Ask anyone what foods they crave, and chances are, they’ll be able to rattle off a list. Whether it’s a bag of potato chips or a pint of ice cream calling your name, you’re not alone. Many people have a short list of “trigger foods” that – when they’re in their presence – they can’t help but overeat.

Why Food Cravings Happen

How many times have you craved a particular food? Food cravings typically happen for two reasons:

  1. You’re not allowing yourself to have certain foods. When you restrict food and think of a specific food “off limits” or “bad”, it increases the appeal for the food. The restriction may not be totally conscious, and you may not be depriving yourself through traditional diets, but the threat of future deprivation is implied when you aren’t letting yourself have certain foods, aren’t keeping all kinds of foods around, or feel guilty or ashamed about what you’re eating.
  2. You aren’t eating consistent meals and/or you aren’t eating enough. When you go a long between meals and aren’t keeping your body adequately fueled, your body will naturally crave high fat and high carb/sugar. A lack of protein or lack of carbohydrate at a meal can also lead to more extreme hunger later on and cravings for high fat/high carb foods. If you find yourself have cravings towards the end of the day, you may not be eating enough during first part of day.

How to Conquer Your Cravings

The key to overcoming your trigger foods and reducing cravings is to set up an environment where you can eat what you want, when you want. Once you allow all foods an even playing field, and get rid of the scarcity and deprivation, you won’t feel the cravings as urgently or frequently.

Follow these steps to make peace with your trigger foods and allow all foods into your eating world.

Step 1. Make a list of all the foods that are most appealing to you.

This can be any type of food – which foods are your favorite? Which do you love eating?

Step 2. Now go through and put a check mark by the foods you actually eat. Then circle the ones you have been restricting.

… whether consciously (like on a diet) or subconsciously (through food rules, keeping the food out of your house, etc).

Step 3. Pick one of those “off-limits” foods that you circled and go buy it and keep it in the house.

Give yourself permission to eat it whenever you want to.

Step 4. When you do eat the food, eat it mindfully and intentionally.

Check in with yourself while you’re eating: does it tastes as good as you imagined? If you find you really like it, give yourself permission to buy or order it again.

Step 5. Make sure you keep enough of the food around to create a sense of abundance, so you know that it will be there when you want it.

Continue to give yourself permission to eat it.

As you go through this process, it’s important to also eat consistent meals throughout the day with enough carbohydrates, protein and fat. Also practice reframing the food police voice – that guilty, judgemental voice that pops into your head whenever you eat foods you deem “bad”. Try to make observations instead of judgments, like “I skipped breakfast and was starving by 12 p.m.” or, “I had those cookies last night but didn’t pay attention to how they tasted”. Then reframe that food police voice by replacing the thoughts and phrases with reasonable ones, like “I’m choosing foods that are satisfying as much as possible” or “It’s ok not to have a vegetable today”.

Remember, this process doesn’t just take a few days or weeks, but many weeks and possibly even months. It can also be scary at times, especially if you’ve been restricting foods for a while. Don’t worry if you feel like your cravings are higher at first. Eventually, you’ll get to a place where your body will know and trust that you have access to that food and the overeating will get less and less frequent.

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