If I was to list down the top 3 questions that I get asked from my clients then the one that would make it to the very top would be 'How can I get a hold on my food cravings and that I am extremely frustrated at my eating habits".
To define food cravings, they are an intense desire for a specific food at a particular time and have a very short shelf life. For the most part when the moment passes away, in all probability the craving also goes away. It is very different from the actual physiological hunger, when your body really needs the food.
Now, something to also remember is that cravings happen to everyone. They happen to all humans. Even to those who may be eating the healthiest way possible. They are normal. The only difference is that some people are very good at managing them, while some find it to be a huge challenge. Based on my years of experience, the ones who struggle the most are those who make it difficult for themselves to manage their cravings and really treat themselves too harshly. There is blame game that goes on; some people think it is all their fault and that they are unable to make a change.
Well, let us stop that blame game! I am going to share 5 simple strategies that go a long way into managing food cravings, improve your outlook towards yourself, towards life and your relationship with food.
1. Identify the Root Cause
If the roots are strong the tree is strong. If the roots are weak, then watering and taking care of the tree makes it thrive. Apply the same principle in life. Get to the root cause of the problem and take care of yourself. A good strategy is to start journaling your emotions whenever THE craving hits you. Over time you will be able to identify the emotions attached to the craving. You will also be able to pinpoint the underlining cause for that behaviour. A few years ago, I had a client who could drink two 2 litre bottles of pop in a single day. She began journaling the circumstances around whenever the craving came by. What came forward was an eye opener: every time she had a disagreement with her spouse, her craving would kick in. Ultimately, she decided to have an open conversation about this and the problem was solved to quite an extent. The disagreements did not stop. However, they became more cordial and friendly. This little step went a long way in not only getting a hold on her craving but she also lost weight. Journaling is a simple exercise and doesn’t even have to be full sentences. Just get your thoughts down.
2. Learn to Breathe
Yes! Breathing is a basic activity of being alive. However, the "breathe" I am referring to you is an action you take when you can see a craving is coming along. You are probably aware of the time during the day when you crave certain foods. When you feel the craving creeping along, find a comfortable spot and sit down with your eyes closed and your back straight. Place your hand on your stomach and take a deep breath through your nose, count to four and then exhale slowly through the mouth. Continue with this practice for at least 3 to 5 minutes. You will actually begin to feel very relaxed and will find that your junk food cravings have disappeared.
This act of conscious purposeful breathing not only relaxes you, it also helps big time in releasing any negative thoughts or emotions you may be experiencing. We all know that negative emotions drive cravings. When you deep breathe it makes you aware of your own existence resulting in clearing up your negative emotions and gets rid of the craving. A very simple, yet powerful technique!
3. Give Yourself Permission to Eat and Enjoy Your Craving Daily
Most people when confronted with a craving will try to fight it. How about a reverse gear? Try to embrace your craving. Welcome it with open arms and give yourself the permission to eat the food that you crave and also enjoy it. DO NOT feel guilty. In fact, schedule the craving daily at the same time. Perhaps a chocolate donut after your lunch or a bag of chips after dinner? You will be pleasantly surprised. Chances are that by day 3 or 4 you will not want that food. This action will change your perspective about that particular food being just another food that you can enjoy occasionally and the craving goes away.
4. Try the Hide and Seek Method.
Out of sight is out of mind. I am sure at your workplaces, especially around holiday time; there are treats, chocolates, cookies all over the lunch room. Each time you go to get yourself a cup of tea or a drink of water you have no choice but to pop one of them in your mouth. Hard to control! And the craving graph continues to rise.
Try having a rule at your work: people are more than welcome to bring in treats, but they are not allowed to leave them on the table. Assign a cupboard for the treats and everyone has to place them in that cupboard. You will notice a significant difference.
Apply the same principle at home. Do not leave chocolate, cookies etc on the kitchen counter. Hide them in the pantry. That one extra step of opening the pantry and getting the cookie will make a world of difference.
5. Ask Yourself This Question: Can You Eat an Apple?
I recently came across this strategy and tried it. It works really well. Give it a try! Whenever you feel that your craving is creeping up, question yourself immediately: will you eat an apple? If the answer is "No" then it is a sure shot craving. Just give it a few minutes or try any of the strategies in this blog post and the craving will go away. If the answer is "Yes" then go get yourself some real food, not the food that you are craving. You are really hungry at that time.
Author Bio: Alka Chopra is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and founder of the One Week to Your Health online school. Her dietetic practice is based on two premises: think about your health beyond nutrition and if nutrition is not simple it does not get done. So, simplify your life with simple health & nutrition strategies to lead a content and fulfilling life. Check out Alka's blog to find out more.
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Yours in health,