Learning how to stop unhealthy food cravings may seem impossible at first, but with a little perseverance and this list of handy tips to help you along the way, you’ll soon find that the only cravings you have are for things that are full of natural goodness.
We know that transitioning over to a healthy vegan diet can prove troublesome for some people, especially those who have become accustomed to processed foods, but we also know that it is perfectly doable, too. It’s simply a case of knowing a few tips and tricks.
Here we give you 7 ways to stop unhealthy food cravings that you can start using today, so get ready to get healthy!
Let’s get started.
This is hard for some people to follow through with, but it will increase your chances of success exponentially.
Removing temptation means emptying your cupboards and fridge of all those unhealthy snacks and tidbits that you’ve come to rely on and replacing them with healthier options.
We know that those of you with families who don’t share your desire to become healthier will find this nigh on impossible, but we’ve put it at number one for a reason.
You see, researchers have found that we only have a finite amount of willpower and one of the key replenishers is glucose. Therefore, it follows that you need food to increase the willpower that you need to not eat the food in the first place! (1)
So, the fact that you simply cannot resist reaching for your unhealthy snacks isn’t really your fault – especially at the end of a hard day that has been full of other things that have been zapping your willpower reserves. If they are there, you’re going to want them, period.
You’re trying to exert willpower but your body is telling you that you need to stock up on glucose in order to be able to resist the temptation. It’s a vicious circle.
Thankfully, however, glucose can be obtained from all manner of healthy foods, so you really don’t need those sugar-ladened snacks to get the boost in willpower that you need.
Removing the bad stuff and replacing it with healthier options will help stop unhealthy food cravings because your subconscious will know that they are not available and therefore will disregard them as an option.
Plus, the healthier food will give you a slower conversion into glucose rather than those sugary options that seem to work initially but then leave you even worse off when the crash inevitably comes around.
Instead, opting for foods with a low glycemic index (hey, that’ll be the plant based, whole food diet!) will serve you better and make you healthier to boot.
Oh, and don’t forget. You can pretty much eat as much of the good stuff as you want, so those hunger pangs you get from regular dieting need never rear their ugly head again!
Taking on board plenty of fluids has plenty of benefits but one that is often overlooked is the fact that water can, in fact, satiate our desire for food.
If you feel a craving coming on, try drinking a glass of filtered water before reaching for the snacks. Make it a fair sized glass to get the maximum benefit and then wait a while to see if you are actually hungry or not.
You see, our bodies often misinterpret the two signals of hunger and thirst, so your hunger pangs may well be nothing more than your body telling you to get some fluids inside you.
Make drinking plenty of water a habit and you may find that your appetite decreases, thus helping to stop unhealthy food cravings from occurring in the first place.
Hot drinks can also be a great way to stave off a craving thanks to a thing called the vagus nerve. These cranial nerves supply the upper digestive tract – amongst other parts of the body – and can lower the desire for sugary foods when stimulated by a hot beverage such as a fruit infusion or herbal tea. (2)
Obviously, steering clear of fizzy, sugar-ladened soda is essential, too.
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Know your triggers
Food cravings can often be brought about by what we do, how we feel and even what we eat.
Start keeping journal of what you are eating and how you are feeling each day to see if you can spot any patterns between what you are giving your body and what it is craving.
Certain foods can bring on strong cravings for more of the same, especially those at the sweeter end of the spectrum, so becoming more aware of what we eat can often help prevent food cravings ruining your day.
Keep a watchful eye on your emotions, too, as these can also spark a craving for a specific type of food. The term ‘comfort food’ was coined for a reason.
However, comfort foods do not have to be unhealthy. It’s just a case of retraining ourselves to crave what’s going to do us good rather than reaching for the foods that are going to cause both us and the planet harm.
Find a distraction
Oftentimes, our food cravings can get the better of us simply because we are on autopilot.
We reach for the potato chips or those devilishly delicious cupcakes out of habit before we actually really engage our brains and work out what it is that we are doing.
Becoming more mindful about our cravings will help us recognise what is happening and give us the opportunity to head them off before it’s too late.
