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Food cravings are usually OK to indulge, according to experts

Raise your hand if you've started a healthy food kick (hooray for green smoothies and grain bowls!)… Only to start desperately missing your favorite treats by like, day three? The struggle is so, so real. And yes, it's true that food cravings can be your body counting you need to get more sleep, or that it needs more salt post-workout.

That's where healthy eating gets tricky – because while it is completely cut out "bad" foods, or replace them with healthier dupes, those actually are not successful strategies for most people. What's more, the foods you crave can become just a exercise in willpower but full-on distraction from other things in your life.

In order to find that happy medium between eating what you love and eating a healthy, well -rounded diet, experts have a somewhat counterintuitive suggestion: indulge that craving.

Sure, some foods might be more nutritious than. others, but trying to avoid foods you think are "bad" and only "good" foods aren't likely to make you healthier overall. "Judith Matz, LCSW, co-author of The Diet Survivor's Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care . You know when you were a kid and your parents told you not to do anything ̵
1; do you even desperate to do that very thing? Yeah, that applies to food cravings too. “When you do it, there is a good chance you won't overeat or eat that food, which is a natural reaction to deprivation,” Matz says. This creates shame about overeating and can make a person charge back to restriction mode, and the cycle continues.

On the other hand, giving you permission to eat what you crave often leads to a balanced diet without food fixation. “Our bodies like a wide variety of foods. I like to think about having a healthy relationship with food, as opposed to trying to eat only 'healthy' foods, ”Matz says.

When you learn to eat what you crave without guilt, you'll probably find that cravings for "Unhealthy" foods become way less intense.

Maybe you're thinking, "If I gave up my cravings all the time, I'd be eating cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!" That's a common response, and actually it might be the case at first. "Deprivation of specific foods sets you up to overeat when your control breaks down," or when you finally allow yourself to eat them, Matz says. But this doesn't last forever.

“When you want to, and the sense of restriction or scarcity has gone away, you can tune into your body and list and actually decide if you want a certain food or not, ”says Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, nutrition therapist and founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “And eventually, everyone gets to the point where they don't have intense cravings. This is explained in research by the science of habituation: the more you are exposed to food, the less interested you become in it. ”

Here's how habituation works. You know when you hear that new Ariana Grande single for the first time on the radio, you can't get enough of it… but then you start hearing it every time you get into your car, and you're sort of meh about it a week later? Occupation of works like that — when presented with a food often enough, a person generally ends up eating less of it over time. For example, a small 2011 study looked at the long-term effects of habituation in a group of 32 obese and non-obese women for five weeks. Some of the women were presented with mac and cheese once a week, and were presented with every single day… yet the women who encountered mac and cheese every day ended up consuming less than the women who only got it once a week . So basically, if you regularly incorporate into your diet that you typically crave, over time you're less likely to have an issue with it – it won't be novel to you anymore.

Trying to trick your body by eating a "healthier" version of whatever you crave is usually work. And there's nothing wrong with these foods per se; They're definitely healthier than their full-fat, full-carb counterparts. However, if you're craving a sandwich with thick slices of crusty bread, those substitutes likely will fall flat of your expectations. "Trying to mislead your body never works," Rumsey says. "While the 'healthy' version may physically fill you up, likely will not result in mental satisfaction – which means you'll still end up searching for more food to fill up that void."

That said, swaps like these I have a place in some people's everyday diets. “If you have a specific health concern, then making a substitution can feel care-taking,” says Matz. If you have high cholesterol, for example, substituting sorbet for ice cream might be a way to satisfy your health while taking your health into consideration. And if you have pizza but still love pizza, a crumb is probably the way you can still enjoy that food.

But for the most people, eating the real deal is still the best option when that's what you really want to eat. "If you consistently substitute so-called" healthy "foods for what you really crave, you're likely to experience that sense of deprivation," Matz says.

Ultimately, giving into food cravings won't hurt a balanced diet.

Of course, this doesn't give you carte blanche to start eating cheeseburgers and fried chicken every day. But making allowances for some cravings is generally a good thing – and something that will make it easier to have a healthy eating plan for the long haul.

Even with all this reinsurance, you might be afraid that healthy eating When you start eating what you actually want. This is where learning to list to your body comes in. "When you have a craving, think about how it will feel in your body, as well as how it will taste," Matz says. Maybe you go totally overboard on cookies one day (which is OK!), But later realize that this made you feel sluggish all afternoon. Keep this in mind the next time you honor a cookie craving, and stopping after one or two will feel like listening to your body, as opposed to feeling like restriction.

As both Matz and Rumsey mention, cravings for less-nutritious foods you should get less intense and less frequently once you start honoring them. "I've never met anyone who craves only foods such as cake, candy, ice cream and chips, just like I've never been with anyone who only craves salads, fruits and veggies," says Matz.

The TL; DR version: Go ahead and eat that slice of cake or bowl of mac and cheese when you want it, then move on with your day. Trust that you will go overboard, and remind yourself that you will probably be craving a packed fruit bowl or a fresh fruit salad in the not-so-distant future. Really, a well-rounded diet does have room for indulgences.

Here's how one writer learned to love food while still knowing * too * much about nutrition. And here's the healthiest (and most delicious) bread, according to RDs.

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