A new study in the journal Obesity found that, if we really want to reduce our cravings for unhealthy foods, we need to stop eating them. Period. In the study, nearly 400 overweight adults were monitored for two years. All the participants stuck to a highly restrictive diet, and researchers monitored their body weight and craving levels every 6 months.
The result: When the participants completely restricted themselves from their favorite, unhealthy foods, cravings for those foods decreased. And that wasn’t the case when people simply ate less of those foods. In other words, if you have a strong craving for chocolate, you’ll curb your cravings more successfully if you avoid chocolate altogether, rather than allowing yourself small amounts of it. Registered dietician Lisa DeFazio says that makes sense because junk food can switch on the brain like a drug. So the more you eat of that trigger food, the more you want it. Even having it once a week releases the feel-good chemical dopamine, making you want more.
The study even goes so far as to say we should eliminate the things we do that are associated with eating our favorite junk foods. So, if you used to love tearing open a bag of chips while watching TV every night, you may need to stop watching TV and read a book instead. It isn’t until you’re in a weight loss maintenance phase that you can slowly start reintroducing those foods. But if you find they’re becoming a trigger again, you need to go back to cutting them out completely.