Instead of indulging,
train your brain to win the battle of the bulge before it ruins your diet plan.

If dieting was easy, we’d all be slim and trim. We’d never have to worry about junk food, sweets or fried food derailing our exercise habits.

In theory, dieting is easy. In order to lose weight you have to consume less calories and burn more energy. However, the average American is faced with supermarkets lined with unhealthy, processed foods, local coffee shops selling muffins with the calorie equivalent to a full meal and lunchtime snacks such as donuts and cake. (And, that’s on a good day). With all that food temptation, it can be hard to fight your cravings for sweets and other foods.

The key to getting rid of your cravings is to re-train your brain.

Retraining your brain doesn’t include undergoing some sort of electroshock therapy to re-wire your response to food. It does include uncovering the reasons why you eat, what you’re feeling when you reach to satisfy a craving, etc. Also, retraining your brain requires you to challenge your thoughts, feelings and responses to the foods you crave most. Like most aspects of dieting, that may sound easy in theory but it can be more difficult in practice.

Fear not! Just find the patterns.

By tracking what you feel before you eat in a food journal, you can pinpoint the emotions that cause you to veg out most. Studies suggest that women are more emotional than men (shocking!) and, as a result, some women may eat more as they become more emotional. That may sound like hogwash to you but the next time you have a fight with your boyfriend or a family member and you find yourself looking to satisfy a craving, be aware. That is the type of emotional eating that can derail a diet. Emotional eating isn’t limited to feeling down. We also use food to celebrate, which can lead to diet sabotage as well.

Avoid using food to medicate, celebrate or comfort you.

Retrain your brain to resist the urge to medicate, celebrate or comfort with food by keeping a food and mood journal. Any time you eat something that isn’t within your healthy eating plan, write it down and right the emotion you were feeling down next to it, keeping track for anywhere from a week to a month. Note the patterns that emerge and you will begin to be able to determine what feelings cause you to give in to cravings. Armed with this info, you will be better able to notice your mood and change your behavior to avoid giving in to your cravings.

You are what you(r friends) eat.

Taking notice of who you are closest to and what your eating habits are while you’re around them is another important key to retraining your brain. Think of the 3 people you spend the most time with during your day or week. Then, think about what you tend to do while you’re together. If you find that your friends are always suggesting new places to eat or scheduling happy hour gatherings, then you may want to retrain your brain when dealing with them. For instance, try having a sample taste at happy hour or limit yourself to just one drink. To provide some balance to your get-togethers, try suggesting a hike or walk with friends. They will get some much needed exercise (if they don’t already) and so will you.

Meal time – Me time!

Instead of making eating a juggling event, by answering phones at lunch or running errands and eating in the car, make time to eat. Do nothing else while you eat. Don’t watch the television, don’t talk on the phone, don’t wash your clothes. Just eat. What you’ll find is that when you concentrate on eating, you will pay attention to what you’re eating and you will be better prepared to notice your body’s response to being full.

Think of what your goals are and then visualize yourself doing the activities that will help you achieve that goal. If your goal is to lose ten pounds, take time everyday to visualize yourself working out. When you visualize what you want for yourself, it becomes much easier to stick to it. Also, visualize yourself in situations where food temptations are most prevalent. Restaurants, cocktail parties, happy hours, and family gatherings can all be places where you resolve is tested. Instead of going in without a game-plan, the best thing to do is to visualize yourself saying no to bad food options and saying yes to healthy ones. Also, it never hurts to look at an online menu when possible and pick out what you want before hitting the restaurant. Then, you won’t have to peruse the menu and subject yourself to making an unhealthy food choice.

Other things to consider when fighting cravings are not to get too hungry, delay your craving and relax. We all know when we’re super famished that we tend to reach for whatever is available, healthy or not. Keeping healthy snacks around is a great way to fight cravings. Also, when you’re tempted to have something right away, wait for about 15 minutes. Do something in the meantime: clean your kitchen, catch up with a friend on the phone or go for a short walk. If you are still craving after you have completed any number of things in that 15 minutes, then give in. What you will find most often is that if you delay your craving it will go away.

Lastly, relax. Being nervous or anxious about your diet all the time is a recipe to give in whenever you feel overwhelmed. Knowing that you will sometimes satisfy your craving, you can better arm yourself to resist more often than not. In those times when you do give in, don’t beat yourself up about it. Train your mind to stay committed to your diet and exercise plan no matter situation. Doing so will keep you well on your way to achieving your diet and exercise goals.