We all have them…food cravings. Sometimes they’re driven by habit, other times by boredom and even hunger. Food cravings aren’t always harmful, but when they take us too far from our health goals its time to take action. Try these tips for fighting food cravings, and giving in to them, without getting too far off your health track.
Start by asking these two questions: Am I really hungry and what am I hungry for? Cravings can be driven by a hunger for something other than food. For example, loneliness, stress and overwhelm can show up as a food craving. Succumbing to the craving can feel like a response to the discomfort that is disguised as hunger. What you may actually be hungry for is the connection or relief from stress and pressure. Try to determine what you are hungry for and respond to the need behind the craving. That might look like reaching out to a trusted friend, delegating some items on your to-do list or giving yourself permission to take a 15-work break for a walk.
Get enough sleep
Poor sleep habits make it harder to resist food cravings. That’s because too many nights burning the midnight oil wreak havoc on hormones that control appetite and satiety. To get a handle on food cravings, aim for 7 hours of sleep most nights. Up your chances of success by counting back 8 hours from the time you need rise and shine. Dedicate one hour to an electronic free wind down time. Read a book, do some gentle stretching, have a nice bath…you get the idea.
Delay to distract yourself
Reduce the number of times you give in to cravings by making an agreement with yourself to wait. You might start by deciding to wait 10 minutes. Do something that captures your attention during those ten minutes. Alternatively, you might choose to watch the craving as you wait. Where do you feel it in your body? What stories are building around the craving? Simply sit with any feelings and stories that come up. Offer yourself some compassion as you sit. You’ll be pleased by how often the craving goes away on its own. Increase wait times every few days.
When to give in…
It is okay to occasionally give in to food cravings. In fact, when you plan strategically you are more likely to avoid overdoing it. For example, you can decide you will have one or two cookies rather than a dozen. Here’s how to give in without getting carried away.
Practice “when and then”
- When I have finished my apple, then I will enjoy a handful of chips.
- When I have had 30 minutes of exercise, then I will enjoy a cookie.
The first two bites are the most satisfying. Slow down and notice the full experience of eating. Pay attention to the taste and texture of the food. Consume with one-pointed attention, no television or other distractions – these only encourage you to mindlessly eat more. After two bites, note any satisfaction you feel. Ask yourself if you have had enough.
Food cravings happen to everyone, but they don’t have to derail your health goals. Investigate to learn the difference between hunger and boredom or loneliness, get enough sleep and wait before you give in. When you do give in, find ways to “earn” your treat and enjoy it mindfully.