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The Truth About Cravings: How to Lose Weight Without Labeling Foods

Dec 10, 2023
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When pursuing weight loss avoid labeling foods as "good" or "bad". This common approach can increase cravings and feelings of deprivation, often leading to diet failure.

M. Zafar, MD, SC serves Illinois statewide by Telehealth offering medical weight loss treatments, including Semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic™ and Wegovy™) and Tirzepatide (the active ingredient in Mounjaro™). 

In this blog, we review how labeling foods as "good" or "bad" can increase cravings.

As someone looking to adopt healthier habits and lose weight, you have likely tried many diets and read countless tips for success. A common theme in much of this advice is labeling foods as “good” or “bad” based on calories, carbs, or other metrics. However, this approach often backfires and leads to increased cravings, feelings of deprivation, and diet failure. The truth is, no food needs to be off-limits when pursuing weight loss. A balanced diet with moderate portions is the key. By not judging what you eat as “good” or “bad,” you can develop a healthier relationship with food and finally achieve sustainable success in your wellness journey.

Stop Labeling Foods as "Good" or "Bad" for Weight Loss

Focus on Balance Instead

When trying to lose weight, it's common to label foods as "good" or "bad." However, this mindset often does more harm than good. Categorizing foods in this way can make cravings feel like moral failures and spiral into feelings of guilt or lack of control. Instead, pursue a balanced diet with a variety of nutritious foods.

Rather than labeling entire food groups as off-limits, focus on moderation and portion control. Allow yourself to enjoy treats in moderation, and savor them mindfully. This helps reframe your relationship with food in a healthier way and prevents feelings of deprivation that lead to cravings and overeating.

When a craving strikes, pause and examine the underlying cause before reacting. Are you stressed, bored or lonely? Address the root issue through self-care. If you're truly hungry, choose a balanced snack with protein and complex carbohydrates. Take a walk or do light exercise, which releases feel-good hormones that curb appetite.

Rather than labeling foods, focus on listening to your body's cues and meeting your needs through balanced nutrition and self-care. This approach helps develop a sustainable lifestyle and a healthy relationship with food.

Why Restriction Fuels Cravings

There are a few reasons why restriction increases cravings:

  • Scarcity effect: When you label a food as “forbidden,” it becomes more desirable. Your brain perceives it as a scarce resource, amplifying its appeal.

  • Deprivation: Eliminating foods you enjoy leads to feelings of deprivation and loss of pleasure or reward. This makes cravings for those foods intensify over time.

  • Loss of control: Strict rules around eating certain foods or at certain times lead to a sense of lacking choice or autonomy. This loss of control and flexibility magnifies cravings and the urge to overindulge when given the opportunity.

  • Physiological responses: Restrictive diets often lack variety and do not satisfy your physiological need for different nutrients. Your body responds with cravings for missing elements like fat, carbohydrates or protein.

Avoiding an “all or nothing” approach is the most effective way to overcome cravings. Do not label entire food groups as forbidden. Everything in moderation while focusing on nutritious, balanced options. Satisfy cravings in small portions and move on without guilt. Staying in control and maintaining a flexible mindset will help cravings fade over time as you build new, sustainable habits.

Listen to Your Body's Signals of Hunger and Fullness

Listen to Your Body's Signals of Hunger and Fullness

To lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way, it is critical to understand the difference between hunger, appetite and cravings. Your body provides cues to guide your eating, but it can be easy to ignore or misinterpret these signals. Paying close attention to signs of hunger and fullness will help you determine when and how much to eat to satisfy your body's actual energy needs.

