Ideas for how to manage cravings


In my experience working with people caught up in runaway comfort eating (aka emotional eating or binge eating) the best way to manage cravings is to get to the bottom of what is driving the craving and address THAT.

To do this, when a craving comes, stop, pause and notice what happened immediately before the craving started.

  • If your stomach rumbled, or it’s over 3 hours since you last ate something, you are probably hungry and the craving is because your brain is wanting you to restore blood sugar levels in the most quick and efficient way possible by going for calorie dense foods hence planting these in your mind (or making you super-aware of them so you notice them every where). Acknowledge you are hungry, that eating high sugar food is going to send your blood sugar through the ceiling setting up another crash (and round of cravings) in a few hours and that fatty foods are a heart attack waiting to happen.  Opt for something with low GI carbs e.g. brown bread, and a high protein content as this will be more filling and release sugars into your blood stream steadily over a longer period of time.
  • If you walked into a newsagent to get a paper and you crave a pastry because that’s what you always do then we are dealing with habit.  Your brain is triggered by the situation to complete an action done so many times before it is now programmed into your “auto-pilot”. You have (unwittingly) trained your brain “in this situation [buy a paper] do X [buy a pastry]”.  So, if you are hungry see above, if you are not then say to yourself “this is just a habit, I’m on auto-pilot, I don’t need a pastry” and leave.  The way to break habits is to disrupt them by doing something different e.g. get your paper delivered or buy from a newsstand that does not sell food.
  • If someone shouted at you or frightened you or a situation in which you were feeling “on duty”, trapped or tense comes to an end (like you get home after a difficult day at work, you have put the kids to bed or finally an activity you dislike but have to do or be part, of ends) and suddenly all you can think about is food then this is emotional eating and alternatives are:

Sharing those feelings with others so as to get support and soothing this way so ‘phone a friend to say you’ve had a mare of a day and have a giggle.  You can also smash habits this way.  If you have trained your brain to link coming home with eating i.e. when that door slams you get this overwhelming urge to inhale the contents of the biscuit tin, do what Julia Buckroyd suggests and schedule a mutual “how was your day?” call with call with a parent, friend or sibling. If you find yourself tending to say the same things over and over (that is, feelings of anger or resentment or being mis-understood are familiar old friends and your “unload the day” buddy is getting tired of hearing them) consider counselling to get to the bottom of what is driving them but ONLY if they are troubling you to the extent that they are stopping you enjoying your life. DON’T come to counselling just because someone has said you should. You need to want to.

Tidy something up: a stationery cupboard, a book shelf, paperwork, a weedy flowerbed.  There is something about becoming absorbed in creating order in one area of life that seems to compensate for having no control in other areas.

Build in “me” time for Pilates, reading, colouring, embroidery or other activities done purely for the joy and enjoyment they bring and NOT because they are “productive”.  Having “me” time is productive, it calms, recharges and soothes.

Allow yourself rewards like pedicures and massages rather than heading for hot buttered toast once work is done.

Think of a happy memory (Julia again, and the two suggestions below) a place you were on holiday, a memory that makes you smile whenever you think of it, a view that caught your breath,  then close your eyes and mentally re-live it to calm yourself.

Think of a person who totally loves you for you, not for what you have the potential to be or for what you have achieved but who simply loves you because you are alive. A person who is totally on your side and thinks you are wonderful and imagine them with you and smiling at you.

Tell yourself you are safe and OK and repeat a mantra: “this too will pass”, “when you are going through hell, KEEP GOING”, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same”, “I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul”, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”…whatever works for you.

Go for a mindful walk paying full attention to the beauty of nature along the way:  Look at the spring leaves and the patterns on them, the flowers and whenever your thoughts drift to whatever is troubling you or a “I wonder what he MEANT by that?” commentary starts (which often kick starts the craving as means of soothing it) notice your attention has wandered and gently bring your focus back to where you want it to be right now which is on getting the full, calming benefit of your walk (or whatever “me time” activity in which you are involved).

I would like to make a special note about boredom.

Many people I meet eat because their lives consist of work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep-nothing-to-do-on-Saturday-nothing-to-do-on-Sunday and off the cycle goes again.

Work can be full-time paid employment or running a family (akin to running a small business), caring for an ailing spouse or for elderly parents or other relatives.  If people are happy in their work, whatever form it takes, all well and good.  If we are not satisfied in our work then this can lead to boredom (or anxiety, anger, resentment or a host of other feelings that we try and eat because we dare not speak them aloud for some reason we give ourselves, some rule we have imposed) and we end up using food to (literally in some cases) spice up our lives and make things more interesting.

Assuming you cannot change your work to something that does interest you (and ask your self “can I REALLY not change this work or is fear, some out-dated rule or other ‘should’ holding me in place?”) then I would suggest that an antidote for boredom is to just have experiences.

If you go and try archery and love it, great, now you have a hobby to absorb you and don’t need to fill the time with eating.

If you tried archery and hated it you can ring a friend, tell them how awful the experience was, laugh about it and feel better.

To find new experiences join Meet Up groups,​, local WIs, anything to break up the monotony.

© 03/05/2017 Untangle Your Life 2017

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