Still Struggling with Food Cravings: Try These Helpful Tactics

Reading Time: Approximately 3.5 to 4 minutes Word Count: 942

Cravings. The word alone makes me cringe and feel guilty, just thinking about eating low-nutrient foods. We all have them, and we all have caved to our urges at one time or another. But you don’t have to. While it isn’t easy, everyone can gain more willpower and replace our poor food choices with healthy ones.

The Science of Craving

Every time we give in to a craving, we reinforce the neural pathway to continuing to eat this way. This means, it makes it even more challenging to stay strong and not give in the next time. It’s like any compulsion or addiction, acting or doing the very thing you crave only weakens your willpower the next time you are faced with a craving. In fact, neurologically speaking, fast food isn’t much different than hard drugs.

Another interesting fact about cravings is that our gut bacteria play a significant role with cravings! Recent research shows that what we eat gives our body specific instructions. So, if we feed our body the right high-nutrient foods, you kill the bacteria that are hungry for those “incorrect” foods!

So, What to Do?

Well, there are two schools of thought on dealing with cravings. Both are helpful, but each addresses a different aspect of cravings.

Distraction.

The first is to distract yourself with something else, an activity that takes your attention away, such as, walking, reading, or tidying up. Find something that you enjoy or that requires you to think or move. This will refocus your thoughts and attention to what you are doing, and you will forget about eating. And while you might enjoy watching a bit of TV, I don’t recommend it’s often associated with mindless eating. By dulling your senses, it lowers your defences against cravings. However, distracting yourself from wanting to eat is a short-term strategy. It can be effective at the moment but doesn’t create the lasting results that will help transform your life.

Face Your Cravings

The second school of thought and I think the more effective path is to sit with the discomfort of the craving without running away from it. Avoidance or ‘numbing’ the feeling by busying yourself is an effective band-aid if you need to get through the moment, and I don’t want to discount the importance of that tool. Still, it is essential to face the craving and understand where it comes from. Not only will this strengthen your long-term willpower, but it will also help address and solve the root of those pesky urges for unhealthy foods.

Journal

One way that I find really useful is to journal. I grab a pen and paper as I like the tactical feeling of writing and doing something with my hands, and I jot down the following:

  • What am I noticing about my emotions right now?
  • What am I noticing about my thinking right now? What thoughts am I experiencing?
  • What do I notice in my body? What sensations am I experiencing?
  • What does my intuition tell me? Do a gut check!

Once you are finishing writing these answers down, observe and watch how these things shift and change in your mind. Notice that by not giving in to the craving, that the world, your world, is ok. At first, this will probably feel a bit difficult and uncomfortable, maybe even that it isn’t working. But that’s ok, because each time you sit with your thoughts and cravings, it will become easier to automatically turn those cravings into healthy choices.

In other words, don’t rush through the cravings and avoid them or numb yourself to them. Instead, be with your cravings and make friends. After all, keep your enemies closer, right? The more you face them, the less control they will have over your life.

Plan and Be Prepared

Remember, just because you have a craving, doesn’t mean you need to act on it. I would suggest creating a plan for your cravings. As most people know their ‘trigger’ foods and the typical examples that they crave, it helps to know ahead of time what you plan to do when that craving hits. I LOVE popcorn, so as I know this is a trigger for me, so my plan would be as simple as:

  • When I am craving popcorn, I will meditate for 5 minutes and focus on my breathing. If I am unable to meditate, I will go for a walk and then write for 10 minutes in my journal about what I am feeling.

So your example could be something like:

  • When I am craving {insert food}, I will {fill in blanks with lots of ideas of what you can do, including the suggestions in this post}.

Writing out your plans is more effective than only thinking about them. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, bullet-point works too. Do what works for you!

Lastly, make sure you eat two meals and three snacks a day. There is enough evidence to suggest that if you keep up your eating throughout the day, cravings are more easily curbed.

Additional Resources

If you need a bit of extra support and information, check out these four important questions for even more help understanding the thoughts and behaviours behind mindless eating. Remember, you are not alone, we all experience cravings, and everyone has caved at one point. If you give in, that’s ok. Be kind to yourself and start again. If it helps, journal for 5 to 10 minutes about it to learn from it. No journey is perfect, but we can get stronger with every step we take and learn from.

Christopher James Lawrence is a Co-Founder of the Healthy Transformations Program with Dr. Mike Breen.  He is also the Chief Value Officer and Founder of Change My Life Coaching and Co-Founder of Change My Business Coaching — a fast growing whole-life, leadership and business coaching company, and the only one of it’s kind.  He is also the author of “Go Beyond Passion: Discover Your Dream Job”.  Christopher is a Certified Master Coach Practitioner (CMCP), trainer and facilitator, and a passionate public speaker that truly cares about the success of each and every single person he comes into contact with. You can reach him here.

 

How to Deal with Food Cravings

Four Ways To Finally Kill Your Food Cravings

You’re sitting at your desk going on and about your daily activities when suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re overwhelmed with the need and urgent desire to devour a full plate of salty French fries. Your mind couldn’t stop thinking about the treat. So you think “maybe I’ll have just a bite. Or maybe I’ll eat all of it and skip dinner later tonight”. Life will be a lot easier if our mind is wired to crave healthy food, but it’s a daily struggle to hold ourselves from junk food. The problem arises when you have little to no control over your craving on a daily basis, you’re basically setting yourself up for serious health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, etc. Every time you give in to a craving you re-enforce the neural pathway to eat this way. Meaning, it makes it more difficult to stop giving into the cravings. You don’t have to go down this road, food cravings do not have to rule your life, and there are scientifically backed methods to deal with cravings effectively.  There are four schools of thought on dealing with cravings and I suggest you implement parts of them all.

