It’s something we’ve all experienced–  the irresistible pull of a soft, warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven, or the magnetic attraction of a thick, juicy burger topped with melting cheese. No matter what the food is, when we experience a craving, we just need it right now! 

Often, we reactively reach for food in order to satisfy our desire, and it’s common to eat a larger portion than we’re hungry for.

While indulging in a treat once in a while is a healthy eating beahviour, a pattern of overeating can lead to excess energy intake, and over time, increase risks for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Most foods we crave also tend to contain too much sugar, salt, and fat, without providing other essential nutrients needed to support our well-being. 

In today’s food abundant environment, where sophisticated marketing strategies and food science technologies are used to appeal to our appetite, it can be challenging to break the chain of craving–> eating –> overeating.

But the truth is, at every moment, you have the power to decide how you will respond to your food cravings. 

I will show you four steps to beat food cravings. Use these steps to reduce the compulsive urge to eat when you’re not hungry, and make healthy, informed, and creative food decisions when you are. It may feel awkward at first, but like any new skill, mindfully facing food cravings will become easier with practice. 

Step #1: Relax—take a few deep breaths, give yourself time to make better food decisions.

Feeling stressed can be a reason that we crave food without physical hunger. Stress affects how we eat in two ways:

  1. Food is often used to help calm the stress response.
  2. Feeling under stress impairs our ability to make good decisions around eating.

One effective way to promote mind and body relaxation is through deep, diaphragm breathing. Take a deep breath, inhaling into your belly and chest, and imagine filling the front, sides, and back of your upper body with breath. Then exhale completely. Now repeat two more times, each time inhaling into your stomach, then your chest, visualize the breath filling up your entire body, and exhaling all the way out. This calm the stress response, reduces the urgency of the food craving, and gives you an opportunity to make wiser food choices.

Step#1: Relax—take a few deep breaths, give yourself time to make better food decisions.
Step #2 Get Curious—kindly and gently ask yourself why this food craving is here and what underlying need you’re trying to fulfill by eating. 

Continue breathing deeply, and ask yourself “why do I crave this food?” Is it because it looks visually appealing? Because it smells good? Because I’m feeling hungry? Because my co-worker mentioned how great it tasted?

Wanting a food because it looks good or because you’re stressed doesn’t make you a bad person, so gently let go of any self-judgement. By being honest with your reasons for eating, you may gain useful insight into why you crave certain foods, and how to respond appropriately to your craving. 

If you are aware that your craving is due to an emotional trigger, the response to deal with this will be different from a craving caused by physical hunger, or a craving caused by an appealing food item. Food can satisfy many needs– correctly identifying the needs that you have at this moment is an important step to making a wise decision that best serves you. 

Step#2 Get Curious—kindly and gently ask yourself why this food craving is here and what underlying need you’re trying to fulfill by eating. 
Step #3 Explore Your Options – How can I best meet the needs I have? Come up with 2-3 possibilities.

To make a decision that will leave you feeling in control of your food craving, consider 2-3 different actions you can take to resolve the craving in this moment. If you’re stuck, think about what food & non-food possibilities can help meet the needs you identified in the previous step. What’s helped in the past? 

The easiest option will be to eat the food you’ve been craving, but there are alternatives available if you take a pause. Continue to breath deeply, you are still in the exploration phase, there’s no need to make a decision yet. You can still choose to have the food that you’ve been craving.

If you’re feeling hungry, foods with a combination of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fibre is best for providing satiety and keep you feeling full for a long time. Include vegetables, a meat / meat alternative, and a starch at every meal. If you’re peckish, a snack can help tide you over until the next meal. 

If you’ve decided that you’re seeking food primarily for emotional comfort, check to see if other self-care options exist. Would calling up a friend or going for a walk be just as effective in coping with this situation? Would you be willing to wait 5 minutes for the emotional discomfort to pass by itself? 

If it’s a special occasion, or if the food is truly appealing to you, then explore how much of you’d like to eat– The entire portion? A few bites? Share it with a friend? 

Step #3 Explore Your Options – How can I best meet the needs I have? Come up with 2-3 possibilities.
Step #4 Savor Your Food– Pay attention to the eating experience, give yourself permission to enjoy it as much as possible.

If you’ve chosen to eat something in response to a craving, then enjoy! Treat each bite like a wine connoisseur tasting a fine glass of wine.

Pay attention to every aspect of the food—look at it, smell it, notice its textures, and its flavours. Give yourself permission to discover as much pleasure as possible. At the same time, pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, as well as any thoughts or emotions you have around eating at this time. Keep eating mindfully until you’ve had enough.

Step #4 Savor Your Food – Pay attention to the eating experience, give yourself permission to enjoy it as much as possible.

Responding to food cravings mindfully is a key step in building a healthy, rewarding relationship with food. If “caving in” to certain foods is a habit, you may find it challenging to go through all four steps at first. Perhaps after going through the steps, choosing to eat the food craved is still your decision. You may feel disappointed, tired, and guilty as a result of your “failures”. And that is okay. You’ve made the best decision you could in your circumstance. Every time you experience a food craving is another opportunity to grow and to learn, and as long as you keep trying, there is no such thing as failure. 

 
Warm Regards, 
Cathy 

Four Steps for Beating Food Cravings
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