Can you learn to crave healthy foods? Experts say, "Yes!"

  • 2 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could learn to crave the healthy foods that support your weight-loss efforts? It is possible to rewire your brain to change the types of foods you long for.

Crave healthy foods

Try these top strategies for learning to crave healthy foods

You’ve been going nonstop all day with work and family demands. So chances are, you will crave the crunchiness of chips, not the crunchiness of celery sticks after work. But what if you could alter the kinds of foods you desire? Our dietitians show you ways to flip eating behaviors and start craving nutritious noshes instead.

Identify what you truly need

Cravings for a specific food aren’t usually related to physical hunger or nutrient needs and are more often associated with an emotional need. Perhaps a parent provided ice cream as a source of comfort when you were growing up, and this became your go-to when feeling upset.

If you are actually looking for comfort, relaxation, or companionship, how else could you meet these needs besides food alone? Could you focus on the experience of eating by setting a pleasant environment or enjoying healthy food with good company? If you realize that what you really crave is feeling nurtured, think about how choosing healthy foods is one of the best ways to care for yourself.

Manage stress

Chronic stress triggers food cravings, leading us to yearn for fatty, sweet, and salty foods, not vegetables. Thank our basic survival instincts for leading us to seek a high-calorie energy source to fight or flee. Today, most stress does not involve life or death choices to survive. Learn to identify when stress triggers a craving and seek alternative ways to soothe yourself–walking, talking to a friend, or soaking in the tub.

Link healthier foods with a relaxation response

See if you can harness the powers of conditioning to crave healthy foods when you are stressed (think Pavlov’s dogs, who would salivate when hearing a bell once associated with a food treat). In fact, a 2021 study found that participants who paired eating fresh fruit with a stress-reducing exercise experienced better moods when they ate fruit in the future. Essentially, the fruit became a “comfort food” to study participants since it was connected with a sense of relaxation.

Don’t make treats off-limits

Making your favorite treats off limits can actually increase their desirability, a reason why overly restrictive eating plans can backfire. Instead, remind yourself that any food can fit into your plan. You will feel more in charge even if you indulge a little. After all, removing guilt from the equation will decrease stress and help break a cycle of restriction and overeating.

Check your baseline nutrition intake

If you primarily fuel your body with plenty of healthy, nutrient-rich foods, you may stop the energy dips that can make you prone to crave high-calorie items. In addition, learning to enjoy the natural taste of good foods means your taste buds won’t require sugary or salty processed foods for satisfaction.

Enjoy the desired food with a healthy pairing

Craving pizza? Order a crisp salad to enjoy on the side. Can’t get chocolate off your mind? Savor raspberries with a piece of dark chocolate. Do you want a salty and creamy Ranch dip? Pair with carrot and celery sticks. You’ve satisfied the original craving and made the accompanying fruit or vegetable more appealing by association.

Alter your food cues

Seeing a pint of ice cream every time you open the freezer door and watching commercials for fast-food burgers can blindside anyone with a craving. Limit exposure to these cues by keeping overly tempting foods out of the house and stepping out of the room during commercials. Instead, build in positive signals such as a bowl of crisp apples on the counter or cut-up bell peppers in the fridge. Peruse a cookbook featuring healthy dishes or MyNetDiary’s Premium Recipe collection to inspire healthy cravings.

Eat mindfully

If you practice mindful eating techniques, you stand a better chance to truly appreciate the flavors of healthier choices, and you will be tuned in with your hunger and fullness signals. Likewise, if you use mindful techniques when indulging in a craving for a treat, you can enjoy the food and may even be satisfied with less.

Let’s be honest; it’s unlikely that you will ever train your brain to crave Brussels sprouts the way you might chocolate chip cookies. Still, with practice and attention to your cues, you may be surprised that a fresh orange indeed satisfies a craving.

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Weight Loss->Behavior Weight Loss->Cravings
Jan 9, 2023

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