you should give in and no, you shouldn’t. Let’s dive a little deeper.
Some cravings are worth following through with, and some just plain aren’t.
The key is to ask yourself what it is you really want or need in this moment. Sometimes what you really want is to relax, other times you’re bored and just want something to do or sometimes you want a particular taste or experience.
If you can identify what it is about that food that you really want, you can often find better ways to meet that need. It’s important to highlight that you are not simply replacing eating with another activity. Often simply replacing an ice cream craving with cottage cheese is going to lead to feelings of deprivation, which can eventually result in overindulging or even bingeing.
So, simply replacing one food with another is not the solution; I’d encourage you to identify what you want or need in this moment and figure out what will best suit your needs in this moment.
If you’re craving soda and you ask yourself what it is that you really want, you might realize what you’re looking for is something fizzy and cold to drink. So, sparkling water with a squirt of lime will do the trick to meet your needs in that moment. And, you don’t feel deprived for not drinking the soda because it wasn’t what you truly wanted or needed in that moment.
Another example is you’re craving a milkshake. After asking yourself what it is that you really want, you realize that you miss your spouse because they’re out of town for business and when you’re together, you often get that milkshake and enjoy it together. You realize you don’t really want the milkshake, but you are missing your spouse instead. So, you call and connect over the phone.
Last example: you can’t get the idea of eating a chocolate chip cookie out of your mind. When you really consider what you need and want in this moment, you realize that you just want to relax and unwind from the day. You want and need relaxation in this moment, not food! You light some candles and take a bath instead because that’s a better fit to meet your needs than a cookie.
I just gave some examples of reasons you might say no to your cravings. It’s really important to mention that there will be times where you experience a craving and ask yourself what you want and need, and you realize that right now, in this moment, you really want a cookie (or ice cream, or chips, etc.). If you’ve gone through the thought process of identifying what you truly want and need in this moment and the answer is a chocolate chip cookie, then I say go for it! And no need to go crazy on those cookies, you can have another one another day if you really want it then, too.
What’s interesting is there are so many times where we reach for food when we really don’t want the food; we need something else instead. We might need human connection, relaxation after a long day, comfort or even a completely different food or drink.
To some people, this might sound scary — giving in to your cravings? In my personal and professional experience, once you start identifying what you truly want or need, you empower yourself to make reasonable choices around food. Permission to eat something you’re craving when you really want it doesn’t lead to bingeing and overindulging, especially when you take time to mindfully enjoy the indulgence. It actually leads to far better balanced meals, more reasonable treats and fun foods and a far better relationship with food.
So, if you can break down your craving and ask yourself what it is that you really want or need, and follow through with the best solution for your needs, you will get answers as to when to give in to a craving and when you should say no.
Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.