If you feel as though you are irrationally craving something, grab your coat and step outside for a walk. Call a friend and discuss what’s happening. Play with your pet (or watch as Rover wolfs down his vegetarian dog food!). Do anything that will take your mind off of the food that is silently calling your name.
Once you have successfully negotiated the hurdle and overcome your craving, you can then look back at how you felt and what the result of giving in to it would have been.
This will further strengthen your resolve and make you realise just how easy it can be to trick your brain in the same way that it is trying to trick you.
This may sound odd, but eating more can actually be far healthier for you than getting to the point where you’re ravenous.
This is because hunger can cause us to crave things that really shouldn’t be on our want list, so stopping yourself from becoming overly hungry can work wonders when it comes to preventing unhealthy food cravings occurring.
Make a batch of healthy snacks to carry with you, or simply opt for some fruit while you are on the go. Nuts, too, are a fantastic way to stave off hunger throughout the day, and they’re wonderfully good for you, too.
Having better food options to hand will keep you satiated and may stop your cravings for unhealthy junk altogether.
Oh, and keeping yourself satisfied will also make traversing the aisles of unhealthy food in your local supermarket easier as well. Never, ever shop hungry if you want to keep your cupboards and refrigerator free from unhealthy food.
Removing the decision making process from what you are going to eat can also be hugely beneficial when it comes to lowering our cravings for unhealthy foods.
This comes back to our old friend willpower again and the fact that you are running your reserves low every time you have to make a decision, otherwise known as ego depletion. (3)
Planning your meals ahead of time can reduce the decisions that we have to make, thereby helping us to keep our willpower levels higher than if we spent even just a few minutes pondering what we were going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
It also removes the urge for spontaneous eating and gives us a roadmap that helps us negotiate the supermarket aisles whenever we do our food shopping.
Set aside a specific time, say a Sunday evening, to plan out your meals for the week. You’ll be surprised at just how much of a help this simple tip can be.
UPDATE: The ego depletion theory mentioned above has had doubt cast upon it by a recently released paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. We’d like to thank Laura for bringing this to our attention. You can find out more about the new findings here.
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Reach for the stopwatch
Instead of reaching for the cookie jar, reach for your phone’s stopwatch instead whenever an unhealthy food craving strikes.
Set yourself three to five minutes on the clock before you can eat and then reevaluate whether or not you actually want to chow down on what your brain is telling you you need.
As we’ve mentioned before, cravings can cause us to act without thinking, and this little trick can help break that cycle and make us think about what we are doing before we actually do it.
As the timer ticks down, consider whether you are really hungry or if it is simply a craving for a particular food type.
If you are genuinely in need of food, use the remaining time to think about the healthier options that will satisfy your appetite and make you feel better, too.
Final thoughts to stop unhealthy food cravings
Remember, cravings in and of themselves are not bad, they are completely natural, but sometimes what we crave can be destructive to our bodies and the way we want to live our lives.
The problem is that cravings are more of a mental image than an actual bodily need, so if we are used to eating lots of unhealthy food our brains know exactly what picture to draw in order to create a craving that is hard to resist.
However, as these cravings are built around such imagery, we can help to make their strength diminish over time. By opting to eat healthily for a week, you are making it far easier to carry on that trend should you decide to take your goal further and move into week two because your memory of the old, unhealthy junk will have become less vivid than it was on day one.
So, by using the tips shown above, you actively help yourself to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, your unhealthy food cravings altogether. Wouldn’t that be something?
Let us know your favorite tricks and tips for stopping unhealthy food cravings in the comments section below.
About The Author:
Lisa Williams is a committed vegan, passionate animal welfare advocate, and keen follower of too many v-friendly food blogs to mention. She started happyhappyvegan.com back in 2016 because she felt there was a need for more straightforward information on plant-based living.
Back then, too many sites seem to either concentrate solely on recipes or be too intimidating or inaccessible for the v-curious, and she wanted to change that. The landscape is certainly a whole lot different now!
- Judy Dutton | Conserve Your Willpower: It Runs Out | https://www.wired.com/2012/10/mf-willpower/
- Gaia Vince| Hacking the nervous system | https://mosaicscience.com/story/hacking-nervous-system/
- Kendra Cherry | What Is Ego Depletion? | https://www.verywellmind.com/ego-depletion-4175496