10 Tips on Combatting Food Cravings from the Adler School’s Dr. Michele Kerulis


 On Everything Healthy TV,  Michele Kerulis, Ed.D., LCPC, CC-AASP, Program Director of the Adler School Counseling Psychology, Sport and Health Psychology Specialization program tonight discussed “Food Addictions, Food Cravings, and Healthy Eating” and gave five tips on how you can combat food cravings. Here are the tips she offered, plus five more. Dr. Kerulis is also a Certified Consultant, Association of Applied Sport Psychology, and President Elect of the Illinois Counseling Association. 

1.     Commit to a healthy mindset. Make a conscious decision to change unhealthy self-defeating thoughts into healthy, positive, self-promoting thoughts. Try thinking “This will be a challenging change” instead of “I can’t do this.” Positive thoughts will help you reach your goals. A positive mind-set can lead to less stress. A 2011 edition of the Harvard Health Letter reminded us that stress is associated with increased cravings; a positive mindset can also be associated with less cravings.

2.     Eat on a regular basis. Eating on a regular basis will help regulate your body, and train your body to utilize food as fuel. Plan to eat healthy snacks throughout the day and pre-plan your meals to ensure that you have a balanced diet. Focus your energies on having a healthy lifestyle most of the week (6 out of 7 days is about 86%). Work on engaging in healthy activities–positive thoughts, well-balanced meals and snacks, and exercise–most days of the week. It is okay to treat yourself to your favorite not-so-healthy foods once in a while. If you know that you will be attending a party or going out to dinner, try to be aware of what will be served so that you can plan for moderate portions. For example, read the online menu of the restaurant where you will dine to pre-plan your meal.

3.     Exercise. Exercise can help you change your body in many ways. Exercise boosts mood and reduces risks of diseases. Create an exercise routine that is fun, challenging, and practical. Consider working with a personal trainer, going to a group fitness class, or learning yoga. Learn more by reviewing the 2011 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) exercise guidelines.

4.     Get enough sleep. According to A. M. Landis’s research team, less sleep is associated with more cravings. The research team also found that less sleep resulted in higher rates of mid-day and nighttime cravings for high carbohydrate, fat, and sugary foods. Lack of sleep, and even daytime naps, are associated with changes in the brain chemicals leptin and ghrelin that are related to hunger. A 2012 Harvard Health Watch reported that adults should try to obtain 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, and  Landis said that adolescents should try to obtain at least 9 hours of sleep. Set a sleep schedule, practice good sleep hygiene, and try to avoid daytime naps.

5.     Change one thing at a time. Harvard Women’s Health Watch (2012) reminds people that “change is a process, not an event.” The process of change takes place over time and takes specific effort. Change one thing at a time and concentrate on that change. When a single change is made, other changes can fall into place. Setbacks are a normal part of the change process. When you experience a setback, evaluate the situation and continue moving towards your goals.

6.     Talk to friends. Social support is a key to success. Talking to friends about your healthy changes can help people stay on track. Share your goals with others to increase accountability. Encourage your friends to engage with you in healthy activities and healthy meals.

7.     Set SMART goals.  Jeff Janssen, sport psychology consultant, says that people should set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. Setting SMART goals creates a blueprint for success. Set short-term and long-term goals to help yourself continue to develop motivation for change.

8.     Reward yourself with non-food items. Reward yourself when you reach a goal. Non-food items such as a manicure, new workout clothes, or a vacation can be a great reminder of how hard you have worked to achieve your goals. You can also reward yourself by setting additional SMART goals that will continue to lead to success.

9.     Eating for life.  The word “diet” is often associated with restrictions. Instead of thinking about restrictions, think about diet as the fuel that will provide your body with energy to live a long life. Talk with your physician and a dietitian to create a life-long diet that is individually tailored to your metabolism.

 10.  Learn your statistics (height, weight, metabolic rate, VO2 max, heart rate zones). Knowing your statistics will provide you with baseline numbers that will provide guidelines for improved health. Height and weight are used to calculate body mass index (BMI). BMI is a standard measurement of body composition; people who are especially fit can use measures other than BMI to determine health. Metabolic testing will provide caloric output that is needed for your body to sustain basic life function and caloric output during exercise. This can be helpful when planning diet and exercise. VO2 max and heart rate zones will help you plan the intensity, duration, and frequency of exercise.