Whether it’s snacking on chips while watching TV, that tub of ice cream that empties just a bit too quickly, or an impulsive trip to McDonald’s, we all enjoy guilty pleasures. Although your favourite unhealthy foods can easily tempt you, understanding the ABCs of food cravings can help you crush cravings before they get out of control.

food cravings

A Is for Antecedents: What You Do Before You Indulge

When you eat something delicious, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which initiates the brain’s reward system and makes you feel good. In other words, enjoying your favourite food isn’t just in your mind; it’s a chemical process that occurs in your body. This reward response encourages you to repeat activates you enjoy, and your brain eventually begins to release dopamine even when you do an activity you commonly associate with the food.

For example, if you love to eat chips while watching TV, your brain will release dopamine anytime you watch TV, which will then cause you to crave chips. Understanding what actions trigger your cravings and resisting the temptation can help you weaken this unhealthy reward pathway and ultimately crush your cravings. With enough discipline, you can reprogram your brain by being conscious of your choices and forming new habits.

B Is for Behaviour: How You Respond to a Guilty Pleasure

The first step to overcoming addictions is admitting you have a problem, right? Identifying what your indulgences are can help you improve your eating habits. Here are some suggestions for finding healthful substitutes that will crush cravings:

  • Chips – Find baked, low-sodium crackers and pair it with hummus. Are they whole wheat crackers? Even better.
  • Ice cream – Chop up a banana and freeze it. Blend it with some berries and Greek yogurt to make a healthy smoothie. You can also make “ice cream” with frozen bananas as a single ingredient.
  • Cookies – Mix two mashed bananas with a cup of rolled oats. Form the mixture into cookies and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. You can even add a few dark chocolate chips into the mix if you’re feeling indulgent.
  • “Snackers” and “grazers” (you know who you are) – Try substituting your unhealthy snacks with small berries, nuts, or even original Cheerios.

C Is for Consequences: How Well You Understand the Impact of Your Choices

Understanding the consequences of eating something will help you resist the temptation of your cravings. Always take a minute to consider what you plan on eating. How many calories is it? How much fat does it have? How much sugar? How much sodium? Most of us intentionally avoid looking at food labels because we’re afraid of what we’ll see.

However, being aware of what you are about to put into your body is a great way to form a habit of conscious eating. To put the information into perspective, calculate how many minutes you would have to exercise to burn off your snack. Also consider using a health app on your smartphone to help you make better choices by calculating calories and other nutritional data as you go.

Forming Good Habits Takes Time and Conscious Effort

It takes at least a few weeks to form a new habit. Don’t expect to reprogram your brain overnight. It will take a bit of work and persistence, but over time, your cravings will diminish. In the meantime, remember the ABCs when you feel indulgent:

A – Antecedents
B – Behaviour
C – Consequences