#1 Distract Yourself

The first is to distract yourself with another activity (walking, reading, TV, etc.). TV usually isn’t the best choice if you associate TV with mindless eating. You can also take a series of deep breaths, do a quick workout, dance to an upbeat song, take a brisk walk or even jog. Exercise has been shown to release Dopamine the “feel good” hormone that can actually help suppress the craving.  To be honest with you, this is more of a short term tactic and doesn’t often create lasting results BUT it can still be useful.

In a study recently conducted, researchers found out that spending at least 10 seconds thinking about something else apart from the cravings actually works effectively in getting rid of the craving altogether. Moreover, cravings usually last about 10 minutes, so distracting yourself by engaging in a visually interesting game interferes with the mental processes that support that craving. Jackie Andrade a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth pointed out that such visually engaging activity like playing a game on your phone can actually reduce your carving levels to about 20 percent. He concluded by saying it’s difficult to think about something vividly while simultaneously engaging in another mentally stimulating activity.  Just distract yourself with anything. The activity does not matter, what does matter is engaging in an activity that takes your mind off the craving.

#2 Mindfulness

The other, and in my opinion, more important and effective route is to actually sit with the discomfort of the craving without running away from it. This is a mindfulness activity. While this experience can be uncomfortable, it has been shown in research to be very effective and have long-lasting effects. Mindfulness is generally the practice of been self-aware and being in the present and it can be used to effectively deal with food craving. A research study at Indiana State University focuses on the effect of mindfulness before eating when or when cravings occur. The focus is on an individual’s awareness of beliefs, behaviors, and emotions associated with food intake. There are several ways by which you can practice mindfulness. My favorite way of doing this is to grab a pen and paper and write out the following:

  • What am I noticing about my emotions right now?
  • What am I noticing about my thinking right now (what thoughts am I experiencing)
  • What do I notice in my body (what sensations might I be experiencing)
  • What does my intuition tell me (the gut check)

Then observe. Watch how these things shift and change, become acutely aware of the shifting and changing and notice that by not giving in to the craving that the world is okay. At first, this will feel very difficult, but with regular practice, you can turn these cravings into milli-second automatic responses and move onto healthier choices.

In other words, do not rush through the cravings and or ignore them but rather be with them, make friends with your cravings. Just like an enemy, keep your friends close but your enemies’ closer. The more you know your cravings the less control they have over you and the less myterious and unexplainable they become. Then if your cravings still persist ask yourself the questions contained in this article:

https://healthytransformations.ca/4-important-questions-to-ask-yourself-before-eating-anything/

Remember, just because you have a craving doesn’t mean you need to act on your thoughts. It is also important to have healthy alternatives to suppress cravings. You can develop different strategies to overcome the urge to eat. For instance, you can think about the long-term negative effects or the immediate reward you gain by sticking to healthy food choices. Focusing on both your long-term and short-term health goals can also effectively help to curb the cravings.  I would suggest creating a plan around cravings. For example,

“When I am craving popcorn I will do [fill in the blank with lots of ideas of what you can do, including the two suggestions above].” Writing plans out has been shown to be more effective than thinking about them.

#3 Bacteria in the Gut

It is also important to note that cravings can also be caused by the imbalance in gut bacteria. Gut bacteria are known as “microbiome” and they are a critical part of the digestive system. These bacteria play an important role in the body by contributing to your overall well-being. However, not all bacteria in the body are harmless, specifically, there are some strains of bacteria that can cause you to crave what they need to survive such as sugar, carbs, candy, etc. that can be easily broken down and absorbed.  To deal with these harmful bacteria, you need to starve them off by minimizing the intake of sugar and carbs in your diet while consuming a probiotic supplement regularly to keep off the harmful bacteria.

#4 Tracking & Planning

I have found out that planning and tracking your food in a journal can be an effective way to curb food cravings. Endeavor to write down everything you eat throughout the day in a food journal. Most times we tend to consume food quickly and forget about them especially if we’re motivated to eat by cravings. But remembering that you’ll have to come back to your food journal may actually reduce your desire to eat it in the first place. With constant practice, you will find out that your ability to resist cravings will become stronger over time— just a muscle that is consistently trained. Think deeply about your habits and nutritional needs to find out whether there are some observable risk factors that can be eliminated to curb cravings and have a more satisfying appetite.

References

http://www.eecs.qmul.ac.uk/~ahsu/papers/Chi_iCrave_PostReviewFinal.pdf 

More Questions?

Feel free to reach out and ask us.

More About Christopher James Lawrence

Christopher James Lawrence is a Co-Founder of the Healthy Transformations Programwith Dr. Mike Breen.  He is also the Chief Value Officer and Founder of Change My Life Coaching and Co-Founder of Change My Business Coaching — a fast growing whole-life, leadership and business coaching company, and the only one of it’s kind.  He is also the author of “Go Beyond Passion: Discover Your Dream Job”.  Christopher is a Certified Master Coach Practitioner (CMCP), trainer and facilitator, and a passionate public speaker that truly cares about the success of each and every single person he comes into contact with. You can reach him here.