Craving Control...or Curiosity?
Cravings! What are they? What do we do with them? How can we approach them in a way that doesn't in the way of our health and fitness and fat loss goals?
First, let’s discuss what cravings are NOT.
Cravings are not physiological hunger. Cravings are not your body’s way of letting you know that you’re missing a key nutrient.
Let’s think about this. Do you have “cravings” when you are hungry? Or do you have cravings, as you describe them, in between meals when you don’t need to eat? Like craving chocolate after a meal, for example.
And… If cravings were your body’s way to letting you know that you need to consume something, it would ask for something healthy—not the type of food that my clients tell me they crave, like ice cream, cookies, sugary baked goods, chips, and packaged type snacks.
Cravings are not an excuse to begin believing that you are incapable of following a healthier eating plan to meet your goals. Often when cravings are perceived as a real nuisance by clients, they start discussing how they might need to start eating intuitively. “I’m sick of thinking about food,” they might say. I have to remind them that how they are thinking about food will make all the difference. It’s the quality of our attention that will dictate our perception of it!
But let’s not get too far away from the topic here.
Cravings are thoughts. When you have a craving, what is the experience? You think about a certain food, right? You may be driving home from work and you see the Golden Arches. Now, in your mind, you imagine a Big Mac. Images are thoughts too. Thoughts do not just come in the form of words. You were driving, listening to a podcast, when you noticed the arches in your field of vision. That sight led to your attention wandering from the podcast to a thought…an experience…and you begin connecting that experience with memories…more thoughts. Now your attention is on food. Perhaps you are hungry, but look at what grabbed your attention to craving a Big Mac. Not the hunger.
Cravings are opportunities to begin practicing seeing your mind as an antique shop…a museum…a zoo. We have attachments to certain foods based on when we’ve eaten them in the past. Most of you could list your favorite ‘comfort’ foods if I asked! Comfort is an emotion. Memories are created when an event occurs with an emotion. Just noticing what’s going on in our minds when we are snagged by a craving can be great fun! If you let the thought play out, what do you see? Big mac…mom…driving after baseball practice to get a 50-cent ice cream cone…
Cravings are often antique artifacts from times gone by…maybe even times from the recent past. If we can approach them deliberately, we can see that they can be quite interesting. We may remember things we hadn’t thought about in a long time.
A craving can come on spontaneously, like when we notice something within our environment that snags our attention OR a craving can be prompted by an occurrence. I may feel a certain way and think about a certain food. Maybe I feel happy, and I want to eat a certain food to extend that feeling. Maybe I’m uncomfortable, and I want to eat a certain food to numb or distract myself from the experience. Either way, a craving is a thought. It may be deeply connected to with rich sensory content (memories, beliefs, emotion, images) or you may have a superficial attachment to the food.
Either way, the name of the cravings game is to begin paying attention in a new way to your experience of them. Many of you have heard me call thoughts “brain burps.” I like to imagine them this way because it helps me practice just noting them and letting them go. We say “excuse me” and move on, right? Cravings grow in intensity the longer we put our attention on them. So if you are thinking “chocolate” and you think about everything related to chocolate itself, you think about eating chocolate, you think about how that chocolate tastes and feels I your mouth, the intensity with which you feel the need to get up and eat the chocolate will increase. Instead, I’m encouraging you to note the thought about chocolate and then check in with what it’s related to. Love?
Connection? Warmth? Celebration? Happy endings? Time with a cherished person in your life? Go there!! Could it be that you’re not craving chocolate at all but what the chocolate reminds you of?
Cravings are not hunger, they are not your body’s way of saying “you need to eat crap”. They are opportunities to understand yourself better, to notice patterns in your thoughts. Cravings are thoughts. Do you have a thought about food when you finish something? All through the work day when I’ve completed something- could be an email, a large part of a project, a session with a client- I immediately think about food. Doesn’t mean I need to eat. How fascinating is that? That cravings for me are like exclamation points!
Cravings can be gateways to visiting the museum of the mind. What are those thoughts attached to? Who? What memories come up around them? If you were to just yourself meander with the thought rather than believing that the thought is a map to a specific outcome or destination, where might you be led?
We don’t need to “control” cravings—we just need to become interested in them!