Home Did You Know Joy Bauer: Eat To Beat Your Food Cravings

Joy Bauer: Eat To Beat Your Food Cravings

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Joy Bauer, better known for her appearances on The Today Show as the resident “diet expert,” wrote this little ditty for Woman’s Day on cravings and how to overcome them. Check her out below:

Food cravings are a normal part of life; after all, who hasn’t at some point found herself staring into the freezer, ready to eat more than just a few scoops of that mint chocolate chip ice cream? While the occasional “crave-in” isn’t a big deal, if it happens regularly, it can lead to weight gain, not to mention a slew of other health problems including headaches, bloating and feeling downright blech. Though you may not be able to curb your food cravings entirely (in my book, spinach and celery will never satisfy a hankering for chocolate or chips), understanding what causes them can help you develop a realistic plan for dealing with them.

Blame it on the brain. A few good theories explain what’s going on. One is that eating sugar, fat and salt triggers the release of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical that can also make you want to eat when you’re not really hungry. Over time, the mere sight or smell of certain foods is enough to make your brain say “Gimme!” This wouldn’t be a problem if we ate foods high in sugar, fat or salt (or all three) as rare treats, but due to their increased production, availability and visibility, that desire to eat is constantly being triggered, suggests David Kessler, MD, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, in his book The End of Overeating.

Certain types of foods also leave behind a sensory imprint. Once our brains experience the feel-good effects of dopamine when we eat those foods, we always associate the two— and this could also explain why some of us turn to food to deal with negative emotions.

…and hormones. Feeling like you absolutely must have certain foods during “that time of the month” is not all in your head, especially if you suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD, a severe form of PMS). Both conditions are marked by a decrease in serotonin, another mood-boosting brain chemical that responds favorably to—you guessed it—carbs! And that can make muffins, chips and cookies feel like a girl’s best friend. We can also be cranky and emotional during this time of the month, which typically magnifies comfort food cravings (for me, it’s ice cream).

One thing that doesn’t cause cravings: nutrient deficiencies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women say they need to eat that chocolate because they’re low in magnesium or they’ve got to have a juicy burger because they need more iron. Sorry to disappoint, but science has never been able to show a connection between nutrient deficiencies and cravings.

So… how do you handle them?

Craving Cures
Now it’s time to plan an intervention.

1. Turn off the dopamine. Let’s start with Dr. Kessler’s theory that junk food being easily accessible is to blame. He says (and I agree) that by avoiding highly processed foods that are packed with fat, sugar and salt, we can derail the overproduction of dopamine that happens when you taste, see and smell these foods. The best way to do this is to mainly shop the perimeter of your supermarket, where you’ll find fresh foods. When you do choose packaged foods, go for items that have the shortest ingredients list possible; the fewer ingredients, the less processed it is.

Also try to avoid situations that stimulate your senses and lead to mindless eating. Some triggers—especially emotional ones like stress—are hard to avoid, but others just require a little planning. Here’s how to manage common craving-inducing scenarios:

a. You’re around goodies at the office. Choose one treat to enjoy, but save it for later in the day (not before lunch!). This way, you don’t open the floodgates and nibble on junk for the rest of the day. If the treats are in your direct line of sight, ask if you can move them into the office kitchen (or as far from your desk as possible!) so they’re not staring you down all day.

b. You’re throwing a birthday party for your husband and are making his (and your!) favorite foods. Squash the desire to nosh while you cook with positive self-talk before you get started (I will not lick the batter, I will not lick the batter) and distract your taste buds by sipping on herbal tea or a skim latte. You can also keep your mouth busy by chomping on crunchy raw veggies like carrots or sugar snap peas. For me, a stick of sweet mint gum and singing along to a CD does the trick!

2. Picture this, not that. Research shows that replacing the mental image of the food you’re craving with a nonfood one, such as a Caribbean beach (minus the piña colada!) can help quash the desire to eat it. In other words, if you walk past a bakery and want that slice of double-chocolate fudge cake, imagine relaxing on the beach or dial up a friend on your cell phone. Good chance the cake urge will dissipate.

