You’ve made the choice to get healthier and lose weight. You’re cruising right along making healthy food choices, and then the cravings hit. The desire to grab a bag of chips or a cookie is overwhelming. You. Must. Have. Just. One! Of course, just one turns into one too many and you’re left feeling defeated. Conquering our cravings can seem insurmountable. But don’t throw in the towel just yet. Armed with an understanding of the science behind those cravings, you will be able to take control of your diet and drop those unwanted pounds and stop food cravings. Science is only just beginning to learn why so many of us succumb to our cravings. One thing is certain; every craving begins with a cue, emotional, aromatic or visual. These cues are most powerful when they remind us of foods that are high in fat or sugar. The cue activates your brain’s pleasure center, causing it to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that tells you to eat whatever it is you’re craving. Over time, this feel-good experience rewires the brain so that you’re more likely to crave the food again and again in the future. So, are you wondering how to beat food cravings? First, you must understand your own unique craving cues. Then, you can take steps to stop food cravings and break the dopamine cycle. Minimize stress: Tension and stress make people seek out opportunities to feel relaxed or rewarded. And what better reward than a little treat? If you are a stress eater, stop stress related cravings by managing stress with exercise or relaxation techniques. Exercise gives you a natural high, satisfying the brain without the need for food. Manage your emotions: If you can identify the emotions behind the craving, you can try to find healthier ways to fulfill your needs than empty calorie treats. Eat at the dining table: If you eat while watching TV on the couch, or while reading in bed, you condition yourself to associate those areas with food. By setting up a space dedicated solely to eating, you’ll reduce the number of cues you face each day. Focus on your health goals. Make a list of your health goals, both short and long term, and post it on your refrigerator or cabinet door. Be specific. If you’re trying to lose weight, list your current weight and how much you want to lose. These details will help you focus on your goals and keep you from snacking. Keep a food journal. Writing down everything you eat during the day holds you accountable for your calorie consumption. Many times we are not even aware of how much snacking takes place throughout the day. Retrain your brain: If your brain can learn bad habits, it can be taught good ones too. By stopping food cravings in their tracks, you are resetting your brain’s cue for food. Be strong and tell yourself repeatedly that you won’t give in to food cravings. Use your health goals to motivate you and remember that your body is just playing tricks on you. Over time your cravings will subside, allowing you to regain control of your diet. Refer back to these tips on how to beat food cravings often and look to friends and family to encourage and support you. It’s a new year. Start now. Stop food cravings. Make it happen.