College life can be stressful, and every collegiette ends up pulling an all-nighter at one point or another, which means late-night library sessions, your comfiest sweats and, of course, plenty of snacks. When a midnight study slump hits, so do the munchies, and we tend to reach for snacks to satisfy our cravings.
It’s safe to say that most collegiettes don’t crave healthy snacks, and most of us reach for chips and cookies over carrots. So how do you deal when unhealthy cravings hit? We talked to nutrition experts to find out the best ways to ward off cravings and to provide some healthy alternatives to munch on the next time a craving strikes.
How to ward off cravings
Cravings can be tricky to handle, especially if you’re exhausted or drained, and if left unchecked, they can lead to weight gain. Try these tips next time a craving strikes, and you’ll be surprised at your own willpower!
Recognize what’s causing your cravings
It’s important to recognize that food cravings are more about satisfying your emotions than your nutrient requirements. “Food cravings arise to satisfy emotional needs, such as reducing anxiety,” says Mary Hartley, a registered dietitian.
Joanne Larsen, a registered dietitian, also emphasizes the connection between cravings and emotions. “Cravings are in your head and relate to emotional memories associated with these foods as a reward,” Larsen says. We’ve all binged on Domino’s and downed our fair share of Ben & Jerry’s in times of distress, so it’s no wonder we reach for food to comfort ourselves.
Don’t tempt yourself
It sounds simple, but “if you don’t buy it, food can’t find its way into your mouth!” Larsen says. “Keep your food environment stocked with healthy options like fruit and tree nuts for snacking.”
It’s tempting to keep Easy Mac and junk food in your dorm room for snacking after the dining hall closes, but you’re only making it harder for yourself! Make a habit of heading to the local grocery store or farmer’s market on the weekend to pick up fresh fruits and veggies for the week so your minifridge is fully stocked for when cravings hit.
Eat often (and keep your diet varied!)
Brooke Schantz, a registered dietitian and CEO of Bitchin’ Nutrition, recommends eating at least three meals every day and consuming healthy snacks between meals to keep you full and craving-free. “Consuming a small meal or snack every three to four hours will help prevent cravings and keep your body full and satisfied,” Schantz says.
To make sure your meals and snacks are providing your body with everything it needs, include a good variety in your diet. “Eating a variety of foods from each food group ensures you are getting a wide variety of nutrients you need, and you’re less likely to crave specific foods,” Larsen says. She recommends consuming fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, healthy fats and a small amount of lean meat or beans daily to maintain a healthy and balanced diet that isn’t lacking nutrients (which could lead to nasty cravings!).
Get enough sleep
Larsen points out that “you’re more likely to overeat if you stay up late or are sleepy.” She recommends getting at least eight hours of sleep a night to help you avoid falling victim to late-night cravings.
“Avoid using your phone or tablet, as the light will reduce melatonin, which induces sleep,” Larsen adds. You can’t binge on Cheez-Its at midnight if you’re snoozing!
Don’t deprive yourself (or sweat a slipup!)
We’re all human, and we’re definitely all guilty of giving in to a craving every now and then. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you indulge in moderation.
“If you are craving a food, buy a single serving of cake, pie, etc.” Larsen advises. “I’ve generally found that low-fat, sugar-free versions of the full-fat, sugary food aren’t as satisfying, and you will eat more. Limiting portion size is more important.” That way you can satisfy your craving without being tempted to polish off the entire tub of ice cream.
And even if you do go overboard occasionally, don’t worry too much about that Domino’s order you and your roomie placed last night (even if you did order extra-cheesy breadsticks). “If you do overeat a food you crave, don’t feel guilty! It was just a poor choice,” Larsen says. “Get back on your healthy eating plan!”
We all get cravings, and while it’s okay to indulge every now and then, sometimes you want to satisfy your craving without breaking the calorie bank. Here are some healthy and delicious alternatives for the most common food cravings.
For the collegiette with a serious sweet tooth, nothing sounds better than a pack of Oreos and some sour gummy worms. But instead of reaching for snacks loaded with artificial sweeteners and other nasty chemicals, satisfy your sweet tooth with the natural sugars found in fruit.
“Fruit is sweet and can help turn off your appetite,” says Larsen. Fruits like apples and raspberries are particularly good at filling you up.”
If finding fresh fruit on campus is tricky, Schantz recommends opting for Greek yogurt to satisfy a sweet tooth.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some red meat from time to time—just don’t overdo it! Other meats like poultry and seafood will still help balance out your iron levels but don’t contain as many saturated fats as red meat. For the vegetarian collegiette, make sure you’re getting enough iron by filling your diet with beans, dark-green leafy vegetables (like spinach), iron-enriched cereals, seeds and dried fruits (for a full list of the foods highest in iron, check out WebMD).
Good news: Chocolate can actually be good for you! It contains tons of antioxidants and can improve heart health as well as blood pressure. That doesn’t mean you should polish off an entire bag of M&M’s, but you don’t need to deprive yourself either.
Instead of milk chocolate candies, opt for solid dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao, which is lower in calories than milk chocolate and is richer in antioxidants that can protect you from heart disease.
For a sweet drink, Larsen suggests whipping up some hot cocoa made from dark baker’s chocolate. For an easy recipe, Larsen recommends breaking off about one ounce of chocolate from a dark chocolate bar and heating it up in one cup of skim milk sweetened with your favorite non-calorie sweetener, either in the microwave or on the stove. Enjoy your chocolate, but in moderation!
Reaching for salty snacks like potato chips is often an indicator of stress, so don’t be surprised if you experience more salty cravings around finals. Curb your salty cravings with snacks that contain small amounts of salt, like lightly salted almonds.
Larsen also recommends noshing on tree nuts, walnuts, pecans and pistachios. “The healthy fat will keep you satisfied until the next meal,” she says. Create your own trail mix of unsalted nuts and keep it in a container in your room for when a salty craving strikes!
There’s nothing wrong with giving into the occasional craving, but knowing how to resist cravings and what to reach for instead will keep you from going overboard.