person eating health salad

When you're feeling stressed, it's easy to turn to your favorite foods for a source of relief. Unfortunately, for many of us, our favorite foods contain high amounts of fat and sugar. Over time, we may come to associate these unhealthy treats with feeling happy--and we begin to crave junk food whenever we want comfort.

Don't let your cravings stand in the way of a healthy diet. You can learn to control your cravings by taking a few simple steps, like scheduling regular meals and reducing your salt intake. Over time, you may find your cravings are reduced and you can focus on eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet.

When to Eat
The digestive system loves routines, and many food cravings arise out of poor eating habits. By working to eat meals and snacks on a set schedule each day, your body won't have time to feel starved of nutrients. Being careful to eat before you feel overly hungry may also help keep blood sugar levels in check, control energy levels, and reduce mood swings.

The idea of scheduling your meals and snacks may sound intimidating, but it's easier than you think. Simply take a few minutes in the morning to consider when you will be able to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day. If it seems like you have too much time between certain meals, plan to have a healthy snack on hand. You may be able to avoid pangs of hunger and head off cravings.

What to Eat
For most healthy people, it's okay to eat a small amount of sugar and salt. Unfortunately, the more sugar and salt you add to your food, the more you become accustomed to the taste. After a while, food without added sugar and salt may start to taste bland. This means you may crave a sweet or salty snack even after you've finished a big meal.

Rediscover the deliciousness of your food's natural flavors by reducing the amount of sugar and salt you add to your meals. Since processed foods are often chockfull of additives, like added sugar and sodium, try to cut back on pre-packaged meals and snacks. The best plan is to prepare healthy meals from scratch and to choose whole fruits and veggies for snacks. If you are certain that you can't make time to cook on a particular day, try to choose pre-packaged meals that are low in sodium and have no added sugar.

How to Eat Better by Exercising More
Your mood can have a big impact on the foods you crave. When you're feeling stressed or sad, you may be tempted to indulge in high-fat, high-sugar "comfort" foods. One of the easiest ways to avoid stress-related food cravings is to learn better ways to cope with negative feelings, such as exercising.

When we exercise, our body releases "feel good" chemicals, called endorphins. At the same time, exercising reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This means that exercising regularly may help you manage your stress levels and reduce your cravings. As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day may make a difference.

HealthAhead Hint: Keep Your Favorites, Cut the Cravings
It might seem easy to turn to comfort foods when you are feeling stressed and need a snack. But reaching for foods that are high in fats and sugars won't do your body any favors. Over time, you may begin to feel dependent on junk food. Make the healthy choice and begin to take steps to reduce your cravings. You can always enjoy small amounts of your favorite foods, in moderation, without letting those foods control you. By keeping tabs on when you eat, reducing your intake of sugar and sodium, and exercising regularly, you can manage your cravings and start building a healthier lifestyle.