Craving: an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing (Merriam-Webster online, July 2016). This is what you’re fighting against when you try to stop cravings and stress eating is as powerful as it can be!
The good news is that you don’t have to fight. When you work with yourself instead of against yourself, the power of the craving crumbles and you’re no longer pulled toward stress eating. The intensity fizzles, and you are free to make choices without feeling deprived, guilty for giving in, or weak-willed. You can enjoy delicious food and have a peaceful mind and a strong body.
Here are 27 simple solutions to stop cravings and stress eating you can use right now.
1. Eat when you’re hungry.
If your body needs food for energy, there is just no replacing food. You can distract yourself and delay eating for only so long. Your hunger cues may disappear, but you can be sure they will return with a vengeance. Eat a balanced meal. If you’re craving a balanced meal or snack, even better since you’re simultaneously caring for both needs! If it’s not and you’re still craving a particular food, you will most likely experience a less intense desire after the balanced meal. This will give you space to enjoy it, now or later, rather than ravenously eating and perhaps consuming more than you feel comfortable eating.
2. Enjoy your food.
Choose what you eat wisely to get both the physical nourishment and the satisfaction your mind and heart need. Sometimes, you will eat purely for fuel. We all lead busy lives, and occasionally, food is merely a means to an end—putting more fuel in the engine so you can keep going. Food is also an important way people experience pleasure. If what you eat isn’t pleasurable on some level, you will be left wanting and unsatisfied most of the time. At least once a day, eat for fuel as well as for the experience of pleasure.
3. Calm anxiety before eating, rather than eating to calm anxiety.
This can be tricky since hunger can make anxiety worse. Anxiety can also be one of the early signs of hunger. It gets complicated quickly. Our early ancestors needed heightened awareness to make them more aware of their food and when it was available to catch and eat. Although food is all around, you may become edgy when hunger is ignored. Do your best anxiety-reducing techniques, a few deep breaths, a little calming yoga, a short mindfulness meditation for 2-5 minutes, and then eat a balanced meal or snack.
4. Make choices based on physical needs first and emotional needs second.
Check-in with yourself about your level of hunger. Do you need a snack or a meal? Are you even hungry? Has it been more than a few hours since you last ate? If you don’t need fuel, look toward another activity to fill the space you need to fill.
5. Sit at the table to eat. Be present and engage in the process of eating.
Set the table and make it a pleasant experience for yourself. Use your favorite place settings, clear the clutter from the table, and play some nice music to enjoy the experience. This will also help you slow down and be more conscious of your physical and emotional hunger.
It’s normal to crave favorite foods when you haven’t enjoyed them in a while but to stop cravings and stress eating, you can…
6. Plan for the craved food.
Sometimes, there’s a food that you enjoy so much that you look forward to experiencing it. This is normal! The way to eat with pleasure and stop overeating is to know that you can enjoy this food whenever you want. When the scarcity is gone, you can give yourself the gift of enjoyment. Make the craved food part of your daily food plan and eat it with awareness and freedom from judgment.
7. Don’t wait until you’re famished to eat.
You lose the ability to make conscious choices when you wait too long. Your physiology will drive you to eat whatever you’re craving, usually simple, easily digested carbohydrates because they supply quick energy. Eating a balanced meal will restore your ability for clear thinking and conscious choice-making.
8. When you tell yourself you’re addicted to sugar, you’ll crave it more.
Now, don’t get me wrong, sugar is super good, but more than the debate about whether sugar is addicting or not is the belief that eating it leaves you without the option of free will. Shifting your mindset to, “I have the option to eat sweets,” rather than, “I’m forced by my addiction to eat sweets,” gives you space to consider what you want. Sometimes, you will want sugary foods; occasionally, you might want something else after stopping for a moment. You can listen to your mind, body, and heart and choose for yourself.
9. Do just one thing while eating.
When you’re driving, watching TV, working on the computer, playing a game on your iPad, reading, etc., you’re typically less aware of what you’re eating. This can distract you from guilt or shame for eating the craved food. When you pay attention to what you’re eating, especially if you can suspend judgment, you may find that less food fulfills your need for it than if you mindlessly half-aware consume it.
10. Be sure you’re eating well-balanced meals throughout the day.
You nourish your body with what it needs to function well when you get a blend of carbohydrates, protein, and fat at each meal. This will decrease cravings for missing nutrients and make maintaining stable blood sugar and energy levels easier. Find the mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that works for you, but ensure you get a blend of all three.
Managing stress is something we all need a plan for especially when you want to stop cravings and stress eating.
11. Take care of stress.
We all need a plan for managing stress so that when it gets to us, we have options to decrease stress. Increasing awareness of your stressors, planning prevention when possible, and taking action to reduce stress regularly will help prevent cravings and emotional eating as a distraction from what’s bothering you.
12. You’re tired and looking for energy.
Cravings, especially for high-energy foods, typically carbohydrates, often result from needing rest. Getting about 8 hours of sleep, or the amount your body needs to wake up feeling rested and not sleepy during the day will decrease this type of craving.
13. You’re thirsty and need to quench your thirst.
Your body may need hydration if you crave soda, coffee, iced teas, etc., regardless of natural or artificial sweeteners. Try drinking fresh water and notice if you feel better than if you had a different type of drink. Are you getting enough water, generally eight, eight-ounce glasses a day, or does the flavored drink keep you from getting the water your body needs? Of course, enjoying flavored drinks is okay; just be sure you’re getting the water your body needs, too.