Feelings of hunger usually start slowly, building as your stomach begins to feel empty and your energy levels drop. Indicators of hunger include:

  • Stomach growling or rumbling

  • Irritability or difficulty concentrating

  • Headache

  • Weakness or dizziness

When you eat in response to true hunger, your body signals that you have had enough. Signs that you have reached satiety include:

  • Feeling content and satisfied, not overly full

  • Loss of interest in eating

  • Stopping eating when there is still food on your plate

It is important not to confuse hunger with appetite or cravings. Appetite refers more to the desire, urge or impulse to eat, often in response to the sight, smell or thought of food. Cravings are intense desires for a particular food, especially those high in sugar, fat or salt. Both appetite and cravings can lead to overeating even when you are not hungry.

Making a habit of pausing before you eat to determine if you are experiencing hunger, appetite or cravings is key. Practicing mindful eating in this way can help reduce cravings and lead to sustainable weight loss over time.

Pursue Balance, Variety and Moderation in Your Diet

To successfully lose weight in a sustainable way, it is essential to pursue balance, variety and moderation in your diet. Restricting or eliminating entire food groups is not advisable and often counterproductive.

Rather than labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” focus on eating a balanced diet with appropriate portion sizes. Consume a variety of nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Allow yourself to enjoy treats in moderation as well. Deprivation often leads to cravings and binge eating.

A balanced diet provides all the nutrients you need to be healthy and maintain your weight. Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. Listen to your body's cues. Variety prevents boredom and ensures you get all the necessary nutrients. Try new recipes with different spices, grains, and produce. Rotate your menu weekly.

Moderation means consuming treats and less nutritious foods occasionally and in appropriate portion sizes. Allowing yourself to enjoy your favorites in moderation makes weight loss more sustainable. Practice mindful eating - savor each bite and avoid distractions. You will feel more satisfied with less.

Other tips for balance, variety and moderation:

• Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and fill up.

• Get enough protein and fiber which promote satiety.

• Practice intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating. Limiting the time window in which you eat can aid weight loss.

• Stay active to balance your energy input and output. Exercise provides physical and mental benefits.

• Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can influence cravings, hunger and portion control.

A balanced, varied diet with appropriate portion control is key to successful long-term weight loss and maintenance. Pursue a healthy lifestyle with nutritious whole foods, exercise, sleep, and self-care. Moderation and mindful eating will help you avoid cravings, feel satisfied, and stay on track. Focus on progress, not perfection.

Tips for Managing Cravings in a Healthy Way

To manage cravings in a healthy way, it is important to understand their underlying causes and have strategies in place to avoid giving in to temptation.

Identify the source

Cravings are often triggered by emotions, memories, or habits. Pinpoint what is prompting your desire for a particular food. Are you stressed, bored, or lonely? Did you have a long day at work? Recognizing the root cause can help you find alternative ways to meet that need.

Stay hydrated and fed

Thirst or hunger can masquerade as cravings. Drink plenty of water and eat regular, balanced meals with lean protein, high-fiber whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Having a satisfied stomach and staying properly hydrated reduces cravings and prevents overeating.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can intensify cravings by impacting hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Prioritize rest and your cravings may subside.

Find alternatives and distractions

Replace the craving with another enjoyable activity like exercising, socializing with friends, reading a book, or pursuing a hobby. Keep your hands and mind occupied until the craving passes. You can also substitute the craving with a similar but more nutritious option. For example, trade chips for veggie sticks, hummus, or ice cream for Greek yogurt with fruit.

Limit triggers

Avoid places and situations where cravings tend to strike. If certain locations or times of day prompt unhealthy eating, make an effort to change those patterns.

With time and practice, managing cravings in a balanced way can become second nature. Be patient and remember that an occasional indulgence will not derail your progress. The key is developing sustainable long-term habits that support your health and wellness goals.


In the end, the most effective approach to weight loss is to avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Focus on listening to your body and honoring your cravings in moderation. Pursue a balanced diet with nutritious whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and moderate portions of the treats you enjoy.

If diet and exercise alone haven’t been enough for you to meet your weight loss goals, schedule an appointment with us today to see if you’re a candidate for medical weight loss with Semaglutide and Tirzepatide. You can do this by using our online booking tool today.