Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ask the Internet: How to Handle Food Cravings?

This week’s question comes from reader Elizabeth:

Q: I try to eat healthy as much as I can, but after a long day at work, I sometimes crave something sweet and/or want take-out. I try to do this in moderation by limiting how often I eat them, but I'm never sure if I'm indulging too often.

I've learned where I can alter a recipe to make it a lot healthier, but there are some things that just aren't the same made light or in small portions (chocolate chip cookies come to mind).

So, how do you handle cravings?

A: Good question, Elizabeth, and thanks for writing in. Cravings are tricky little things, and I use a few different strategies to vanquish them. Sometimes, I straight up indulge. Healthy eating is great, but it should never turn into deprivation, and if I really want some M&Ms, I’m gonna eat a small bag. Waistline be danged.

Other times, I try to find a lower-calorie substitute. For example, Asian-style noodles are my lifeblood, but I know they’re not really meant to be a snack. Instead, I prep a small bowl of Mark Bittman’s Oatmeal with Scallions and Soy Sauce, and sprinkle it with a little toasted sesame oil. It sates my cravings for salt and carbs without going overboard with calories and fat. Fruit is wonderful for this if your cravings tend to be a little sweeter.

Finally, when during shopping trips, I avoid foods I tend to crave. ‘Cause I know if that carton of Ben & Jerry’s gets into my freezer, it’ll be gone by week’s end. (Note; This is much harder with wine.)

Readers, how about you? How do you claim victory over your cravings? Do tell.

(Photo from Sharkride.)

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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Marcia said...

I plan them into my day. A couple of weeks ago, I ran a half marathon. As I was concentrating on training the last few weeks, I gained 5 lbs. Because my healthy diet went out the window.

Now that I'm trying to lose those 5 lbs (2 more to go), I can't just GIVE UP those yummy things so, I work them into my day.

I printed a generic "1500 cal/day" meal plan, and work around that.

I can have cheese. Just about 1/2 oz at a time.

I can have chocolate. But I eat it as part of a trail mix. And I measure out 150 cal. portions of it. That and an apple is my snack.

I forego the evening snack in exchange for a glass of wine while cooking dinner.

If I want guacamole, I put it on salad or rice instead of eating it with chips. And if I'm starving one day, I will let myself eat a whole avocado. No chips, but the avo is at least healthy.

Basically I plan everythign out in the morning so I'm not winging it. Which works until the nice new girl at work brings homemade egg rolls.

Marta said...

I have one day a week when I can use a set amount of money on whatever sweet/unhealthy/useless thing I want. If I have a craving for something, I just tell myself "You will have this on Saturday". (I know, talking to yourself in third person is kinda creepy)

Anne said...

I could have written this letter! For sweet cravings, I bought some really good tea (Republic of Tea strawberry vanilla rooibos, it has the cutest container maybe ever) and drink that instead. I also try to buy hard candy instead of chocolate. It's not a perfect solution, but it keeps me from buying Reese's cups in bulk.

For salty cravings....I'll let you know when I figure that one out.

montine said...

I feel like when I give into my cravings, I can move on with the rest of my day. If I feel like I can't have that chocolate chip cookie at 3 p.m. on a crappy day, I'm not going to get any work done because I'll just be thinking about its deliciousness and nothing else.

The trick is to make sure you are satisfied when you finish your treat. When I have my cookie, I stop everything I'm doing. I call it my cookie meditation. There's no music, no chatting, no reading; it's just me and my cookie. I'll break off one chunk at a time and eat it very slowly, tasting all the flavors that I possibly can. Sometimes I'll close my eyes because it seems to enhance my sense of taste. And when I get to the last bite, I savor it like it was the first bite. Don't start to clean up, don't just pop the last bit in your mouth and walk away, treat it like it's the last cookie on the planet. After swallowing, I'll take a deep breath, clean up, and then go back to work.

This works for me because I'll come out of my cookie meditation feeling satisfied. I won't have to reach for another one.

I also do this with chocolate. I'll take a small bite and let it melt in my mouth. When I eat it really slowly, I find that I only need one piece.

aelphabawest said...

