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When it comes to foods that can quickly dissolve your willpower and make a calorie counter spin, one sweet treat rules them all: Decadent, wonderful, glorious chocolate.
But it also comes packed with fat and sugar that can derail your diet. So if you’re just about to reach for that 250 calorie chocolate bar, try one of these tips:
1. Take a 15 minute walk
A new study led by researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria found just 15 minutes of exercise can keep you from indulging.
The test involved 47 people, described as “overweight, sugary snack consumers.” Each person was used to eating at least 3.5 ounces of chocolate or other sweets every day, so they were asked to avoid any treats for three days before the experiment to heighten their cravings.
Some then took a brisk 15-minute walk on a treadmill, while others sat quietly for 15 minutes. Afterwards, the researchers tried to heighten their chocolate cravings even more. Both groups took a mental test designed to boost their level of stress, which often makes people turn to high-calorie food.
Both groups also were presented with a delicious selection of sweets, with the instructions to unwrap one snack of their choice and handle it for 30 seconds, but not actually eat it.
It turned out the participants who took the brisk 15-minute walk had lower cravings for treats than those who stayed inactive. And even though stress and the simple act of being around sweets can trigger our desire to eat, the exercise also seemed to counteract those urges.
The results are based on questionnaires measuring the participants’ cravings for sugary snacks at various stages of the experiment and other data.
“These cravings come on us quickly and if we can distract ourselves, they often go away within 15 minutes. That’s why this study, and the duration of the walk, makes sense. It’s all about swapping out an activity,” said TODAY health and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom.
2. Eat chocolate, but smarter
Sometimes, managing cravings does involve food, but in a calorie-controlled way, Fernstrom said. Aim for a snack that has 50-100 calories and satisfies, while helping you avoid grabbing a giant candy bar, she noted.
Here are some of Fernstrom’s suggestions:
- Try a small skim milk latte or cappuccino dusted with cocoa or a teaspoon of hot cocoa mix in a black coffee
- Two or three chocolate dipped strawberries give a hint of chocolate, with a boost of fruit
- Enjoy two or three chocolate Kisses, eaten slowly.
“Choose your portion control — the serving size of nine on the package doesn’t have to be your serving size,” Fernstrom advised.
3. Incorporate chocolate in other ways
Here are suggestions from Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, nutrition expert and author of “Read It Before You Eat It.”
Make a hot cocoa with hot non-fat milk instead of water. Milk’s protein will keep you feeling full and satisfied longer than a piece of chocolate would.
Combine some dark chocolate chips with unsalted nuts and dried fruit. “This crunchy, chewy, decadent trio will add protein and healthy fat to the mix to satisfy and squash your cravings while the chocolate will be decadently delish without being excessive,” Taub-Dix said.
Add a spoon or two of cocoa to plain Greek yogurt. The chocolate flavor may satisfy your craving while the yogurt will provide lots of protein to squelch hunger, she noted.
4. Use mindful distraction
You want to break the immediacy of acting impulsively on your chocolate craving in an uncontrolled way, Fernstrom said.
Call a friend to catch up for 10 minutes to distract yourself from thoughts of food. Do some stretching at your desk if you don’t have time for a walk. Clean out a drawer — it keeps your hands busy with a productive activity that takes a few minutes, Fernstrom said.
“When it comes to solutions for managing food cravings, one size does not fit all,” she advised. “It’s all about mindful thinking about what works best for you.”