We’ve all experienced those insatiable food cravings. They can appear out of nowhere and consume your thoughts. If you find yourself fixated on not-so-healthy food options every time a craving strikes, you’re not alone. And, believe us, we’re all for treating ourselves every now and then. Listen to your body — if you want some chocolate, have some chocolate! But be mindful when you’re making this decision. Is this craving something you truly want? Or, are you reaching for salty and sugary snacks out of habit?
If you said the latter, what if you could train your brain to reach for healthier options? That’s right — here are six expert tips to help you shift unhealthy habits and learn how to crave healthy food.
6 Ways To Change Unhealthy Cravings Into Healthy Habits
#1 Cleanse Your Kitchen
If your pantry is filled with tempting treats, it can be hard to resist your unhealthy cravings! Start by filling your kitchen with healthy foods. “Managing cravings is much less about willpower than it is about convenience,” says Lisa Mastela, RD, MPH, founder of Bumpin’ Blends. “So, making healthier options significantly more convenient than unhealthy options is key to reducing cravings and opting for healthier foods.”
Try to avoid buying the not-so-healthy options and make the better options more visible to you, says Mastela. If you have fruits on the kitchen counter instead of a jar of candy, you’re going to be more likely to reach for a nutritious option! Mastela keeps it simple by having fast yet nutritious options on hand. Incorporating more nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein and fiber will help reduce unhealthy cravings in the long term and help you learn how to crave healthy food, says Mastela.
#2 Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep
Speaking of making healthy food accessible… how could we forget about meal prep? Let’s be real, when you come home hungry after a long day, the last thing you want to do is prep and cook a meal. When cravings strike, we want instant gratification! So, what do we do? Order take-out and reach for whatever snacks are within a 2-foot radius.
But what if we had an abundance of healthy options prepped and ready to enjoy?
When you’re first learning how to crave healthy food, meal prepping can reduce the need to reach for unhealthy alternatives. “Even something as simple as washing and cutting fruit and veggies when you get home from the store makes you more likely to eat it,” says Mastela. “Having healthy options prepped and at the ready will make them the no-brainer go-to foods and reduce the barriers around healthy eating.”
RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning
#3 Swap The Sugar
Teaching your brain how to crave healthy food could be as simple as replacing your unhealthy cravings with healthy alternatives. Reaching for naturally sweetened foods, like fruit, can help “retrain” your tastebuds to prefer the taste of whole food sources rather than overly sweet, hyper-palatable foods like artificial sugar, says Mastela.
A research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente suggested that cutting out added sugar for just two weeks could change taste preferences. After the two-week period, 95% of the participants found sweet food to be overly sweet, and a majority of the participants stopped craving sugar altogether within six days.
#4 Small Habits Equal Big Changes
If you want to build lasting habits, start small. Mastela reminds us that everything happens in baby steps — learning how to crave healthy food takes time, persistence, and self-compassion.
A compilation of many small choices transform into big changes over time, says Mastella. Start by implementing one small change and then moving to the next! These small changes will not only help shift your cravings but will ultimately lead to a healthier lifestyle. All of these tiny choices will make up your day, and all those days will make up your life, says Mastela.
Here are some expert tips:
Drink an extra glass of water each morning.
Opt for the protein and fiber-rich meal instead of something processed.
Rather than reaching for the candy, choose a piece of fruit!
Take two cookies out of the package to enjoy versus bringing the whole package to the couch.
#5 Practice Mindful Eating
The next time you experience a food craving, pause before you reach for a snack. Practicing mindfulness can help us learn how to crave healthy food by evaluating why we’re reaching for the unhealthy options in the first place.
Mastela encourages you to ask yourself, “why is this craving coming on? Stress? Emotions? Comfort? Hunger? Convenience?” Before you make a decision, ask yourself, “is this going to be a craving I listen to? Will it solve my problem or make me feel better? Is there something else I might like better that’s less convenient? Would I be satisfied to have this treat later instead of right now?”
Research shows practicing mindfulness techniques before eating can prevent emotional eating and help you make healthier choices.
#6 Have Fun In The Kitchen
What better way to learn how to crave healthy food than by experimenting in the kitchen? A study in The Journal of Public Health Nutrition suggests consistently cooking at home could be the secret ingredient to healthier habits. When you prepare your own meals, you’re most likely to incorporate healthier ingredients and consume fewer calories.
Mastela reminds us cravings are an absolutely normal, healthy part of being human. When you feel a craving coming on, use these tips to satisfy your food cravings in a healthy way! The most important thing is listening to your body. Don’t be afraid to indulge in a treat every now and then. But, when you learn how to crave healthy food, you may find your unhealthy cravings to be a thing of the past.
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