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.