Food is one of the basic human needs and, for most of us, one of the greatest pleasures in life. Unfortunately, some people find it difficult to control their food cravings. This can happen for many reasons, including hormonal fluctuations, stress, or lack of essential nutrients.
In this article you will learn ten tips to have more self control with food and make your diet healthier. If you don’t have time to read the whole article, you can skip to the summary at the end, otherwise keep reading.
1. Take care of your mental health
Surprisingly, many food cravings are caused by mental health issues, whether it’s anxiety, low self esteem, depression, or any other mood disorder. Stress and burnout are also linked to food cravings and overeating.
When frustrated or unhappy, some of us turn to food for comfort: eating the food we love gives us pleasure, and a temporary dopamine high. Food is linked to survival, so when we eat food — high calorie meals in particular — our brain tells us we are doing a good job regardless of whether it’s healthy or not.
If you want to have better self control with food, it’s important that you take care of your mental health first. Also: see food as fuel, not as a way to change or suppress your emotions. Though eating is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, it shouldn’t be some kind of drug to feel happier.
2. Reduce or eliminate stress
Those who can’t control their food cravings usually believe that they lack willpower. Though in some cases it may be true, you need to realize that even the most disciplined person in the world has a very finite willpower.
This means that our ability to make the right decisions, practice self control, and resist temptations (of any kind) cannot be available all the time. This is the reason why you should do anything you can to either reduce or eliminate stressful events and situations in your life.
Stress will eat up your willpower, and when you don’t have any willpower left, it will be easier to give in to your cravings. So reduce stress as much as possible; try some simple meditation techniques; exercise or take a walk, ideally every day; sleep as much as possible; plan some me-time; and practice relaxing hobbies.
3. Control your blood sugar
Studies have shown that as your blood sugar decreases, blood flow to your brain decreases as well, so you will have less willpower. This is why it’s so important to keep your blood sugar stable, and avoid massive spikes.
To do this, try to eat more frequently: eat smaller, healthier meals throughout the day. Also, avoid simple carbohydrates (such as candy, soda, and breakfast cereal) because they will raise your blood sugar level very quickly, and make it drop suddenly as well.
Eating more fiber will also help, as fiber slows down carbohydrate digestion and absorption. Studies have found that some supplements including vitamin D, cinnamon, and magnesium, can help you control blood sugar as well.
4. Avoid dairy
Some foods are more addictive than others, and should be eliminated from your diet if you find it hard to resist food cravings. The first food you should probably cut out of your diet is dairy.
Dairy is bad in general; I have written an entire article which explains why dairy is bad and the twelve reasons you should avoid it (you can read the full article here). But besides being unhealthy, it’s also extremely addictive.
Casein — the main protein component in milk — triggers the same receptors that morphine would land on, thus making us calmer, and slightly euphoric. Remember, dairy isn’t just cheese or butter. It can be found in many foods including pizza, cookies, cake, and some ice cream flavors. Luckily, there are many delicious dairy-free alternatives.
5. Avoid salt and spicy food
These are addictive because they stimulate, or irritate, our taste buds unlike any other foods. Salt seems to be particularly addictive because when human beings were cavemen, salt was very scarce; and even though we are not cavemen anymore, our brain still tells us to eat as much salt as possible.
Besides salt and spicy food, you should also avoid processed food. It’s poor in nutrients, high in calorie, and contains way too many added ingredients and chemicals.
To give you an idea, it is estimated that over half of the food sold in most supermarkets has added sugar in it. This includes salty food as well. Food companies know that sugar is addictive and tastes good, so they often add it to their products.
6. Focus on your why
Negative self talk, obsessing over your food cravings, and being demoralized is not going to help you change. A better way to have self control with food is to focus on all the reasons why you want to be healthier.
If you improve your diet and consequently your health, how would you feel? Would you have more energy, vitality, and happiness? Would you feel more confident? Would you be really proud of yourself? Focus on the why and it will be a lot easier to practice self control.
You can’t be great if you don’t feel great. Make exceptional health your number one priority.— Robin Sharma
7. Don’t buy unhealthy food
If you remove all temptations, it will be much easier to stick to a healthy diet. So next time you go to the grocery store, make a grocery list in advance and don’t buy unhealthy products. If there is a food you absolutely love, try and replace it with a healthier alternative.
When you only keep healthy food around the house, even if you do overeat it will be ten times better than overeating junk food.
The problem with unhealthy food is that not only does it contain too many calories, as well as too much sugar and fat; it also misses the nutrients that are essential to our body. So even after eating a big portion of unhealthy food, your body will still be hungry, and crave more of it.
8. Try mindful eating
Do you eat your meal too quickly? Do you listen to music, watch TV, check the notifications on your phone as you consume your food? Mindful eating can help you slow down, and pay more attention to what you eat and how you eat it.
Some people tend to eat compulsively, usually without realizing it. If that’s you, you may want to try mindful eating — the practice of being more aware of your hunger, eating slowly, and focusing on the food without any external distractions.
When you eat, take your time; pay attention to the smell, the colors, the texture, and the different flavors of your meal. Pay attention to the feelings of your body. Ignore your phone and anything else that may distract you. This will prevent you from eating impulsively.
9. Plan your meals
When you plan your meals in advance, you already know what you are going to eat, so it will be less likely for you to choose unhealthy food. You can cook the food yourself or have it delivered to you.
There are a lot of snacks that don’t require any cooking but are still 100 percent healthy (unless you overeat them, of course), including nuts, seeds, fruit, salads, vegan yogurt, and rice cakes.
Planning your meals in advance will remove all the unnecessary stress of choosing what to eat, and will make it easier for you to choose healthier options. Some people like to set aside a couple hours on Sunday night to prepare all or most of the meals for the following week.
Just like anything else in life: the more you practice self control with food, and the easier it will be — mentally, but also physically. Your body will get used to healthier food choices and will learn to crave food, or certain ingredients, only when it truly needs them.
For example, as you reduce the amount of sugar and salt in your diet, your body will gradually learn that it is not necessary to consume large quantities of them; as you increase the intake of fruit and vegetables, your body will have more vitamins and minerals and feel satiated more quickly.
Practicing self control with food is hard only in the beginning, so whenever you overeat, or eat the wrong foods, don’t get discouraged (as we’ve seen, guilt and negative self talk don’t help you in any way).
How to have self control with food: summary
- Take care of your mental health; see food as fuel, not as a way to change or suppress your emotions
- Reduce stress as much as possible because it quickly eats up your willpower
- Eat frequently and avoid simple carbs to keep your blood sugar stable
- Avoid dairy: it’s bad for you and it contains casein, which is very addictive
- Avoid processed food and anything that is too salty or too spicy
- Do not engage in negative self talk and focus on all the reasons why you want to have more self control
- Do not buy unhealthy food at the grocery store to eliminate possible temptations
- Practice mindful eating: when you eat, take your time and focus all your attention on your meal; avoid distractions such as your phone
- Plan your meals in advance so you already know what you are going to eat
- Practice self control: the longer you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes
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