5 Ways To Prevent Cravings for Gluten Foods

Giving In Will Cost You. Here's How To Resist

Gluten-filled donut hidden in desk
How can you resist gluten-y treats?. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Lots of people — most, in fact — have food cravings at one time or another (chocolate, anyone?). But if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you'll frequently find you crave what you absolutely cannot have ... gluten-filled pasta, pizza, cakes and sweets.

These cravings for gluten-y food likely will be at their worst during your first weeks (and months) on the gluten-free diet.

And for some people, they never entirely fade.

But resistance is not futile. You can train yourself not to give in, and eventually your longing will (mostly) dissipate.

First, what not to do. Cheating on your gluten-free diet is not a healthy option — you'll find it may lead to horrible symptoms of a glutening, not to mention an increased risk of health issues down the road. So you can't give in — you have to fight.

Still, fighting the cravings is easier said than done. Success will involve careful planning, food substitutions and even computer games. Read on for some strategies that can help.

5 Strategies To Fight Cravings for Gluten Foods

1. Identify your physical and emotional triggers. This just takes self-examination — in fact, you can probably do it pretty quickly with just a little bit of introspection.

For example, are you tempted to cheat when you're anxious? Lots of people crave carbohydrates when they're stressed.

Sleep deprivation also seems to encourage carb cravings, as do the hormonal shifts common at the end of many women's menstrual cycles. Even feeling somewhat run down can lead to these cravings, with the seductive promise that the gluten-y food will make you feel better. (It won't — not in the long run, anyway.)

Once you know what your triggers are and when they're likely to occur, you can plan ahead for them ... which can prevent you from succumbing to the lure of that delicious-looking cupcake in the bakery window.

2. Make sure you always have good food on hand. This takes some advance planning, so if you were an eat-on-the-fly person prior to going gluten-free, it will seem like a huge pain, especially at first. But I guarantee it will be worth it in the long run.

If you find gluten-based sweets nearly impossible to resist, keep some gluten-free muffins or brownies in your freezer — Udi's Gluten-Free, for example, makes muffins in chocolate and blueberry flavors that should satisfy your sweet tooth.

If you fall on the savory-salty end of the craving spectrum, keep some gluten-free pretzels on hand, or hit the store for some gluten-free potato chips (these are actually really easy to find, so if they're your go-to craving snack, you're in luck).

3. Never let yourself get hungry. Yup, this is plenty easier said than done, especially if you don't have anything for lunch today and all you can see around you are Panera Bread outlets and Einstein Bros.

Bagel stores. But it's critical if you want to shout down the inner voice that's pleading for just one miniature iced vanilla scone.

So bring snacks with you — enough to let you walk past the pizza place without stopping. I like Larabars, which come in a variety of flavors, but you also can use single-serving potato chips (Kettle brand is gluten-free and comes in one ounce sizes) or even a baggie full of plain nuts.

If my stomach isn't growling, I always find it easier to resist foods I shouldn't eat. Don't hesitate to experiment with snacks to find some that sate your cravings the best, and then carry them with you everywhere.

4. Pay special attention to special occasions. This is when so many people trip up — they just can't resist Mom's Christmas cookies or a bite of their best friend's famous Memorial Day barbecue on a (gluten-y) bun.

I won't lie to you: it's really tough. Food is such a huge part of our culture, and your yearnings for these special dishes are forever tied to the occasions themselves. But you do need to resist, or you'll pay the price.

Your best bet is to try to duplicate the foods involved, and bring them with you to the celebrations. Again, this takes some advanced planning — you might want to check out holiday recipes early in November, for example, and start experimenting. Keep trying until you find something that really hits the spot, and make enough to share with everyone ... perhaps it will start a new, gluten-free tradition.

5. If all else fails, distract yourself. Did you know that playing Tetris reduces cravings? Me neither, but it apparently does. Which leads us to our last bit of advice: stop thinking about gluten-y foods by thinking about something else.

What helps? Well, you can try going for a walk or a run, watching a little TV, surfing the web for a while, playing a game with your kids ... even play Tetris (or Angry Birds). You get the idea. Really, anything will work, as long as it gets your mind off your craving for a gluten-y treat. 

If you combine distraction with a reasonably tasty snack to keep your stomach from growling, you should be able to resist your cravings ... which in turn should help them grow less intense. And that's a win-win (even if you can't seem to beat Angry Birds).

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