I lost about 60 lbs a few years ago - and I've continued to eat what I want, when I want it, and have managed to maintain my current weight range for two years now.
How I deal with sweet things:
First, I don't deny myself. I just don't have that kind of willpower.
Second, I have a small amount on hand. For example, Trader Joes sells 100 calorie chocolate bars. Or, I portion out one serving size of (whatever sweet thing I want) and only eat that serving size.
Third, I avoid things like having a whole bowl of m&ms at my desk, or a whole bag of candy. I leave that at home or don't buy it at all - all of the chocolate/sweets I eat I do so consciously to avoid the mindless "whoops, ate the whole container" moments.
Also re ice cream - switch to sorbet (sorbet, NOT sherbert) I never keep ice cream on hand and it's gotten to the point where ice cream tastes too rich for me. Sorbet is great because if you "accidentally" eat the whole container that's 350 calories instead of 1,500.

Liz Tee said...

When nothing but chocolate will do,I weigh out one ounce of good, strong bittersweet chocolate. I prefer the 68% Callebaut bittersweet that I buy in the bulk food aisle of my local fancy pants grocery store. I knock it down into slivers and small chunks.

The taste is strong and rich enough that one ounce does the trick.

Anna N said...

@Anne - That strawberry vanilla rooibos sounds great! My strategies are...

- Drink tea
- Keep snacks in the freezer at work instead of in my office so I have to walk all the way over there to get them
- Instead of a baked good, buy interesting fruit, like an Asian pear or mango; if I think about it I realize that I would rather have a good mango than a mediocre scone anyway
- Bake things myself; I eat things more slowly when I know how much work I'll have to do to make more of them, and I'm less tempted by baked goods when I know I can make better ones at home for much less moola
- Keep good food in the apartment that I can eat as soon as I get home from work, when I'm always really hungry (eg leftovers, toasted almonds, olives, dried fruit, pickles, bananas and peanut butter, toast); the paradox is that it's much easier to think about cooking dinner once I've had something to eat

Anonymous said...

I'm trying hard to loose weight, but the just selling/buying a house has definately set me back a bit. For my salty/crunchy cravings, I eat a couple of cheese and garlic salad croutons. A handful is only about 50 cal, and I can't eat to many cause they start to bother my tooth that needs a crown that I can't afford yet. A box lasts me a couple of weeks, and usually a decent brand is on sale for $1 all the time.

For my cool and creamy cravings, I have basically stopped eating ice cream. There is a half gallon carton in the freezer that I don't even pay attention too. When I want that creamyness, I pour a glass of skim milk, have a giant gulp, and put the whole glass in the fridge for 15 minutes. It's cold like ice cream and a lot healthier.

Mattheous @ Menu Musings said...

I just give into cravigs. But I usually crave salt--and with my condition I need to pay attention to my salt cravings and satisfy them, or I end up in the hospital...

Muchadoaboutnothing said...

With the exception of good, dark chocolate, I don't buy any sweet snacks. If I want cookies or cake, then I just have to do the work and make them myself. I'm lazy so this may stop the craving, but if not at least I can control how much fat/sugar I use in my recipes when I do bake.

suerocks said...

I believe that cravings mean something...that your body is missing something it needs. It might help that I'm not really a sweets person, so chocolate isn't a necessity for me. But if I am craving a steak (maybe once every 4 months), I first try to up my protein and iron within that day, but if that doesn't work I get the damn steak (and deal with the digestive consequences later.)

I am finding that the more Diet drinks I have, the more I crave sugar at night. Probably because my body wants real sugar, not fake.

I always have a snack in moderation. Putting food into a bowl helps with portion control (I have stopped couting out individual Reduced fat Cheezits). I will only have a couple scoops of frozen yogurt at a time...a Ben & Jerry's little tub lasts me for months because all I really want it a little taste.

The thing I have gotten into a bad habit of is having a snack at 11pm every night. I eat dinner between 7 and 8 and sometimes get hungry by then, though I think it has turned from actual hunger into habit. It's usually fruit with a couple pretzels and a gigantic glass of water. I justify it to myself because I hit the gym frequently.

Kris said...

I should mention, too, that mindless eating is a much bigger problem for me. So on the rare occasions I truly crave something, it's okay to go for it.

Hellafied said...

Pre-cut fruit!

When I get the craving for something sweet, I just pop some cold fruit from the fridge (honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple & watermelon are my fav) and before my body realizes I didn't just feed it a bag of M&Ms, I'm already full at a quarter of the calories!

