Want to beat cravings, feel healthier and eat less without even trying?
Well, of course – we all do – but it’s harder than it sounds! Whether your aim is to lose weight, get fitter or simply to stop mindlessly shovelling in biscuits, bad habits form quickly, and it’s not easy to fight cravings and control your portion sizes, especially at certain times of year.
Although there are so many diets out there that do work, wouldn’t it be nice to simply make some small changes that will help you to lose weight too? While no one can physically remove that packet of crisps from your hand or stop you calling for pizza, there are some handy tricks and tweaks that can help you take control and avoid getting to that stage in the first place.
Here are 22 healthy hacks for beating cravings and eating less, without even noticing. Welcome back, willpower!
1. Instagram your meals
It sounds bizarre, but apparently Instagramming what you eat can help stop food binges. Research suggests that taking a photo of your meal, just before you eat it, encourages you to choose healthy alternatives and also make smaller portions. When everyone can see what you’re eating, you don’t want it to be bad for you. Surely it can’t be that easy?
2. Use your non-dominant hand
Strange but true – eating with your left hand if you’re right handed (and vice versa) really can help you to eat less automatically.
During a question and answer session on Quora about top life hacks, Brandon Nguyen, founder of healthy living blog ChillPill, explained, ‘One simple way to eat more deliberately and slowly is to force yourself to eat with your non-dominant hand. It might be too much to do this for every meal, but trying it for dinner to start since that’s when we tend to eat the most.
‘The reason for this is that it takes more time to eat, which gives your stomach a chance to signal your brain that you’re full.’ Makes sense when you think about it, no?
3. Eat double breakfast
This may sound counterproductive, but eating extra food at breakfast time could actually help you to lose weight overall. According to a study conducted on a pool of 200 schoolchildren by researchers at Yale and the University of Connecticut, having a small snack first thing, followed by a ‘proper’ breakfast later in the morning, could actually help to satisfy you, meaning you ultimately eat less throughout the day.
However, it’s important not to eat two full-size meals and expect to see the benefit – portion sizes still need to be controlled, with experts suggesting a piece of fruit or a small handful of nuts as the first serving, and a healthy, protein-rich option for seconds.
‘The double breakfast can be good for people trying to lose weight, as it can stop them snacking throughout the morning and bingeing over lunch, but it needs to be done carefully. Eggs, bran, porridge and avocado are great ways to keep you full until your lunch break,’ nutritionist Gabrielle Maston told the Daily Mail.
4. Drink your chocolate
Even with the best will in the world, most of us are likely to succumb to the lure of chocolate and then end up eating the whole bar when we promised ourselves it would only be a single square…
So instead of eating your chocolate in solid form, make it into a drink – which will last longer and fill up your stomach more, while satisfying your craving for the taste.
Add a large tablespoon of organic cocoa powder into a cup and mix into a paste with small amount of water or milk, depending on which you prefer. If you fill it two thirds of the way and top it up with hot water this will also slow down how quickly you are able to drink it – another great way to trick your body into feeling fuller. Add honey or stevia if it still lacks sweetness.
5. Call a snack ‘a meal’
Studies from the University of New York have shown that those who consider a large snack as a ‘meal’ instead of a stop-gap between meals ate nearly 90% less at mealtimes.
If you tend to get home from work and snack on a slice of toast (or two) start rethinking about this as a meal, not just a quick snack. This is likely to mean you cook and eat less later on in the evening, rather than still feeling entitled to a ‘whole’ dinner.
6. Brush your teeth after dinner
Even if you don’t plan on going to bed for another couple of hours, brushing your teeth is a great way to trick your mind into not craving anything sweet in that dreaded post-dinner lull.
Whilst you go and recline on the sofa and your mind normally wanders to what sweet treats you have lurking in the cupboard – having that minty flavour in your mouth will make the idea far less appealing. Who wants to eat something with the taste of toothpaste still on your tongue?
7. Eat more pulses
According to a new study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, just adding one serving of pulses to your daily diet will help you shed a few pounds, even without changing anything else in your eating habits.
It may sound too easy to be true, but the reason is actually quite simple. Pulses like lentils, peas or beans are a great source of protein and fiber, so they’ll help keep you full for longer, which consequentely will make you snack less and consume less calories. Participants in the study lost an average of 0.75lbs over six weeks, just by consuming three-quarters of a cupful of pulses every day.
Dr Russell de Souza, lead author of the study, said: ‘This new study fits well with our previous work, which found that pulses increased the feeling of fullness by 31 per cent, which may indeed result in less food intake.’ Time to get those old cans of peas out of the cupboard!
8. Use ‘the crunch effect’
How often do you eat with the TV or radio blaring in the background? If you’re anything like us, the answer is probably more often than not, but new research suggests that switching off from external sound could be the key to eating less.
Researchers at Brigham Young University showed people will naturally eat less if the background noise is quiet than they will if the noise is loud, because tuning into the sounds of your own chewing or crunching helps you to focus on what you’re consuming and realise when you are full.
‘If people are more focused on the sound the food makes, it could reduce consumption,’ says Ryan Elder, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at BYU’s Marriott School of Management. ‘When you mask the sound of consumption, like when you watch TV while eating, you take away one of those senses and it may cause you to eat more than you would normally. The effects many not seem huge-one less pretzel-but over the course of a week, month, or year, it could really add up.’
9. Make a mantra
The key to making good choices could really be mind over matter! A recent study published in journal Self & Identity split a group of 124 women into three groups – the first was given basic nutritional information, the second given no information at all, and the third asked to write statements that linked good nutrition with their identity, such as ‘I am a healthy eater’ and ‘I am a fruit eater.’
