41 Healthy Alternatives for Your Unhealthiest Cravings

Kelly LeVeque is a celebrity nutritionist, wellness expert, and health coach based in Los Angeles, California. Before starting her consulting business, Be Well by Kelly, she worked in the medical field for Fortune 500 companies, eventually moving into personalized medicine, offering tumor gene mapping and molecular subtyping to oncologists. Kelly’s client list includes Jessica Alba, Chelsea Handler, Kate Walsh, and Emmy Rossum. Guided by a practical and always optimistic approach, Kellyhelps clients improve their health, achieve their goals, and develop sustainable habits to live a healthy and balanced life. This month, she offers up some truths behind your peskiest cravings—and how to indulge them in a healthier way.

To understand cravings, it's worth getting a crash course in hormones—namely, cortisol. It's the hormone produced by the adrenals when our body sense stress. In small doses it's fine, but chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to overeating and weight gain. Science supports that when we are chronically stressed, we crave highly palatable foods like fatty, salty, and sweet foods. (Yep, you read that right!)

Stress can cause insatiable cravings that have us in dire search of the salty crunch of chips, gooey sweetness of fresh brownies, or greasy pizza. And here's the kicker: When we eat these processed foods, the "reward hormone" dopamine is released, making them pretty addicting. Even more, eating these foods makes us feel tired and lethargic, affecting our drive to work out or take care of ourselves, thus, the cycle continues. 

Unfortunately, stress is a constant you need to start managing. It's believed that by 2020 "stress and anxiety" will be the number one diagnosed disease state, so instead of reaching for those addicting foods, consider adding stress-busting (read: cortisol-reducing) activities like movement, meditation, and good sleep. When it comes to food, focus on nourishing our body with anti-inflammatory and blood sugar–balancing meals and cut yourself some slack when you feel an intense craving coming on. Stop focusing on perfection and strict rules, since those cause even more stress! Instead, redirect your energy into developing a sleep schedule, booking a workout with friends, silencing your cell phone, or getting in the kitchen to make a healthy version of your favorite craving.

On that note, one of the most successful habits my clients learn to execute is elevating their food choices instead of creating rules around never eating them again. For example, replace your chain delivery pizza with a healthier organic whole food option from an artisanal location or the grocery store, and then elevate it to a homemade cauliflower crust pizza. These replacements have the ability to decrease your cravings and help avoid the subsequent binge that can happen after you break your own food rules.

Check out my handy guide to snacking responsibly below.