Science Works to Conquer Junk Food Cravings
First, there's a physiological component, suggests research from Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of Mindless Eating. Cravings are most likely embedded deep in our DNA; when we indulge a craving, the body releases a surge of feel-good brain chemicals called opiates. No wonder we keep coming back for more!
There's also a social aspect to cravings. Dr. Wansink found that cravings for comfort foods vary by gender, thanks to a slew of genetic and social cues. For example, men tend to be attracted to meal-type foods like burgers, steak and pizza. Men say these foods make them feel taken care of, like they're the center of attention.
Women, on the other hand, are more apt to experience hankerings for snacks and desserts—foods that require little preparation or work. You probably won't be surprised by the list of foods most commonly craved by women: chocolate, salty snacks and ice cream (in that order), according to a study from Tufts University in Boston. The good news is that you're not powerless over the urges, and you don't have to totally deny them, either.
Follow these rules to stay in control of your cravings
Check Your Mood
Many experts have noted that feeling bummed out, lonely, depressed or sad can fuel a craving for junk food. But surprisingly, the opposite is also true, according to Dr. Wansink's research. When you're celebrating, it's easy to feel compelled to reward yourself with food. Make an effort to find non-food rewards. Treat yourself to a manicure or new running sneakers, for example.
Social situations like parties and sporting events can trigger cravings even when you're not hungry, Dr. Wansink's research indicates. Just imagine what a football game would be like without enjoying hot dogs, beer and wings, or going to a wedding without having a couple glasses of bubbly and some cake. You don't have to avoid these foods entirely, though. Instead, you can enjoy a small portion without overdoing it. The key to doing this is to think about the temptations awaiting you and make a pact with yourself: "It's okay to enjoy a taste, but I only need a couple of bites to feel satisfied." You could even let your partner in on your pact, to make yourself feel even more accountable.
Improve on the Original
Some foods trigger palpable reactions when we taste or smell them—lasagna might remind you of Sunday night dinners from your childhood; deep-dish pizza might take you back to your first date with your spouse. Dr. Wansink's research has found certain foods can actually help define who we are. Although it may be fun and soothing to revisit memories via a tasty meal, there's no reason to let it derail your diet. You can enjoy your favorite dishes—without packing on pounds—by using lower-calorie ingredients like reduced-fat cheese or fat-free sour cream, and keeping portions moderate.
For more on cravings and healthy-eating advice, check out TheBestLife.com.
Do you have any additional tips to beat cravings for diet-busting junk food? Share your best advice in the comments area.
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