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7 Ways to Crush Your Food Cravings

Try these strategies for managing your appetite and weight

By Kathy Smith | January 28, 2014
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"America's Trainer" Kathy Smith has been shaping women's thighs and lives for over 30 years through her best-selling collection of workout DVDs and books. Her motto is "Progress, Not Perfection." Find her at www.KathySmith.com or on Facebook.

We’ve all got a pretty good idea of what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat. But sometimes, when cravings start to call, logic and willpower seem to go right out the window.

Cravings are incredibly powerful — they can sabotage our best intentions, sideline our goals and leave us feeling defeated and set back.
 
But here’s the good news: Cravings don't have to be so destructive. The key is to channel the body's cravings in a different direction. And if you know the trick that works best for your body, you’re sure to crush those cravings and finally meet your healthy eating goals. Here are seven possible craving-crushing strategies:
 
Craving Crusher No. 1: Get cardio exercise. Just last year, a study from the University of Wyoming made a fascinating discovery: Cardio exercise squashes an enormous appetite. In the study, a group of women engaged in active exercise and after the workout, they were given the opportunity to feast at an enormous buffet. On alternate days, instead of exercising, they sat quietly for an hour before going to the buffet.

You would think the exercise days would be the hungry days, right? After all, an intense workout creates a huge appetite. However, the researchers found that on workout days, the women ate less than the sedentary days.
 
The secret was in the hormones. Exercise causes a spike in the production of the hormone ghrelin. A ghrelin spike tells the human body to eat a lot. But the ghrelin release also causes a cascade of other hormones, including the ones that control satiety.

The resulting hormone cocktail tells the body to eat less, not more. The post-workout women had naturally lowered their appetite and were less likely to overeat. The conclusions were straightforward: Exercise causes a complex hormonal interaction that keeps you from overeating. Yet another great reason to get moving.

(MORE: The Fiftysomething Workout: Increase the Intensity)
 
Craving Crusher No. 2: Exercise regularly. The magic of exercise described above isn’t a one-and-done trick. Regular exercise is key to curbing cravings. Studies on the impact of long-term exercise on overweight individuals who live sedentary lifestyles shed light on the subject.  

When researchers in December 2012 tested how the body reacts to high-calorie, sugary foods and its response to long-term exercise over three months, they reached a remarkable outcome: Regular exercise helped to regulate the body's appetite mechanism.

Study subjects were eating less even when researchers gave them appetite-increasing solutions. The secret to the lowered appetite was simple: Get regular exercise for at least 12 weeks.
 
Craving Crusher No. 3: Drink lots of water. One simple way to kick the body's cravings is to “drown” them. Drinking water sends the body signals that you're filling up and don’t need to take in more food. The key to using water effectively is to hydrate throughout the day. (Drinking a lot of water in bulk early in the day can actually introduce more elasticity in the stomach, creating a desire to consume more food later on.)

So when you're seated at the table, instead of reaching for your fork, first go for your cup of water and try to get through at least half it. You'll eat smaller portions, and be less likely to reach for seconds.
 
Craving Crusher No. 4: Eat breakfast. If you're avoiding the day's most important meal, you're probably experiencing stronger cravings throughout the day. It's fairly intuitive that a morning meal will reduce the size of a mid-morning snack or lunch. There's more to it, though. The best breakfast is one that has a solid serving of lean protein.

A study from Purdue University discovered that protein at breakfast kept the body satisfied longer. If you want to craving-proof your day, a good breakfast will protein should do the trick.

(MORE: Bored with Breakfast? Try This New Spin on Cereal)
 
Craving Crusher No. 5: Eat more during the day. It may seem counterintuitive to snack your way to weight loss, but there's a solid logic behind this trick. The most common times for cravings are mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and late night. Rather than view these cravings as negative forces, respond to them by eating. Your body is secreting more ghrelin, telling you “EAT!” Here's the key, though. Don't just eat anything.

Here's the short list of top-notch snacking solutions:
  • Nuts: An ounce of nuts will give your body a dose of oleic acid, a healthy form of fat that can quickly decrease the craving level. Peanut butter works, too. 
  • Avocados: Getting in a daily avocado is the perfect way to introduce a whole medley of nutrients. Plus, it gives the smackdown to screaming demands for food. 
  • Grapefruit: This juicy slice of goodness is the perfect way to say farewell to a ravenous appetite. Researchers at the Metabolic Research Center of Scripps Clinic found that grapefruit helps weight loss, perhaps by reducing insulin levels.
  • Peppermint: Peppermint has a potency that tends to flatten appetites. At Chicago's Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, scientists learned that even just a sniff of the peppermint aroman can lower appetite.
 
Craving Crusher No. 6: Chew gum. At the University of Rhode Island, researchers did a curious study involving chewing gum. In this study, subjects were told to chew gum for at least an hour in the morning. Those who did ate less at lunchtime — an average of 67 calories less.

The chewing motion has neurological effects, signaling the brain that you are eating, even if you're not taking in calories. The brain tells the ghrelin to back off, and your appetite retreats. If you can't grab a grapefruit during your morning break, reach for a stick of gum instead. 
 
Craving Crusher No. 7: Brush your teeth. This final trick sounds silly, but it actually works. When you brush your teeth after each meal, you're less likely to eat something it later on. It's a mind trick. There's something about not wanting to soil the just-cleaned minty freshness of your mouth. To prolong the appetite-slaying power of a clean mouth, use mouthwash. 

(MORE: How to Keep Your Teeth for Life

The appetite is a powerful force, but you can own the hunger pangs that you face each day. Instead of capitulating to the cravings, face them with these powerful techniques. You'll discover that you're eating only as much as you need to, feeling better and getting a whole lot healthier in the process.