Forget willpower. Learn how to distract yourself instead.
You know the feeling: You're in the middle of your favorite show, and suddenly you have a hankering for a cupcake—even though you just finished dinner.
Most cravings are not actual hunger cues. They are often rooted in emotions (we're looking at you, anxiety), and they are tough to beat with willpower alone, especially when you're feeling tired.
But the good news is, cravings don't last indefinitely. In a recent interview with CNN, Mary Beth Sodus, RD, a nutritional therapist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, explained that "cravings will go away if you wait them out."
To help us resist those unhealthy urges—and avoid mindless binging—CNN rounded up these three useful tricks, each designed to buy time until your craving (whatever it is) has passed.
Eat a "safe food"
Think carrots, salad, or a small red baked potato. So-called safe foods are low in calories, but high in fiber (to fill you up), and also take a while to eat (so by the time you're done, your Brie craving is long gone). Sodus told CNN one of her favorites is grapefruit. It's a superfood known for its fat-burning properties, and also demands concentration to slice up, drawing your mind away from the cheese drawer.
Tap your imagination
One theory is that food cravings exist because we imagine them, and you can forget a craving simply by imagining something else, Anne Hsu, PhD, a behavioral scientist at Queen Mary University of London, explained to CNN. "If you hijack that part of the brain [imagining the food] then it can't sustain the craving anymore," she said in the interview.
Hsu and her team tested an app designed to help people do just that. For the trial, 48 people were asked to push a button when a craving struck. The app would then suggest an imagery task (like, imagine a forest) to distract the brain from the food. The results of their tests showed a reduction in snacking overall.
But you don't necessarily need an app to fire up your imagination, Hsu pointed out to CNN. You could pick an imagery task yourself. For example, whenever you yearn for chocolate, try visualizing a white horse galloping through a field to take your mind off the sweet stuff.
Play a game on your phone
Let's say you are in the throes of a craving with no safe foods in sight, and the white horse just isn't cutting it. A game might do the trick. CNN cited a small 2015 study published in Addictive Behaviors that found that playing Tetris for just 3 minutes reduced food and drink cravings by about 14%.
"Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support [the craving] imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time," explained study author Jackie Andrade, PhD, in a press release.
Tetris, and other visual games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, may distract you just long enough to forget all about that ... what was it you were craving again?