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Vending machineAll of us are vulnerable to irresistible urges to eat a particularly fattening or unhealthy food. My downfall is a craving for sugar late in the afternoon when both my energy and spirits sag.

According to a recent study, women are more susceptible to these urges than are men. But whatever your sex, at some point, you’ll be tested. Designing a strategy for coping is essential. Here are three tips to help you respond to otherwise overwhelming impulses (FIT):

F: Focus on what triggered the craving and forego responding immediately. Let me explain. Recently, I disembarked from an airplane and immediately found myself in the middle of an inviting food court. As soon as I smelled warm chocolate-chip cookies, I desperately wanted one (or even two) of the decadent delights. I reminded myself that when I came off the plane, I wasn’t hungry. Nonetheless, the enticing aroma of warm cookies and the sight of everyone around me eating triggered an instant craving. As soon as I left the food court, the craving disappeared.

I: Inventory your prior food intake. When you are deciding whether to indulge a craving, review what you have already eaten that day, particularly the last meal. Researchers report that such a review triggers the “I’m satisfied” experience. In the example above, once I reviewed what I had eaten for breakfast and lunch and the snack I’d eaten on the airplane, I realized I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry. This research is consistent with that of Dr. Edward Abramson, author of Body Intelligence, who concludes that “only a small part of our eating is actually triggered by physical hunger. Most of the time we’re eating in response to external food cues like the sight of others eating or in response to an emotional upset.”

T: Take time to plan and prepare your meals. You’ll eat healthier (fewer prepackaged foods) and save money because you’ll waste fewer groceries. Researchers confirm that home-prepared meals are more nutritious and generally lower in fat than restaurant meals are. Plus, you’ll make fewer trips to the grocery store, and you can plan meals around your schedule. When you sit down to eat, pay attention to the subtle body signal that you are satisfied—when you are about 75 percent full. Mindful eating will help you eat less and enjoy the food more.

Temptations to indulge will never go away. They will challenge your goal to maintain the weight and fitness you desire. But by teasing out environmental cues and paying attention to your body’s signals, you can gain power over food and successfully attack the munchies.

Photo credit: wayne’s eye view on Flickr