14. If you’re feeling sluggish, maybe you need to move your body.
The boost a craved food may give may mask your physical need to connect with your body. Our muscles are made to work, and our joints need movement to stay healthy. Short walks are one of the best natural mood elevators available. Moving in a safe, compassionate, connected way is a form of nurturing your relationship with your body.
15. Celebrations and food are intimately linked.
Is the celebration focused on the food or the accomplishment? In the West, birthdays, weddings, or any other important milestone are celebrated with a special cake. This is great! The trouble is when there is an over-focus on the food and an under-focus on the celebration. Other ways of celebrating can be a memorable trip or activities like a movie, roller skating, skiing, bird watching, a craft or art project, a one-on-one walk with someone special, etc. Shift your focus to the celebration, not only to the particular food.
Pinpoint worries, put them in their place and make a peace plan so you can stop cravings and stress eating.
16. Worry is often a motivator for cravings.
Eating is something to do; it takes your mind off of the issue, and depending on the food, your brain will be stimulated to release calming brain chemicals. The way through this is to identify the worry, pinpoint its cause and do what you can to address the situation. Sometimes, this means making an action plan and other times, it means reassuring yourself and creating a peaceful environment when you’ve done all you can.
17. Motivation for connection.
Cravings can motivate re-connecting with someone, a memory, thought, feeling, etc. When you crave a specific food, is it the memory or person you want to connect with, and is the food a way to make it happen? The food is the pathway to the relationship you like to experience. This awareness can help you re-focus from the food to the relationship so you get your needs met.
18. Mindful eating means paying attention to your food’s taste, texture, aroma, colors, etc.
When you eat a craved food in this way, you can assess your relationship to it. Many people find this an excellent way to break the habit of eating a specific food they may not care for much but eat anyway—out of habit.
19. The broken record or you can’t get a particular food out of your head and keep returning to it repeatedly.
Acknowledge that maybe you eat the food will decrease the focus on it. Most people have a rotation of things that they eat frequently. You need to enjoy something different when bored with the same food. Boredom may be the cause and the treatment may be new menu items!
20. Comfort eating can be a habit rather than taking a risk to trust yourself.
People are most comfortable with consistency. Feeling safe in the habit can become so secure that you become stuck and convince yourself that you crave food (similar to feeling addicted) rather than take the risk of leaving your comfort zone. Small steps, changing one meal or food, can ease you into a richer relationship with yourself.
Shift your thinking to creative outlets to stop cravings and stress eating.
21. Cooking, watching cooking shows and reading recipes can engage your creative self.
However, looking for the perfect recipe for the food you crave still focuses on the craving rather than what you may need. Therefore, shift your thinking to other ways of being creative. These don’t need to be big projects, expensive, or masterpieces. Look for ideas at your favorite craft store or online.
22. One last time, thinking – “I’ll only eat this one last time, get it out of my system, and then be done with it.”
This thinking leads to the next “one last time” episode. You can eat whatever you want, whenever you like and learn the tools to listen to your mind, body, and heart for how much, when, what, etc. You are your guide in your relationship with food.
23. Create a culture of respect and kindness for your own needs.
Shift your relationship with your body from domination, “I will not give in to craving,” to a relationship, “Hmm, what’s up that I keep thinking of eating cake every 10 minutes?” This fundamental shift provides breathing room for you to get to know yourself a little more. Understand yourself a little more and, as a result, care for yourself a little more kindly.
24. Good food vs. bad food.
While foods have different nutritional values and some are more nutrient-dense than others, this doesn’t imply that less nutritive-dense foods are bad! Food is just food, not good or bad. Most people find that when bad food leaves their vocabulary, they are less inclined to overeat or crave previously judged foods.
25. Pay attention to how your body feels when you eat certain foods
This will increase your attunement to how and what you eat based on your feelings. You nourish yourself with foods that make your body feel good and happy.
26. Leave morality out of it—food is not sinful!
How many times have you heard, usually at dessert time, “We’re being sinners tonight?” How many foods are called sinfully delicious? What if we accepted that our bodies enjoy pleasurable experiences like eating good food? Acceptance in the fullest sense means honoring your desire for pleasant experiences with food, non-judgmentally.
Stop dieting and start Conscious Eating!
27. STOP DIETING!
This is the best way to solve cravings once and for all. Everything I’ve said so far is summed up in that the simplest solution is establishing a partnership with yourself for your self-care and well-being. This includes nourishing yourself with good food, loving relationships, and pleasurable activities. It also consists of the discipline to stop and invest in your relationship with yourself by honoring what you need for fulfillment: mind, body, and heart.
Becoming a Conscious Eater is a beautiful gift!
You can be free from counting, restricting, bargaining and compensating with food.
Cravings are far less intense and you have tools to honor your desires when you experience them.
The tradeoff is the responsibility to care for your well-being from a place of self-compassion, honesty, and love. It will sometimes be challenging, and you must push yourself to be uncomfortable. You will learn new skills and develop new habits.
The time and investment are worth the reward of gaining a richer relationship with yourself, filled with peace!