The women who made the statements ate significantly more healthy food than their counterparts (more than they had to as part of the study) and stuck to their new habits for the entire course of the research.
To give this a try yourself, identify the vice you want to change – it could be not drinking fizzy drinks, eating more fruit or wholegrains, or liking vegetables, for instance. Then turn this into a positive statement that you repeat daily, or as often as you feel you need it.
10. Flavour your water with fruit
We all know we should be drinking approximately 2 litres of water every day, but it can’t half get boring. Can’t we just have a glass of wine instead? It is technically liquid…
So to make it more enjoyable we love the idea of adding fruit to our water – it not only infuses the h20 with flavour but could be helping curb those cravings too! Celebrities like Khloe Kardashian have spoken about being ‘obsessed’ with tools such as the Aqua Zinger which grinds the fruit and then lets the juices infuse your water.
According to nutritionists, water infusions contain around 20% of the nutrients in fruit juice, but with only minimal fructose (aka sugar!) content. And keeping hydrated is one of the number one ways to curb our cravings as the brain often confuses the body’s signals for dehydration as hunger. Not only does it encourage us to stay hydrated but the small burst of sugar goes a long way to satisfy those 4pm chocolate cravings.
11. Try tapping
Here’s one you probably haven’t heard of before! Scientists asked a group of obese patients to try three 30-second intervention tactics, including tapping their forehead, tapping their toe on the floor, or staring at a blank wall. Although all of the techniques had a positive effect on their cravings, the forehead tapping was shown to be most effective. ‘Engaging the motor cortex to create movement makes the task more complicated and so it requires more work in the brain, and thus, more distraction,’ study author Richard Weil explains.
12. Look at restaurant menus online
You might think that reading lists of calorific food would have you giving into temptation almost instantly, but deciding what to eat before you reach the restaurant can help you eat less without even thinking about it. On average, we eat 33% more dining out with one other person, 47% more dining out with two other people and a staggering 58% more with three other people – but if you choose a sensible option from the menu before you arrive, you’ll be more likely to stick to your guns and avoid outside influence.
13. Pick up the phone
Often when you’re craving a treat, all you need is a distraction – and a phone call to a friend or family member can be the perfect way to divert your attention from that packet of biscuits! Keep them on the phone for around 30 minutes, as this should give you enough time for the urge to pass.
14. Dress your plate
Research has shown that we’re far more likely to eat (and enjoy!) healthy meals if they’re presented in a way that we find appealing. When putting together a salad or other healthy dish, imagine you’re going to take a picture of your plate before you eat it, and you want it to look the best it possibly can. You’ll find yourself more satisfied by the meal, simply because it was more attractive to you when you started it.
15. And use a smaller one!
Modern dinner plates have become larger and larger, to the point where even a hearty meal looks meagre when piled into the centre. Using a smaller plate will help you to control your portion size, and make your food feel more filling – one study even showed that a shift from 12-inch plates to 10-inch plates resulted in a 22% decrease in calories eaten!
16. Start snacking (healthily)
Cutting out snacks isn’t always the answer – in fact, having a healthy snack 20-30 minutes before a meal, or a food-based activity like grocery shopping will automatically help you to make better choices. It’s all down to the snack you choose though – according to research, people who ate an apple before shopping bought 28% more fruit and veg than people who ate a biscuit.
17. Drink more
You hear it all the time, but unless you’re drinking the recommended amount of H20 every single day, your body is probably thirsty rather than hungry. Find out how much water you should be drinking, and get a bottle or container that’s the equivalent ssize. Don’t go to bed til the bottle is empty.
18. Soak up the sun
Apparently, people who experience moderately bright sunshine in the morning weigh less on average than those who get most of their exposure later in the day. Really can’t face dragging yourself outside? A well-lit room can have the same effect!
19. Work out what you’re really craving
Craving chocolate? Your body wants magnesium, which you can also get from a healthy serving of nuts. Craving cheese? Your body needs fatty acids and calcium, also found in flaxseed, chia and green veg. Sometimes it’s not about avoiding food – it’s about working out what your body needs, not what you want, and supplying it.
20. Keep a food diary
Seeeing all of your intake written out in front of you can shock you into action – if you’re a mindless eater, suddenly having to document every handful of cereal or leftover snaffled from the kids will make you think twice. One study even showed that those who kept a food diary for 6 days a week lost twice as much as those who only kept one for one day or less. If you can’t be bothered with pen and paper taking up space in your handbag, take pictures on your phone and upload them to a Facebook or Instagram account instead.
21. Cut down screen time
According to research, people who played a computer game whilst they ate remembered less of their meal, and felt less full – and you probably find that the same is true if you eat in front of the telly, or whilst scrolling through your phone.
Enforce a device ban once your food is ready, and really focus on enjoying what’s in front of you – it’ll keep cravings at bay and leave you far more satisfied in the long run.
22. Break the habit
If you find yourself reaching for an unhealthy snack at the same time every day, change your routine completely by going for a walk or engaging in another activity at this time. It only takes a couple of weeks to break a habit, so repeating this change could result in your 3pm cake craving disappearing altogether!
23. Reward yourself
One of the main downfalls when it comes to cutting down on unhealthy food is rewarding yourself for your hard work with that exact unhealthy food! Change the way you look at a treat – instead of a slab of chocolate, it could be a new top, a trip to the nail bar, an afternoon in front of the telly or a bath with expensive bubbles.
Of course, a cheat meal every now and then isn’t a big deal – it’s when you’re relying on it for gratification that the viscious cycle continues!
How do you beat food cravings? Leave us a comment in the box below!