"It reared its ugly head about 11 p.m. the other night!" my friend dramatically proclaimed over brunch recently. "I had done so well all day, sticking with a protein shake for breakfast, then lean protein and leafy greens at meals. I mean, I would give myself an 'A' until... Well, that moment."
I didn't need to ask the culprit. We all have one. Mine's almond butter: What innocuously begins as a few bites can become a whole jar.
So I understand the predicament. You've had a stressful day yet diligently maintained your healthy eating plan, but then you're watching Sex and the City reruns when suddenly you realize your favorite food sits in the fridge. One bite can't hurt, right?
Before you know it, you've devoured the whole container, triggering an I'll-restart-my-diet-again-tomorrow mentality.
That permissive "few bites" oftentimes leads to trouble, creating a vicious cycle of guilt, frustration, and unrealistic resolutions. These nine strategies can help you regain control so your kitchen doesn't become a battlefield that pits you against your favorite foods.
1. Keep it out of your house. I'm not just talking about that pint of rocky road in the freezer. Even healthy foods become unhealthy when you eat too much, so if you have a problem overeating it, keep that food out of the kitchen. (Note to self: A tablespoon of almond butter is healthy; eating half the container is not.) Sure, you can always jump into your car and buy your guilty pleasure, but at 11 p.m. when you're half-asleep in your pajamas, that's far less likely to happen. And spare me excuses like, "My kids have got to have it in the house." If it's not healthy for you, chances are that food isn't for your kids either.
2. Distract yourself. Ever had a hankering for something sweet, a minor catastrophe like a leaky faucet erupted, and you totally forgot about that food? Tell yourself you won't eat those caramel-pecan brownies and they become the purple elephant in the kitchen, but find an appealing non-edible distraction (hopefully not a leaky faucet!) and you'll probably forget that craving. Food cravings often signal an underlying emotional need. Maybe you've had the day from hell and want to take it out on an apple-cinnamon fritter. Substitute an equally satisfying non-food reward. My favorites include a hot bath, calling a close friend, or walking my dog.
3. Have a glass of water. Sometimes dehydration masquerades as hunger. Oh, I know a glass of water isn't nearly as exciting as a few tablespoons of dulce de leche, but those tablespoons -- which often become the whole container -- also aren't worth the lingering guilt and fat gain. One study at the University of Washington found people who drank a glass of water before bed completely eliminated cravings. It's worth a shot, or, er, a glass. 
4. Burst those cravings away. Eating sugary foods gives your brain a temporary boost of feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, but that neurotransmitter boost comes with a cost: an inevitable sugar crash that triggers hunger and cravings. Studies show exercise can give a similar euphoric rush without food's lingering guilt. Burst training is my favorite exercise because it's intense, fast, and helps you burn fat all day. You're far less likely to undo that hard work with a chocolate glazed donut.
5. Gain perspective. Are those few moments of bliss worth the repercussions? We all know the painful why-did-I-eat-that aftermath, where you swear you'll dutifully abstain from going anywhere near that food for the next year. Are those mental struggles worth it? Keep your goals in perspective. Maybe they include ditching 10 pounds for your upcoming Maui vacation, boosting libido, or having more stamina to keep up with your grandkids. Write down your goals and post them everywhere so you'll remember those 15 seconds' bliss devouring raw cookie dough isn't worth the long-term repercussions.
6. Keep that brutally honest friend around. One study found that whereas 24 percent of people who attempted weight loss alone maintained their weight loss, that number increased to 66 percent when they had a like-minded friend to support their efforts. Find that honest-to-a-fault friend who always words things in a kind yet firm manner and spend more time with her. You know the type: She'll give you the Oh no you don't! look when you eye that gooey cinnamon bun, protecting you from that few minutes of sugary bliss that ultimately derails your goals to get into the little black dress for your Saturday cocktail party.
7. Measure with your skinny jeans. Whether you use a tape measure or weigh (I encourage both once a week), tracking can make fast fat loss lasting fat loss. More than just number, your favorite pair of skinny jeans -- you know, that unforgiving pair that offers no stretch -- can also keep you honest. Blame them all you want for "shrinking" in the dryer, but skinny jeans can become a great morning-after reminder that you shouldn't have hit those double-fudge chocolate chip cookies during "Late Night with Seth Meyers."
8. Head for the bathroom. You're at a party and the enemy lurks: That one food that always derails your most stalwart efforts. Besides writing down your goals, I tell clients to post their head on to the body they want. It sounds silly but it works. When temptation strikes, head to the nearest bathroom. Pull out your goal list, your dream picture, and give yourself a stern talk in the mirror that your goals are worth far more than a few minutes' joy diving into your hostess's famous crￃﾨme brulee.
9. Balance, balance, balance. "Everything in moderation" drives me nuts. Moderation makes us fat and triggers or exacerbates food intolerances. The easiest way to avoid cravings and temptations is to balance your blood sugar levels, not succumb to every office and dinner-party delicacy. Make every meal lean protein, healthy fats, loads of leafy and cruciferous veggies, and slow-release high-fiber starches like sweet potatoes. That tray of brownies your coworker brought in might still become tempting, but without the blood sugar spike and crash you're far less likely to succumb.
What time of day do you often succumb to favorite foods? I find most people slip up before bedtime, though I've had a few clients who become derailed mid-afternoon. Tell me your "trouble time" and what the culprit that leads to your dietary downfall might be in the comments section below.
1. University of Washington Study. 2002. Reported in Integrated and Alternative Medicine Clinical Highlights. 4:1(16).