Although it would be nice if we craved healthy foods like broccoli instead of junk food, most of us struggle daily with resisting the allure of salty fries and sweet treats.
Indulging occasionally is fine, but if you lack self-control on a regular basis, you could be putting yourself at risk of weight gain and serious health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Studies have even shown that sugar can produce cravings and withdrawals similar to those of cocaine.
However, there are science-backed techniques that can help you overcome your cravings for good. Whether it’s peppermint or playing Tetris, experiment with different options until you find what works best for you.
The best part is that you’ll feel like a champion in no time.
1. Give in (But Just a Little)
Isn’t it funny how the more you tell yourself you can’t have something the more you crave it? Here’s some good news: If there’s a night you want a little chocolate, you can have it—the trick it to just have a little bit.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a small portion of something you’re craving in an overall healthy diet—and it actually keeps you from going off the rails later on. Instead of cutting your beloved junk foods out completely, enjoy a small bite here and there. But if one bite leads to devouring the whole thing five minutes later, this method might not be for you.
2. Distract Yourself
The next time you catch yourself drooling over the thought of just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies, try distracting yourself: In one study, researchers found spending 10 seconds visualizing something—anything!—besides those cookies actually helped do away with the craving altogether.
While the participants pictured everything from a lion in a zoo to a forest, you can choose anything you want. Just close your eyes and use your imagination the best you can to successfully distract your brain and making those cravings disappear.
3. Try Some Peppermint
It turns out you can smell your way to better self-control. A 2008 study found taking a whiff of peppermint helped participants decrease their cravings, as well as consume fewer calories throughout the day. And crazy enough, the whole mint thing has been said to help people with food-related self-control for years. So much so that one company, Crave Crush, developed a mint you can eat that’s been scientifically proven to bind to sweet taste receptors to help reduce cravings.
4. Take a Brisk Walk
You’ve probably been told to walk off your cravings, and science actually backs the simple technique up: A 2008 study found that going on a brisk, 15-minute walk can reduce cravings, helping you get a little exercise and avoid devouring that chocolate bar you’ve been drooling over.
5. Play Tetris
If you loved playing Tetris as a kid (who didn’t?), this might be the most fun way to beat your cravings. One study showed playing the old-school game for just three minutes reduced cravings by a whopping 24 percent. Yeah, just by playing something you can download onto your phone for free. It’s worth giving it a shot, right? And video games aren’t as bad for your brain as you may think.
6. Go For Intermittent Fasting
Everyone has been talking about intermittent fasting lately, and it might help you regain your self-control in a major way. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it can help with reducing cravings throughout the day, making you want less sweet and salty foods. Aside from helping you eat healthier, intermittent fasting has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and even lessen inflammation.
7. Be More Mindful
Once a craving strikes, it’s hard not to act on it. But by being more mindful of your body and what it really needs (not what it wants!), you’ll be able to pass on those urges before they get the best of you. Participants in one study, for instance, learned common mindfulness-based techniques that significantly lowered their cravings. By listening to your body, you’ll learn to accept them when they come and know they’ll naturally fade, but not give in to them. It sounds tricky and takes practice, but it can be done.
8. Eat Regularly Throughout The Day
Some people think the best way to control their cravings is by trying to limit their food intake, but you should actually do the opposite: According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s better to fuel your body regularly throughout the day, making sure to keep your meal and snack times consistent—and include a protein source in every meal, if you can.
9. Grab Some Modeling Clay
It might be time to bust out the Play-Doh again. A 2012 study had participants spend 10 minutes constructing shapes from modeling clay, and that time working with their hands (and distracting themselves!) actually helped them reduce their cravings more effectively than spending the same amount of time letting their minds wander.
10. Focus on Your Happiness
While being in a bad mood has been shown to make you crave junk food (who doesn’t want a burger and fries after a particularly stressful day of work?), being happy, less anxious, and less stressed can help you fight off those urges and choose healthier options instead.
Sometimes being happy is easier said than done, though. To boost your happiness, the Mayo Clinic recommends doing things like reconnecting with what brings you joy, putting yourself first, and immersing yourself in nature.
11. Eat Healthy Fats
While protein is important for curbing cravings, so is eating healthy fats, says the Cleveland Clinic. If you’re trying to break a sugar habit in particular, try and include healthy fats in every meal, like nuts and seeds, fish, and avocado, which are all jam-packed with heart-healthy omega-3s. (Yep, that’s an excuse to eat more guac. You’re welcome.) They’re also super satiating.
12. Get Some Spinach Extract
Have you ever heard of spinach extract? Five grams per day of the supplement—which is literally pure spinach sold in powder or capsule form that you can either take with water or mix into your morning smoothie—not only helped participants in a 2014 study lose weight, but also reduced their chocolate cravings by up to 95 percent. This option—made with 100 percent spinach extract—is a great option if you want to give the Popeye-approved method a try.