Food Cravings: Saying 'No' to Junk Food

Cursing Your Cravings

Curing Your Cravings

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

Do you get cravings -- that absolute need to have some chocolate right now? Are there times when you just have to have some fries? If cravings are your weakness, take a look at these tips to help you handle the cravings in a healthier way, from WebMD's "Recipe Doctor," Elaine Magee, who joined us on May 11, 2004.

  1. Bulk reduces appetite. There's a lot of evidence that bulk, or fiber, reduces appetite. So bulk up your meals and snacks with higher-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
  2. Cool off your mealtime appetite with a bowl of hot soup Broth-based soups, when given as a first course, are shown to decrease the amount of calories we eat at that meal.
  3. Start your meal off with a low-calorie salad You'll help lower the amount of calories you eat in the entire meal. Let me give you one great example: If you get the side salad at Wendy's and use half a packet of their reduced-fat ranch dressing, your snack/salad will come to around 85 calories, 4 grams of fat, almost 3 grams of protein, and 3 1/2 grams of fiber.
  4. An orange or grapefruit a day ... helps keep your appetite away Research studies show that low-calorie plant foods rich in soluble fiber, such as citrus, help us feel full faster and also keep blood sugar steady, which can translate into better appetite control. Of the 20 most consumed fruits and vegetables, oranges and grapefruits represent the top two in terms of fiber.
  5. Include a couple of low-fat dairy servings over your day Eating a few lower-fat dairy servings is a great way to beef up our intake of two proteins that have been suggested appetite suppressers (whey and casein). But a recent study found that whey, which is the liquid portion in milk, had a stronger impact on reducing appetite compared with casein. So to note, lower-fat dairy can be one of our better snack options, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or even having some fruit with some reduced-fat cheese. One of my personal favorites is to have a pear, which, by the way, has 4 or 5 grams of fiber, with some skim or light Jarlsberg cheese.
  6. Variety, variety, variety A little bit of variety in our mealtime and snacks is good and even healthful, but several courses served during a meal can lead you into calorie overload. It helps to serve small portions on your plate, because studies have shown the bigger the portions served, the more we tend to eat. For example, for snacking you don't want to sit down with a whole box of crackers or a whole bag of chips, even if they are reduced-fat. Put a reasonable serving into a bowl, and then that's it.
  7. Avoid high-fat, high-calorie salads like the plague Eating a high-calorie salad can encourage us to eat more calories at the meal than if we ate no salad at all. People in a recent study that ate a large high-calorie salad, 400 calories, ate 17% more calories overall (200 calories) at that meal, and people who ate a small high-calorie salad, 200 calories, still ate 8% more calories at the meal.
  8. Enjoy soybeans as part of your meal or snack sometimes Soybeans offer quality vegetable protein and fat along with carbohydrate. A recent rat study in Japan discovered that a particular component in soybeans showed definite appetite suppressant qualities. One of my favorite satisfying afternoon snacks is endamame, which are basically green soybeans in pods or not in pods. You can get them either way. You microwave them, keep them chilled in the refrigerator, and then pull them out as a snack. If you want to eat it hot as a snack, just heat up the shelled endamame soybeans and heat them up in the microwave with a little bit of no-trans margarine and freshly ground pepper.
  9. Balance the carbohydrates in your meal with some fat (hopefully better fats but not too much) When we eat some fat the hormone leptin is released from fat cells. This is a good thing when we are talking about small to moderate amounts of fat.
  10. Slow down, you're eating too fast It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is officially "comfortable" and that you should stop eating. When you eat slowly your brain has a chance to catch up with your stomach and you are more likely not to overeat. This is why starting out with smaller portions can be very helpful. If you start out with big portions, by the time 20 minutes rolls around, it's too late; you've already filled your stomach.