3. Eat to beat them. The best way to tame carb cravings is to incorporate healthy carbs such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains into your meals and snacks. This can help regulate the production of serotonin, so take particular care to do this around your period, when serotonin levels may be low. High-quality “comfort carbs” that can also help quell hormone-induced cravings include bean burritos, baby carrots dipped in hummus, whole-wheat penne tossed with marinara sauce, hearty vegetable soups and stews, and a bowl of warm oatmeal topped with fresh fruit.

4. Don’t forget the basics. One of the biggest triggers for those “I gotta eat that!” urges is skipping meals. The most important thing you can do to prevent chronic cravings is to establish a regular eating pattern that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and one or two snacks.

If you tend to skip one or more of these meals, try including them for one week. I bet you’ll find that you eat less at each meal, choose healthier options and have fewer cravings.

5. If all else fails… Of course, there are times in which you’ve called a friend, crunched on carrot sticks and still found yourself dead-set on digging into a pint of ice cream. In those instances, I find it’s best not to reach for a substitute food, like rice cakes instead of potato chips, because chances are you’ll eat too many of them, or you’ll eat them and then have the real thing anyway. Double whammy!

Thoughts? Let’s hear ’em!

You may also like


Karen@WaistingTime July 22, 2011 - 10:13 AM

For me, sometimes I just have to give up eating a certain food to make the cravings go away. I don’t handle moderation well. I don’t do well when food is in my kitchen, calling to me. But I have learned that the longer I go without certain trigger foods, the less I crave them and the less I miss them. It’s hard at first, but so worth it.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 22, 2011 - 10:18 AM


In fact, this is an entirely different topic. Truthfully speaking, I don’t think many (not “all” but MANY) people handle “moderation” at all, especially if it’s a “craving.”

Vee March 28, 2012 - 8:16 AM

I agree Erika. I have been avoiding processed sugar since Feb 22 2012 and I can still the difference. One of my co-workers asked me about having a donut and I declined I can not just have one donut and besides I gave up processed sugar for Lent.

Even after Lent is over I will work to continue I have been eating more low sugar fruits and water based veggies.

Melissa July 22, 2011 - 10:41 AM

I can only speak from my own experience. I have found that cravings and moderation do not coexist peacefully. Basically, I have to leave the temptation well alone in order to not overindulge. To me moderation leads to self-sabotage. Perhaps, I just need to be more disciplined, but I’m not there yet.

Vee March 28, 2012 - 8:18 AM

I so agree Melissa..I won’t even tempt myself that way. If have one I want all of it LOL Moderation does not work well for everyone.

rissa August 30, 2011 - 4:31 PM

I totally agree. i can eat sweets in moderation. . . . . . for about 15 minutes at a time. at the end of 2 hours it’s all gone. i try not to have the things i crave around me at all.

Melissa July 22, 2011 - 10:34 AM

Finding your site has been helpful to me, and I thank you for devoting such time, effort, care, and energy to this endeavor. I feel that this article is indeed serendipitous for me, coming at the right time in my weight-loss struggle. Recently,I have rededicated myself to getting healthy and fit. I have been overweight all my life (childhood included) and have suffered all of the problems, the angst, and the indignities that accompany being overweight. The one thing that seems to undermine all my efforts is food cravings. They seem so uncontrollable– like an enormous, unrelenting, frightening bully threatening my peace of mind. I’ve used many and varied methods to overcome cravings over the years; but eventually, the methods fail; I fail. Although I manage decrease my weight significantly, I never actually reach my weight-loss goal. Once again, I’m fighting the “don’t give in to the cravings battle.” I’ve gone cold turkey in regards to sweets, salty snacks, and breads (flour products). As usual, my body has responded favorably; however, my mind and emotions are waging a terrible battle against my healthy efforts. I’ve been reading and studying your website for assistance and for encouragement and have found it to be an effective tool. While reading the articles, I have come to realize that this healthy endeavor is not a temporary situation. I have to permanently break my long-lived negative habits and replace them with more nurturing, caring, and loving habits. I’ve got to concentrate and commit to taking care of myself; or else, I’ll never realize the “self” that I want to be– fit, happy, and active. I just want to be a normal person who shops in normal clothing stores and who is not continuously plagued and eventually succumbing to demoralizing food cravings. Erika, please continue your work on this website. You are helping people. You’re helping me, and I commend you for it.

lynaya July 22, 2011 - 11:47 AM

I’ve gone cold turkey and afterward I’m able to ignore cravings and they eventually subside altogether. Its only when i indulge repeatedly (like several days in a row) that cravings come. As usual, this article shines light on my own experiences. Thanks Erica.I was one of the ppl who used to think I had cravings because of a nutritional deficiency. Good to know it comes dwn to basic brain chemistry.

