Each of us falls victim to a little temptation while dieting—usually in the form of chocolate cake, homemade mac ‘n cheese, or some other rich food or drink that you love to indulge in but know you’ll pay for on the scale in the morning. Unfortunately, cravings are almost impossible to ignore. “There’s a survival value to craving,” says Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known as the host of The Dr. Oz Show.
As he explains it, we crave food for the same reason we crave sex. “There’s a biologically mandated desire to nourish and procreate that’s hardwired at numerous levels to ensure there’s redundancy in the system, so it can’t fail because those are the two things you need to survive as a species.”
Fair enough. But unless you’re someone who, say, craves asparagus tips and broccoli florets, routinely giving in to that hardwired, biologically mandated desire for fettuccine alfredo or stuffed-crust pizza can wreak havoc on your plans to get back in your skinny jeans. But biology isn’t always destiny. So rather than tough out your cravings through sheer willpower—a losing battle akin to “trying to hold your breath underwater indefinitely,” according to Dr. Oz—you’ve got to be a bit cunning in your approach.
Know your kryptonite. There are two types of craving foods, said Dr. Oz. Those we can occasionally eat a bit of, feel satisfied and are done. And those that have you licking the crumbs from the bag then tearing apart your kitchen hunting for more. Everyone's craving foods are different, so figure out what sends you on a food bender, then steer clear. Knowing the foods that you're powerless around isn't weak, it's smart. "Mine is chocolate-covered nuts," admitted Dr. Oz. "I can go through a gallon of them, and I'll just be getting started. I know that, so I don't have them near me if I can avoid it."
Keep junk food out of the house. You're less likely to gorge on chips or cookies or candy if they're not readily available in your pantry or fridge, so you do yourself a huge favor by not even bringing them home from the market. "Out of sight, out of mind is the best way," said Dr. Oz. "You don't even think about them." But on those days when all you can do is think about double chocolate chip cookies, "go to the store and buy a snack-size amount," said Dr. Oz.
Find a healthier substitute. You may be able to fake out a craving and avoid the extra calories, fat, salt and sugar by eating foods that are close to what you're jonesing for. Craving sweet? Dates are naturally very sweet, as are grapes, prunes, raisins and dried figs. Need something creamy? Try a low-fat Greek yogurt. It's lower in sugar than other low-fat yogurts, and you can mix in some blueberries or honey for flavor. When you need a salt fix, reach for a dill pickle. "You get the crunch and the salt without the fat and calories of chips," said Dr. Oz.Strike a bargain. Make this deal with yourself: You'll set a timer for an hour, and when the time's up, if you still want what you want, you can have a small amount. Then find something else to do for that hour -- rearrange your sock drawer, go for a walk, comb through your kids' closets for clothes and toys to give to charity. Whatever helps you fill the time so you're not watching the clock. It's a good deal to make, said Dr. Oz. "Most cravings don't last more than 20 to 30 minutes, so by the time the hour passes, you may have solved your problem."
Cleanse your palate. There's a reason fancy restaurants serve sorbet between courses -- it cleans your taste buds so you can enjoy the next dish without being distracted by the flavors from the dish that came before. Use this same tactic to quell a craving. "Brush your teeth, gargle with mouthwash, chew some gum. Nothing tastes good after you have that minty taste in your mouth," said Dr. Oz. And if you have given in to an indulgence, doing any of these things can "clear your palate so the food taste doesn't linger in your mouth, making you crave more," he said.
Call a pal. We often rummage through the kitchen for a quick feel-better fix when we're stressed or angry or sad or vulnerable because comfort food equals emotional comfort is something we learn as children. "When you're a child and you're unhappy, you're often satiated with something fatty, like mother's milk or bottled milk," explained Dr. Oz. "That creates a loop -- unhappiness equals fattiness equals happiness -- that gets learned and reinforced at a very fundamental level in your brain, even before we can verbalize it." The trick to not eating when you're feeling emotional is to find another source of comfort, like a good friend. "Venting to a friend is a much more waist-friendly way of relieving stress," said Dr. Oz.