Diets are hard. No question about it. Just when you think you’re finally on track to making yourself look and feel better, those nagging food cravings start to veer you offside. But guess what? There are ways to stop these temptations from ruining all your hard work.

The first thing you need to recognize when using food to improve your mental and physical health, is that you’re almost always going to get cravings. But these are not to be confused with regular fatigue. Cravings are caused by external influences, like stress or sadness. You may feel the urge to binge on sweet treats or fried foods, which are the worst foods for your mental health. They’re also extremely unhealthy for you overall, so it’s important that you learn to control these cravings.

Here are five tips for you to beat them once and for all.

Hands ravaging a box of chocolates
Image by Gratisography

Identify your triggers – then avoid them

Since there are various factors that can trigger food cravings, understanding your specific triggers can help you regulate your appetite more effectively. Try to find out the places, things, or even people who make you want to eat more. If your mother-in-law makes you want to eat an entire cake as comfort, distance yourself from her more often. Traffic makes you crave chips? Try to leave before or after the rush hour. If your messy house stresses you out to the point of ravaging the fridge, release some anxiety by tidying it up a bit. By knowing your triggers, you can find a way around them and avoid indulging in the unhealthy cravings they cause. 

Include lean proteins in every meal

You should always include a source of protein in every meal for a balanced diet. If you’re a meat eater, then a grilled chicken breast is a great source of protein. If you’re not into meat, then lentils, beans, and even broccoli are equally nutritious choices. Lean protein foods are known to suppress appetite, allowing you to eat less. Including lean proteins in your meals will make you feel full for a longer period and even regulate your blood sugar levels. It’s a win-win. 

Manage your stress and anxiety 

This is easier said than done, but mental health conditions are a top cause of unhealthy food cravings. Learning better coping methods is a great way to manage your mental wellbeing, and also your appetite. This may be done by using treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on overcoming your negative thoughts which are most likely leading to those cravings. 

Get enough sleep

If you’ve ever stayed up late watching a movie or working, then you’ll know how you tend to snack until the later hours. The longer you’re awake, the more you’ll eat. For a healthy sleeping pattern, try to get in 6 – 8 hours of shut-eye every night. The most recommended hours to get into bed are between 9 – 10 PM, it may take a few nights to adjust, but it can be done. Remember to unwind before bed too – nobody can get to sleep with stress on their mind. Take a relaxing bath with scented candles, read some poetry or a comforting short story, drink chamomile tea. Do whatever relaxes you. 

Exercise 3-4 times a week

Exercise is beneficial for you in all sorts of ways. It has been shown to boost mental clarity and even intelligence. It also helps you regulate your weight and sweat out toxins your body builds up every day. However, certain types of exercise can increase your appetite. Weight training causes your body to call for increased amounts of protein to supplement muscle growth. Swimming has also been known to make you hungrier. But, unless you’re looking to bulk up, you can do other exercises which lessen your appetite. Yoga, pilates, cardio, and martial arts are all great ways to get your body moving without wanting to eat an entire cow. They also help lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression, so it’s definitely worth a try. 

Now that you have the 101 on how to beat those unhealthy food cravings, take a few minutes now to write down how you’ll incorporate them into your day tomorrow. Will you get up at 7 AM to stretch? Are you going to include protein in your next meal? Even going to sleep one hour earlier than usual is a start. Don’t feel like you need to do all of these at once. Every step is progress!