Cravings have a way of taking over. Let’s say you really, really want a particular food — those gooey enchiladas at your favorite Mexican spot, an icing-covered pumpkin doughnut or a bag of salty chips — it may soak up your entire mental space. When you can’t think of anything else, the craving just grows stronger. One reason could be you’re on edge and turning to food as a way to cope with stress. When that happens, it might be best to head outside — or take up forest bathing.
New research published in the journal Health & Place shows taming cravings caused by stress could be as simple as getting access to nature and surrounding yourself with enough green.
Researchers from the University of Plymouth in the UK looked at a total of 149 people (mostly female) who were, on average, 40 years old. Each person was instructed to select one of the following that they most strongly craved: food, chocolate, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other. Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine were categorized as those that are potentially addictive, while food, chocolate and other were considered non-addictive. Participants then recorded their cravings with a questionnaire, which measured elements like the intensity of cravings and how intrusive those cravings were.
Next, researchers calculated how much nature the participants were exposed to by calculating the amount of greenspace in the neighborhood, view from the home, access to a private garden and use of parks or rural land. Lastly, each participant self-assessed their mood using a form of the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale.
After analyzing all of that info and controlling for potential confounding variables, researchers found it pays to be green — or rather, see green. “Passive exposure to green spaces — for instance, being able to see trees in your back garden or from your window — was linked to less frequent and intense cravings,” says Leanne Martin, lead researcher of the study.
It turns out, nature makes you happy. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself — when your day might feel like it’s going so wrong and then you take a walk outside and return feeling centered, calmer and ready to tackle the challenge ahead.
“Our findings suggest that alleviation of negative moods may play an important role here. Specifically having greenery nearby the home was associated with a reduction in negative mood and in turn lower craving level,” says Martin.
This only adds to the research already out there that shows green spaces basically act as potent happy pills. “Our research extends this work, suggesting these mood-boosting benefits may also extend to reduced cravings,” says Martin.
Try adding more green to your surroundings, whether it’s getting a few more house plants, or making a daily 10-minute walk part of your routine. If you work in your home, position your desk near a window so you can glance up and take a 30-second break for a nature bath. Starting a garden can also deliver health benefits beyond taming cravings by increasing your daily steps. And remember that if you can’t stop thinking about that enchilada, it couldn’t hurt to head out to a park.