How to Conquer Food Cravings

Curb your lust for unhealthy foods with these tips.


Here's a sense of what you're up against. When cued, about half of obese people show "excessive activation of the amygdala and certain neural structures that are part of the emotional structure of the brain," Kessler says. That statistic drops to 30 percent for people who are overweight and 20 percent for healthy individuals. In other words, your weight may influence the intensity of your cravings. But no one is immune.

As discussed, the cycle fires up with a cue. What follows is arousal, then increased attention, desire, and, ultimately, consumption, capped off perhaps by regret, explains Kessler, noting that consumption is rarely as good as imagined. The more often this loop takes place, the more entrenched the neural pathways become, and the tougher it is to resist your particular siren call.

Forget forgetting it. Studies in thought suppression show that trying not to think about something guarantees that the subject will dominate your thoughts, empowering your brain's default craving loop. To conquer the craving, conquer the cycle.

[See: 10 Things That Can Sabotage Your Weight Loss]

Kessler says the best solution is to substitute the want with an even bigger want. In his case, thinking about how much he wants to get home from the airport helps him bypass the dumplings. Perhaps you'd love a pint of Ben & Jerry's after a breakup. But if you can convince yourself that the best revenge is to look hot in your bikini, you may just get yourself to cardio kickboxing and visualize punching your ex instead.

"You can't control whether the craving comes up, but you can get better at responding to it," says Gearhardt.

While these tricks will help, know that as long as you are alive, you will never stop craving, nor would you want to. These are the same faculties involved in learning, memory, and motivation, Kessler says. Seek professional help, however, if food cravings become food addiction—a serious illness that erodes the ability to make healthy choices, says Gearhardt.

Otherwise, congratulations! You're well within the bell curve of normal behavior.

With living comes craving. But a little self-awareness can go a long way toward empowering you to control your cravings.