We have all experienced the urge to eat certain foods - ideally right away! Typically these foods are likely to be sugary, salty, or fatty, or all three. These urges are called cravings, which can pop up at any moment, and aren’t always fueled by hunger pangs.
Instead of always giving in to your cravings, think about why you may be experiencing them and then find an alternative option. You never know, you may find a new favorite snack!
Tips to reduce food cravings
Aim to eat nutritionally balanced meals. Foods with protein and fiber provide longer-lasting satisfaction.
Avoid long stretches of not eating. Eat a nutritious meal or snack every 3-4 hours during the day. Waiting too long to eat because you are busy or distracted may only lead to stronger hunger when you do eat and the risk of overeating. Also keep in mind that if your bedtime is more than 4 hours after you’ve finished dinner, you may feel hungry again; to avoid snacking late night which can disrupt sleep, try to go to bed earlier when possible.
Avoid choosing hyperpalatable or ultra processed snacks that are high in sodium, fat, sugar, and calories but low in nutrition. These are the types of foods that trigger the brain reward pathways and cause cravings to eat more. Choose satisfying, less-processed snacks like fresh fruit, a handful of nuts, or a cup of low-sugar yogurt.
Limit environmental cues to eat, such as scrolling through social media posts about food or mukbang (online videos of people eating enormous quantities of decadent meals) and watching television cooking shows. In an office setting, detour away from the candy bowls and platters of bagels and treats that may be sitting in the break room.
Food cravings are sometimes learned behaviors that are associated with an event or environment, such as craving potato chips while watching late-night television. If so, research suggests that it is possible to “unlearn” the behavior and reduce the craving by avoiding the food completely for an extended time.  In addition, you can try changing the association by changing your evening routine with a different activity like listening to an audiobook or podcast.
Practice mindfulness when sensing a growing craving. Ask yourself if you are stressed, bored, angry? If so, try instead doing breathing exercises, talking a brisk 5-10 minute walk, listening to a meditation app or podcast, or playing a few favorite songs. If you can distract yourself from eating for about 5-7 minutes, the craving may subside. Learn more about mindful eating.
Try other dopamine-inducing activities such as taking a walk in nature on a sunny day, dancing, or watching a funny video and laughing aloud!