Though nutrition can be highly personalized, one thing most of us share is the urge to let loose every now and then. Whether that’s a couple of slices of pizza on a Friday night or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, sometimes the call of the craving is just too hard to deny. Whether giving into these cravings helps or hurts you in the long run is largely a matter of how you approach it. So, I turned to the pros — nationally recognized registered dietitians — for the top do’s and don’ts for staying in control of cravings.
DON'T DO THIS
1. Don't get consumed by guilt
Like most of the dietitians I spoke to, Patricia Bannan, RDN, a nutrition expert in Los Angeles isn’t fond of the term ‘cheat.’ According to Bannan, “It feeds into the concept of foods being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or worse, relates your food choices to you as a person being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
To avoid eating monstrous portions of your favorite foods, try a small version every day and take the time to enjoy it.
Julie Andrews, RDN
People often tell me about that critical voice in their head that judges them for overeating. I always advise them to dial that voice down. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: When you take a wrong turn, your GPS doesn’t judge you. Instead, she gently reminds you to take the next U-turn. Bannan offers this gentle reminder: “There are certainly times when people overeat unhealthy foods and feel emotionally and/or physically bad afterwards. The other extreme can be when people deprive themselves completely of all foods they consider ‘bad,’ like ice cream, French fries or chocolate, and then unnecessarily lack enjoyment in their diet or eventually overindulge. It’s really your total diet and total lifestyle that matters.”
In other words, let go of the guilt and return to healthier choices at your next eating occasion. One indulgence won’t make or break a mostly healthy menu.
2. Don't turn a cheat meal into a cheat day, week or month
“While I’m not a fan of the word ‘cheat,’ I think it’s perfectly fine to occasionally indulge. Just do it smartly. Choose one thing you really want, whether it’s ice cream or a pina colada, but don’t give yourself excuses to turn the one indulgence into a whole day or week of overindulging!” advises Amy Gorin, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ.
Another way to look at this: Have the French toast at brunch, but then steer yourself toward a luscious seasonal salad at your next meal. After all, when you drop your smart phone and crack the screen, you don’t take the next chance to hurl it across the room. Apply that thinking to your menu. Have what you want, but don’t turn it into all-day cheat fest.
3. Don't go into an indulgent meal all-out starving
If you know you’re heading to happy hour or Sunday brunch with friends, it’s helpful to plan smartly. You want to spend time with friends, not wolf down the first thing you see — and everything else in eyesight. If I’m brunching at 11 AM but I’ve been up since 8 AM, I might munch on a banana or a bowl of berries before heading out. That way, I can make better choices from the menu, opting for, say, avocado toast with a poached egg instead of a stack of pancakes with whipped cream.
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An invitation to happy hour might call for a small piece of cheese with some sliced peppers or a side of grapes, allowing me to share the heaping plate of nachos rather than dine on them solo. And speaking of happy hour, remember that booze lowers your inhibitions so stick with one beer, glass of wine or low-sugar cocktail so that you stay in charge of your choices.
DO THIS INSTEAD
1. Do indulge your cravings
All of the pros I consulted with want you to enjoy your cravings. Kaleigh McMordie, RDN from Lubbock, TX has this sage advice: “I think the best food to conquer a craving is the food you are craving.” Like others, McMordie doesn’t believe in cheat meals or going cold turkey on some of your favorite foods. “Denying your body what it really wants often leads to either obsessing about the food, or continuing to eat and seek out foods that won't ever satisfy you. Either one can lead to over-eating.”
The best food to conquer a craving is the food you are craving.
I view cooking and eating as an act of love. It’s a beautiful expression to cook someone a meal or break bread with friends. This translates well to the concept of mindfulness and allowing yourself to eat foods you love. In other words, having a fresh, hot, small batch doughnut — a personal favorite of mine — on rare occasions is treating myself with loving kindness. Having one each day is not a loving act, since it isn’t treating myself with care. This example also illustrates what most dietitians know — that some treats are totally worth it, while others are just ‘meh.’ If you’re going for it, make sure it’s worth it!