Guilt free indulging works much better for my motivation. :)

Jill Maddox said...

I do try to control them. I will indulge in a low fat or alternate item if I can. But sometimes, you just gotta have it. Then have it. Once and go back to better habits.

I did go through the exercise of reducing my sugar cravings. It was HARD. But it took about 3 weeks of low or no sugar and then when I did have something it was like WHOA FIRE sweet. So it took less to satisfy me.

Donna Freedman said...

In the words of Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything except temptation." But sometimes I can put it off for a while. I'll look at the item I want and decide, often, "I'm going to say 'no' for now. Maybe later in the week I'll get it."
And sometimes I do.
However, other times I just give in. I'll enjoy the heck out of whatever it is. And then I move on.
Montine: I love the idea of a "cookie meditation"!

School Lunch Box said...

I had a big problem with food cravings when I quit smoking. I picked up a ton of weight and realised that something needs to change. So I switched from the oily, fatty, nasty stuff to carrot sticks and cucumber stick. It sound bad but I really got into it and eventually I broke my food cravings all together!

Stefanie said...

I buy small squares of chocolate (endangered spieces dark chocolate squares) and allow myself one if I really want it. When I am craving brownies or cookies it means I need more fat in my diet so I eat a healthier fat source. If I truly want a brownie I will make it because I know I will just have one and be satisfied.

The trick is to not have them in the house or around you. If I am baking for my family I tend to crave something sweet because it is there. When I do not see it, I do not crave it. The worst thing is to deny yourself the things you crave all the time. You will be one unhappy person.

Diane said...

I don't really buy anything "snacky" or that I'd scarf up with cravings. That way when a craving does hit, it takes effort to satisfy it. 3/4 of the time I'm then too lazy to cook something up. The rest of the time, I figure I do really want it. And drinking tea instead helps. I like making tisanes with cardamom, fennel and cloves.

But seriously - I cannot buy chocolate chips for baking. If I do they NEVER make it actually into any baked goods.

Sassy Molassy said...

I've been buying these flat packages of 8 tiny Hershey bars at the grocery store. Each one is under 100 calories (the portion info is weird because it's not per bar, but I want to say they're around 80 calories each). Those are good because having something individually wrapped and that small controls how much I consume, but I still feel like I've had a little treat. A healthier chocolate indulgence that I find really satisfying is to throw a small amount of good-quality chocolate chips (like a couple tablespoons) in with a serving of pecans or almonds and eat them by the handful. Yum! I also keep grapes in the freezer for a sweet, refreshing after-work snack.

Anonymous said...

If I get the mindless munchies - air popped popcorn. I can shovel it in and it has very little caloric content. And fills the salt craving (no butter though).

Second the GOOD chocolate. The better the chocolate, the smaller the serving required to get satified.

And second the mindful eating. If you are going to crave - and splurge - on a treat, take the time to enjoy it. If you enjoy each potato chip, three or four might do it. If you crave potato chips, open the bag, and sit down in front of the TV, you'll wonder where the bag went - and still be craving potato chips.

tall girl said...

I have cravings too and I can eat it but not too much and not too often. When you are busy with something else, you are less likely to think about cravings.

Plastic surgery Beverly Hills said...

Food cravings should be heard and answered also.Healthy home food is the best solution usually...but when the body wants something I prefer giving it in a limit.

Emily said...

The more carbs I eat, the more I want sugar. If I can go three days without eating refined grains, sweeteners, or fruit, the sugar and other carb cravings are GONE.

My doc told me it's because the bugs in my gut like sugar, and when you eat carbs, the population grows to eat the excess sugars. Then you get cravings because of all of those hungry beasties! Best to keep 'em starved.

Mattheous @ Menu Musings said...

Give into them! I learned early on in college (when I lived on campus) that cravings are your body telling you you need a certain nutrient provided by whatever you're craving.

Saritha said...

One way to not eat fattening snacks is not to buy them. And the way I "not buy" is by going grocery shopping after I eat. Earlier, I used to go to the grocery store after work before going home, and since I would be hungry, my hands would pick up all sorts of junk food even though my mind would object. But when I go on a full tummy, I dont have to fight myself :)