Cookie July 22, 2011 - 3:43 PM

It is so nice to know that I am not alone in this situation. I see the comments that says “I can not eat in moderation.” I say this all the time. Am attempt to eat 1 serving of icecream ALWAYS result in eating the whole pint, if not in one sitting definitely in 1 day! I will do great during the week for I am at work most of the day and when I get off I workout and most of my day is consumed with other things but weekends are hell for me. Food addiction is definitely the problem and I know it for I experience 99 percent of the symptoms. secretive eating, compulsive eating, eating when not hungry, etc. Melissa’s comment touched at home if not all of these comments. I too apprecite Erica’s efforts to enlighten. Ive lost 90 pounds and ive reached my goal, keeping it off is a battle tho but I am doing it. I must continue to stay focus and just stay away from those treats I love so much, for there’s no median for me. Either I do not eat it or I over do it! It is extremely hard to break a life long habit, but I am determined and I use this blog site and other sites with women and their true success stories, as an accountability tool. Whenever I crave or feel my discpline slipping I revert to my picture 90 pounds ago or get on these sites. Commenting ladies, we can do this!! We must learn to not be controlled but be in control. What dont kill makes you stronger and in this case makes you live longer. life is sooooo worth it.

Melissa July 22, 2011 - 8:25 PM

Wow Cookie, 90 pounds! Congratulations! I commend you on your success and on your determination to maintain your goal weight and good health. I think that we can all help each other achieve our goals and maintain our weight loss success. You were right; we just have to stay focused and maintain a good support system. What you have achieved is fantastic; I’m proud of you.

rissa August 30, 2011 - 4:34 PM

go head cookie!!! i don’t know u from eve but i am so proud of you. i need to lose about 90 lbs also. so far i’ve managed to lose the same 7 lbs repeatedly.

Jackie August 22, 2012 - 9:43 AM

Cookie you go girl, that is fantastic.

MP July 25, 2011 - 1:17 PM

I haven’t tried any of the mind tricks from #1 and #2, but I try to work on the basics tips from #3 and #4 for my general bad habits. For me, there’s a difference between my general bad habits and my cravings for less than healthy foods in far more than one serving. Skipping a meal definitely sets me up for bad choices at the next one, but not for the slippery slope scenario. I also don’t think a slippery slope is a craving. I’m thinking that if I had a food addiction, the cute mind tricks wouldn’t work, but I don’t know.
I definitely agree with the substitution thing being a bad idea. My true cravings are definitely from emotional and hormonal triggers. If I try a healthier food substitute, I may be be slightly calmed, but I will still get the real deal dopamine releaser eventually and there will be no moderation involved. I think the prolonged craving makes me consume more to make up for lost time or something. Maybe a non-food stress reliever is a more effective substitute, like the talking to a friend suggestion. However, the imagining a stress-free beach suggestion makes me laugh.

Kjen August 1, 2011 - 12:33 PM

I’m definitely going to give #2 a try. And I have found that per #3, if I’m not eating a lot of processed crap, then I don’t seem to want it as much or almost not at all.
But Joy did blow through one of my most reached for reasons – I (use to) figure that if I was wanting to have the salty, sweet, whatever that badly then it must be because my body is needing it somehow. LOL.
(Hmm, I don’t know if she meant carbs when she said this. I do think that carbs (beyond fruits and some veggies, I mean my potatoes, rices, etc) are needed. by my body at least.)

Shira September 16, 2011 - 11:05 AM

Moderation is not in my vocabulary when it comes to snacks that I love! So, I don’t keep them in my house! If I have to go to the store to get it, then I won’t have it. My biggest problem becomes the substitute. I HATE, HATE, did I say, HATE RAW VEGETABLES & MOST FRUITS!!!!!!! Thus, losing weight is very challenging for me. I did learn a trick at Weight Watchers. Everytime , I have a craving for something I drink a glass of water and then tell myself to do something else for the next 5 or 10 minutes. Often this is enough for the craving to subside.

