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The munch crunch

You can't stop thinking about food: about the food you like the most, about why you can't have it, and what you can eat in its place. Your obsession with tasty calorie-laden and forbidden food is taking the pleasure out of everything else for you. You wake up each morning thinking about food and lie in bed through the night dreaming about it.

It has to stop, before you crack and fall off the wagon. Otherwise, you risk raiding the confectionery aisle in a supermarket and gorging on fat and sugar, ruining all the hard work you have done over the past few weeks to slim down and achieve a healthier diet and lifestyle.

So, how can you distract yourself so that you are not spending all your time thinking about the food you cannot eat?

Here are some tips for overcoming the food obsessions and cravings which consume so many dieters, and make cutting back on calories even harder than it needs to be.

Don’t cut out favourite foods completely

Aim for moderation instead of abstinence. We all want what we can't have, so to tell yourself that you cannot have a takeaway Indian or a bottle of wine or a slice of chocolate cake for the next couple of months will only increase your cravings for them.

It will also increase your fear of them, making the foods you have enjoyed the most now the ones you fear the most.

You are on a diet, so it's essential that you restrict how often you eat fatty foods. Yet leaving some room for manoeuvre can be the difference between a successful diet and weight loss, or another summer squeezing into too tight T-shirts and shorts.

You will not obsess about chocolate if you know that you are allowed a weekend treat, of say, a chocolate ice-cream or a few chocolate biscuits.

Knowing that you can still enjoy your favourite treats, albeit in smaller portions, will take away the sense of denial which can lead to obsession and cravings.

Stay out of the kitchen and away from the fridge

It's an obvious precaution to take when you are trying to cut back on food to avoid the places where you are most likely to be faced with the temptation to eat the foods you shouldn't be consuming.

Yet sometimes the pull of what we can't have can be strong, and dieters often find themselves in the kitchen, at times other than breakfast, dinner or lunch.

For example, you pop into the kitchen to get an apple and for some reason find yourself checking out what is in the fridge, and helping yourself to a few mouthfuls of hummus before departing for the living room with an apple in your hand.

Stop doing it.

Be mindful that an apple is only an excuse to visit the kitchen. Or better still, keep a fruit bowl in the living room.

Eat at least three well-balanced meals a day

Possibly one of the worst things a dieter can do is to leave too much time between one meal and the next. It just means you have longer stretches of time to obsess over food, and dement your inner dieter.

If you completely cut out a meal per day, in the hope of accelerating your weight loss, then you run the risk of spending your day consumed by cravings for the foods you cannot have.

Don't skip meals. You'll only be hungrier for the next meal, and food obsessions between meals may become overwhelming.

Drink water

Another way to stave off food obsessions and avoid a snack attack is to drink lots of water.

Water fills you up and your hunger will soon subside, as will your food cravings. Plus, most of us don't drink enough water so drinking more will give you glowing skin as a bonus to losing weight.

Get up and stop daydreaming

Regular exercise will take your mind off food. We know exercise is vital to successfully managing weight loss, but never underestimate just how key exercise is to managing your food cravings too, because, in addition to burning calories, regular exercise brings relief from the tension caused by the stress of food cravings.

Delay for at least 10 minutes

Delay for at least 10 minutes before you eat.

This way you will be sure you are eating mindfully, and are fully aware of what you are consuming, and enjoying it. As opposed to just stuffing your face obliviously.

Distract yourself for 10 minutes by engaging in an activity that requires concentration. Then have a think about how much you really want the food, how much you are going to enjoy it, or if you are simply eating out of boredom or to fill in time.

Indulge yourself in ways other than food

For example, have a nice bubble bath -- this will appeal to women with children who can find it hard to find time for themselves -- or rent a DVD you have been dying to watch for ages, and put it on regardless of who moans about wanting to watch something else. Or have a manicure and pedicure.

Dieters need to be extra kind to themselves, and take care of themselves if they are to sustain their stamina and withstand the challenges that denying themselves their favourite foods can bring.

A bubble bath and a DVD may be all it takes to distract you from your desire for a bag of chocolate-chip cookies.

Know that cravings will eventually pass

A craving is similar to any other emotion in our human repertoire. It grows in intensity, peaks, and then finally subsides if you do not give in.

If you can hold off from eating that bar of chocolate, chances are that in a quarter of an hour, you will have forgotten all about it, and why you wanted it in the first place.