Still Struggling with Food Cravings: Try These Helpful Tactics

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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.

 

[VIDEO ARCHIVES] Contemporary and Behavioural Science

Check out this video from our video archives!

Hosted by Dr. Mike Breen of the Chiropractic Family Care Centre, and Certified Master Coach, Christopher Lawrence. Did you know that 95 to 98% of people who lose weight put it all back on within 12 months? Did you know that studies conducted in 2015 say that if you are “normal” weight in Canada you are now in the minority? These means that more than 50% of Canadians are considered overweight or obese. Because of this the weight loss journey can sometimes be discouraging, heart-breaking, and frustrating! Who should you listen too? Who has the right science and the right program? We have a proven track record of helping our clients lose weight and keep it off with the Healthy Transformations Weight Loss Lifestyle Program. What makes this program different is that we look at both the science and the behaviour of eating and food, this is currently not done by any of the other programs on the market. During our free seminars we will be revealing the 10 secrets to losing weight keeping it off both from a scientific perspective as well as the behavioural perspective. Finally two experts in the industry are combining physical and behavioural science to ensure you achieve the weight loss results you want for the rest of your life! • Attendees will get a clearer direction on what they need to do to lose weight and keep it off • They will find out what may be slowing them down, standing in the way, or stopping them from achieving the weight loss they need to see to live a healthy lifestyle • They will leave feeling empowered and ready to take action to achieve their weight loss goals

Props to the New Canada Food Guide

In January, the new Canada Food Guide was released to the understandable level of scrutiny, acclaim, and criticism that a document like this generates.  For me, the new guide is a very big step in the right direction.

I have been in the field of health-care directly and indirectly for about 40 years.  Most of this time I have had my “ear to the tracks” of what was happening in the nutrition field.  As is common in the field of science, new discoveries will frequently undo what were previously held as lock-solid theories.  This is really how knowledge advances.  Scientists (real scientists – not those under the wing of lobby groups or corporations) are trained to question their own findings.  This is exemplified, in part, by the “null-hypothesis” – a scientist will have an idea about an outcome and will create a study in the attempt to disprove their own thinking.  In this way, science evolves.  What are seen as inconvenient changes by the pseudo-scientist are seen as advancements by the true scientist.  Because of this, very few things stand the ongoing test of scientific scrutiny.  It’s not that things are completely refuted (sometimes they are) but that elements are added or subtracted from the original thought.  And, once in a rare time, some things stand both the test of time and the test of scrutiny.  Over my time in this field, only a few things have been repeatedly challenged and remain as scientifically valid today as they were 40 years ago.  One of them is a foundational element of dietary science – “plant-based diets”.  There are elements that have been added and minimally modified, however the fundamental basis is this – people who eat plant-based diets are healthier and live longer than those who do not.

This is where I am so happy to see the change in the new Canada Food Guide.  At the start of the project, those entrusted to come up with the new guide made an exceptionally important decision.  It was that they were not going to place any emphasis on the science that was industry driven, nor were they going to entertain input from industry lobbyists. Now, this does not mean that I am an anti-industry person, but it certainly does mean that I am pro-science. The Canada Food Guide Committee scoured the (real) scientific literature and came up with recommendations that are reflective of what is understood by the scientific community.  Some of the elements are based upon science that has been advanced or modified in the last 5 years.  And, a significant emphasis is based upon what has been true for at least 40 years – plants should form the bulk of the daily dietary intake of Canadians.

There are other fundamental changes to the guide that are consistent with contemporary science.  There is a significant statement made by the eliminationof refined sugar in both solid and liquid forms – and interestingly, this includes the elimination of products such as fruit juices.  There is also a big statement being made in the reduction of the volume of protein and at the same time, suggesting a move toward plant-based proteins whenever possible.  What has been known for quite a while by the scientific community but has been refuted by contemporary health care and national food guides is the great value in the consumption of larger volumes of fat in the diet.  The new Canada Food Guide has shown it’s understanding of current science by the inclusion of fat as a fundamental dietary substance and by encouraging its’ consumption. 

So, way to go Canada!  The new Canada Food Guide is a document that should be celebrated. There are elements that I would change however in the composite, we are most certainly headed in the right direction.

Dr. Michael Breen is the co-owner of the Chiropractic Family Care Centre and has been in Private Practice in Calgary, Alberta for over three decades.  Dr. Breen graduated from the University of Calgary Faculty of Kinesiology in 1981 (Honours) and from Palmer College of Chiropractic – West in San Jose, California in 1986.  His foundational clinical work is in the field of Health Optimization.  He uses his background in athletics and chiropractic to aid his patients in recovering physical capacity and uses his background in nutrition and functional medicine to aid his patients in the recovery from chronic illness.  He is the co-founder of the Healthy Transformations program.  Dr. Breen can be reached at mbreendc@telus.net