Are apples full of soluble fiber? MAGEE:
Great question. Let's talk about soluble fiber, because it's one of my keys to healthy snacking. It really does help make snacks more satisfying. Soluble fiber leaves the stomach slowly, making us feel satisfied longer. Here's a list of possible snack ingredients that are high in soluble fiber:

  • Peas and beans
  • Oats and oat bran
  • Barley
  • Certain fruits (apples, peaches, citrus, mango, plums, kiwi, pears, and berries)
  • Certain vegetables (artichokes, celery root, sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips, acorn squash, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, green peas, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, and beets)

What about eating an apple without the skin? MAGEE:
You are still going to get soluble fiber but you'll get more fiber if you eat the skin.

OK, so Elaine you told us about one of your keys to healthy snacking, what are some more? MAGEE:
  • Choose snacks that offer nutritional value. Every food choice we make should count toward vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals -- all the good things our bodies need -- when possible.
  • It's all about fiber. We talked about soluble fiber before, but fiber in general is a really good thing to include in our snacks. And generally when we choose higher-fiber snacks we tend to avoid junk food.
  • Balanced snacks. Balance your carbohydrates with some protein and some heart-healthy fats, because this tends to give us sustained energy over several hours.
  • Portion size. Keep reminding yourself about eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're comfortable. Start with reasonable portion sizes and give your stomach a chance to tell your brain that it's comfortable. Notice I didn't say when you're full. The key is to eat until you're comfortable.
  • Whole grain snacks. New research suggests that people who eat whole grains have the lowest incidence of diabetes. Whole grains appear to increase the efficiency of insulin so that less is required to metabolize the sugar (carbohydrate).
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables. Not only are these fiber choices, but bottom line, we do not eat enough fruits and vegetables in this country, so we need to eat them every chance we get. Getting them in snacks is a great start.

Let me list just a few fruits, for example, that have a low glycemic load, which makes them great choices:

  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit and oranges
  • Kiwi
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Cantaloupe
  • Strawberries
I find coffee to be an appetite suppressant, yet many diets say that it makes you gain weight because it raises blood sugar levels. Is this true, and if so, how does that work? MAGEE:
Many stimulants are appetite suppressants, which would make caffeine potentially one of them. I'm speaking mostly about nicotine, which is definitely an appetite suppressant. I think, though, that caffeine can be a little tricky, because for some people who are sensitive to caffeine it can actually create a feeling of low blood sugar, which would potentially drive that person to go get a quick-fix snack. This is exactly what happens to me when I have caffeine. Now, aside from caffeine, if we look at just coffee, it is a beverage and it's possible that it could slightly decrease appetite, because it's filling your stomach with liquid. My guess is decaf coffee might be the better choice for this. But keep in mind we're talking about straight coffee and not fancy coffee drinks that can be very high in fat and calories. I'm talking 400 calories in some of the fancy drinks, and 24 grams of fat in some of them. That's off the charts, people. MEMBER:
Starbucks is going to make an already overweight nation into an obese nation. MAGEE:
Because we love our coffee. MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time. Do you have any final comments on cravings and healthy snacking, Elaine? MAGEE:
Just stick with the basics we talked about here. Really try to identify hunger from other eating cues. Keep exercising, because that really helps us in terms of true hunger and appetite, and exercise is also a good distraction during the time we're exercising from eating, raises our metabolic rate, and helps us feel better about ourselves in general. For more information on snacking and great snack recipes, check out the new edition of my best selling book, Tell Me What to Eat if I have Diabetes . There's also a whole chapter of smoothie recipes in another one of my cookbooks called, The Flax Cookbook . MODERATOR:
Thanks for joining us, members, and thanks to Elaine Magee for being our guest. You can also find Elaine at the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, a subscription service full of great support, advice, and expert guidance, based on sound nutrition for safe, effective weight loss. It's not a fad diet that will cause you to gain all the weight back as soon as you return to your old habits. Lose weight and improve your health with the experts at WebMD.


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Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine May 3, 2018

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