LBrooke March 4, 2012 - 5:35 AM

This is JUST what I needed to read. I’m at that time of the month where my PMS is starting to take over… and for whatever reason, since I’ve been off the pill, I get worse everything at that time of the month. For whatever reason, it seems that I get PMS for almost 2 weeks. The first week come the food cravings, the next week I have the physical and mental anguish. Once, my gyno told me that periods can be worse in people who are overweight. So hopefully with my new healthy life style- when I get to my goal weight, my periods will be less harsh.

Anyways– I actually came to this site and typed in ‘PMS’ because the past few days (I’ve been doing the clean eating for about a week and lost 3lbs!), I was beginning to crave serious junk food. I was doing so good for that week, but then I started to go down hill. I had Taco Bell one night, and then Wendy’s the other- and it was nothing healthy off of those menus either (like there is anything healthy on’em!). I was searching for reasoning… yes, I’ve been a little stressed. I’m getting to be in my mid 20’s.. and the future scares me a bit. I’m always unhappy with my weight and health- but then I was wondering..’ am I really super addicted to food and this was inevitable?’ I don’t know. Maybe it is that last thing. However, I know that my time of the month is creeping up, and it’s so hard for me.. it usually derails me. I’m going to try my best to follow what the article says, and I’m determined not to let my body have control over me.. but have control over my body.

Thank you Erika for having a site so full of the most helpful information. You’re a life saver!! (Damn, now I want some sugar… : ] )

Aja March 29, 2012 - 2:53 PM

I think I’m a bit of a strange bird in that I almost never crave sweets, except for very occasionally around that time of the month. What I do crave are “good fats,” like olives, almonds, and avocados, things that aren’t inherently bad for you, but can add up quick when it comes to calories. If I’m not thinking about it, I can eat a whole bag of almonds quick, which is still better than eating a bag of potato chips, but not good for trying to lose weight.

I always hear about dealing with cravings when it relates to sweets and bad foods, but do you have any suggestions for someone like me? Unlike someone who is craving processed sugar, I ideally want good fats in my diet so how do I enjoy them in moderation while staying within my calorie goals for weight loss?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 29, 2012 - 5:20 PM

Offset it with things like vegetables with a touch of fat mixed in with them – salad with raw kale and olives/massage the leaves in olive oil, lettuce wraps with avocado spread on the inside, etc – or… don’t eat at all. Go take a shower, go for a walk instead, go away from food. And give yourself time…time..time.

Ke July 7, 2012 - 11:02 AM

I stopped drinking juice, food with high fructosr corn syrup, and processed foods. I also never buy grahmn crackers, muffins,cookies, frozen desserts and other foods in that category. I love vegan
ice cream but like mines freshly made from the stores. Also now if I go out to eat I buy the smallest meal or ask them to give me half of my order. When I have a craving I read or call up a friend. For me
it is hard to overeat on healthy foods.

from the

Karen July 15, 2012 - 11:04 AM

This hit right at my door. So far, I’ve lost 175 pounds but I’ve been struggling lately with cravings and nibbling. When I started on this journey, I cut a lot of stuff but when I sat down and did a mental evaluation, I realized I had allowed some triggers back in the house. Once they were in, the cravings have returned full force and I’m working to cut them out. It’ll always be a battle but I’m glad to see that it is winnable and that you are around to help us fight, Erika!

Erika Nicole Kendall July 15, 2012 - 2:46 PM

175!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Holy jeez!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Karen July 15, 2012 - 5:53 PM

Yes and I still a long way to go. This is why the information that you share is so important. The head is just as important as the working out and eating right. We have to get our minds right too!

Jackie August 22, 2012 - 9:48 AM

You are an inspiration. Would love to hear your story of how that journey has been for you. I am truly encouraged. Stay focused and on the journey you will reach your goal!

Kitana January 10, 2013 - 7:09 PM

I find that the less I eat of a type of food, the less I crave it. I full-on quit eating chocolate after Christmas and I’d gotten to the point I’d forgotten had it in the house because I was too busy and focused on trying to eat right. The first time I craved it though was when I went a whole night without sleeping (me + insomnia = bffs 🙁 ) and was cranky as hell that day.

Anyway! I think moderation is good but it’s hard to tell what’s moderate, I think. A serving size of the thing you really like once a week? Only once a month? Sometimes I still feel like I’m overdoing it.

Comments are closed.