You’ve probably landed on this article about how to control food cravings because you’re trying to change your eating habits or lose weight and you’ve noticed an increase in cravings for unhealthy food.
Cravings can range in intensity from a mild passing fancy for a peanut butter on toast to a raging, seemingly uncontrollable obsession with the Oreos you hid from yourself in the garage.
Wherever you currently fall in that spectrum, read on to find out how to control food cravings (without having to deprive yourself of everything that tastes good).
Pssst… if you’re in the midst of a ragin’ craving right now, hop over to my download my free Cravings Busting Audio Guide and use it right now to stop food cravings.
- 1. Care for the emotion that triggered the craving
- 2. Stop food cravings by caring for your biological needs (in other words: eat!)
- 3. Calm your nervous system
- 4. How to control your cravings: be kind to yourself
- 5. Avoid restriction and deprivation
- 6. Pause before eating to retrain your brain.
- 7. Feel your feelings
- 8. Cultivate the Courage to Trust
1. Care for the emotion that triggered the craving
One way to stop food cravings is to get to the root of the emotion that is causing the craving (even if you think there is no emotion triggering your craving!), and caring for that feeling without eating.
All eating, even to fulfill biological hunger, fulfills one of two purposes: To feel good or avoid feeling bad. Food cravings are often triggered by these basic needs.
In particular what the research calls “highly palatable foods” (think high sugar, high fat, tasty stuff engineered by food scientists in junk food manufacturing labs) causes a flood of neurotransmitters to release when you eat. These neurotransmitters are responsible for the feeling of pleasure or numbing that food provides.
Some notice an “ahhhh” feeling after driving through fast food or indulging in dessert, but more often people believe they are eating out of habit and are unaware of the emotional benefits of eating because the food works so well to numb and comfort.
Food cravings and emotions chart
This nifty food cravings and emotions chart helps you understand how food cravings are generated from specific feelings and the needs you have to either feel good or avoid feeling bad.
2. Stop food cravings by caring for your biological needs (in other words: eat!)
As much as diet culture tries to tell us that going hungry is a virtue that all sensible people should be able to achieve, the easiest way to stop food cravings is to simply eat enough of the foods your body needs during the day.
Your body is hardwired to make sure that you don’t starve to death and that your brain, muscles, and every other part of you gets what it needs to function.
So guess what? If you don’t eat any carbs, the preferred source of fuel for your brain, that same brain will start sending signals to get what it needs in the form of cravings for carbs. (And raise levels of the stress hormone, cortisol!)
If I’m sounding snarky, it’s not towards you, dear reader, but rather the multi-billion dollar industry that tries to convince you that you are somehow less than for being a human with survival instincts instead of celebrating the miracle of food cravings when you need fast, efficient energy.
Soap box rant over.
When I work with clients in the Courage to Trust Method, we efficiently decrease cravings by 50%+ by making sure they are eating protein and fiber regularly and getting most of their calories for the day in before dinner.
One of the simplest answers to “how to control food cravings” is to eat enough food throughout the day.
3. Calm your nervous system
One of the reason why so many people google, ‘how to stop cravings for food’ is because if you get reallllllly present to what you’re feeling in the moment when you are experiencing a food craving, you find 9 times out of 10 it’s panic.
This is another biological gift! When you need food, your body get your attention. And panic is super uncomfortable, so you will do what it takes to stop the panic… eat.
One way to both control food cravings, and to help yourself stop indulging in food cravings when they arise is to focus on calming the panic generated by your nervous system.
Calming the nervous system is the 1st pillar in my Courage to Trust Method. I can help you discover the tactics that work to calm your own nervous system with one-on-one work, and to get started I recommend you download my free Cravings Busting Audio Guide, which you can use in the moment when a craving strikes to calm the panic so you don’t indulge.
4. How to control your cravings: be kind to yourself
It’s common to take a bootcamp instructor approach to stop food cravings, mentally screaming at yourself for eating and piling on the guilt.
That approach doesn’t work.
The 2nd pillar of the Courage to Trust Method is Self-Compassion, because the only way to create a supportive relationship with food (your cravings included!) is to be kind to yourself.
Some fear kindness will be a blank check to indulge every craving, but kindness looks more like the belief that you are doing the best you can in the moment, and the resulting curiosity for how you can get support or take specific action, so the best you can do results in the desired behavior.
To get started with self-compassion next time you have a craving, download my Cravings Busting Audio Guide, where I use the principles of Self-Compassion to walk you through a 10-minute exercise that you can do when you’re experiencing a craving to stop yourself from indulging (without panic or guilt!).
5. Avoid restriction and deprivation
Cravings are a normal response to deprivation and restriction. Termed “forbidden fruit syndrome” in the research literature, increased desire and thoughts about forbidden foods is normal.
Deprivation and restriction are common with All or Nothing Dieting, where you either have to “eat perfectly” or “what’s the point”, because you miss the things you used to enjoy when you’re in the “all” stage.
When you’re used to All or Nothing Dieting avoiding restriction and deprivation while also avoiding large amounts of indulgent, unhealthy foods, seems impossible.
And yet, when you have cultivated the Courage to Trust, where you have cared for your biology and emotions so you can trust yourself around food, you are able to set healthy boundaries for yourself with food, enjoying the heck out of indulgences and not needing to indulge all the time.
6. Pause before eating to retrain your brain.
Right now, your brain is wired to respond to the stimulus of a food cravings by eating. And yet, you can change the way you are hard-wired to respond, and even the craving itself, but pausing between the stimulus of craving and the response of eating.
The pause won’t always result in not eating, and yet the more you do it, the more you weaken the automatic response to the food craving.
Use my free Cravings Busting Audio Guide when you experience a food craving to make pausing easier. I walk you through an audio exercise that will help you pause, calm down, get clarity on what is causing the craving, and alternative ways to care for yourself besides eat.
7. Feel your feelings
If your food cravings are a result of trying to feel good or avoid feeling bad (like I mentioned in the food cravings and emotions chart), then the answer to stop food cravings is found in feeling feelings instead of avoiding them or trying to replace them with something better.
People don’t like to hear this 👆. Because it’s easier to go for a walk or call a friend to distract yourself from feeling in a different way from eating, then to deal with feelings of loneliness, grief or an unidentified emotional funk.
The truth is, when you feel your feelings, they are transient and go away, even really hard ones like grief don’t smother you for eternity but ebb and flow.
Feeling feelings can be scary for your body to experience! Especially if you, like most everyone I work with, were conditioned to believe that your feelings are too big, too much, inappropriate and/or scary.
That’s why I created this Cravings Busting Audio Guide, a really gentle and safe way for you to connect to your body and start to identify how you may be feeling when a craving strikes.
This one exercise combines all of my experience helping women cultivate the Courage to Trust themselves around food, and it’s the answer to how to stop food cravings.
Help is here! Download the guide now.
8. Cultivate the Courage to Trust
For anyone who wonders how to control food cravings, the most impactful solution is to cultivate the Courage to Trust.
All or Nothing Dieting and your own experiences have taught you that you can’t trust that:
- Your body is good.
- Your body will tell you what you need.
- You are doing the best you can with the resources and support you have right now.
- Your cravings are signals of unmet need, not problems to be eliminated.
And ultimately, trusting that you can find peace with food and your body (which I believe is possible for everyone), and working towards that peace using the tips I’ve shared with you in this article is what is means to cultivate the Courage to Trust.
You can take the first step towards cultivating the Courage to Trust by downloading the Cravings Busting Audio Guide today.