Having a strong craving and feeling powerless to do anything about it is awful. You feel defeated, weak, out of control.
There are a few things you can do when cravings hit so that you become bigger than your cravings. These tips will help you feel better about yourself and even a tiny boost in self-esteem can help you avoid the automatic knee-jerk reaction to a craving.
What Causes Cravings?
Cravings have little to do with hunger. They can be both psychological and biological in nature.
Your body is always communicating with you. Cravings can signal an imbalance, a nutrient deficiency, or an addiction.
- Poor GI health: Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Your health depends largely on the health of your gut bacteria, the balance of which is upset by stress and poor diet.
- Low serotonin levels: serotonin, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter, is tied to mood, appetite, and digestion. Carbohydrates and sugar increase serotonin production… but it’s a temporary spike, leading to an addictive dependence on sugar to induce a positive mood. Low serotonin is caused by poor gut health, depression, or anxiety. You may notice extra strong sugar/carb cravings when you’re feeling stressed or depressed.
- Leptin resistance: leptin is a hormone that tells you when you’re full. Overproduction of leptin leads to leptin-resistance, dulling your body’s ability to regulate hunger to the point where you always feel hungry. Excess body fat and a diet high in sugar and carbs spike leptin production and eventually lead to leptin-resistance.
- Food addiction: certain foods (especially sugar and salt) increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates—which is why a bag of chips is so satisfying and leads to an association between certain foods and feeling good.
Stress, sadness, boredom, poor body image, loneliness, low self-esteem, overwhelm, anxiety, hopelessness, lack of purpose, inadequacy, low self-worth, loss… the list of emotional triggers is long, and eating certain foods can definitely provide temporary relief.
What To Do When You Have Cravings
Of course, addressing the void that you are trying to fill with food is always the best thing you can do when you feel a craving for certain foods, or excess food. But in the meantime, here are 5 tips to help you when cravings hit.
- Don’t DENY it; DELAY it. The more you obsess about not eating something, the more attention you give it, and the more you crave it. Diffuse the craving by delaying the gratification by 15 minutes. Tell yourself you’ll have the thing in 15 minutes, after you do something else which you have to do first: this prioritizes another behavior and tricks your brain into anticipating a reward…and anticipation is as rewarding as the action itself (which is why shopping is more rewarding than owning something). If you put 15 minutes between the stimulus and the action…you may be thinking about something else by the time the 15 minutes are up.
- Stay hydrated. It’s amazing how full you feel when you stay topped off with plain water all day (or add lemon or cucumber slices). Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger. Avoid sugary drinks, especially artificially sweetened drinks which actually increase sugar cravings. Hydration won’t prevent emotional cravings, but mitigates biological cravings since hydration supports GI and other organ function.
- Get artsy. Studies have shown a direct connection between art, stress reduction, and happiness. You don’t have to pull out the acrylics and create a masterpiece. Keep a sketchbook on hand. Make some doodles about something on your bucket list, a person you love, or an activity that makes you smile.
- Take a moment to be grateful. Scientists have linked gratitude with the ability to prefer waiting for better rewards. You may think, “I can’t just turn on grateful feelings!” Actually, you can. There are already many things you’re grateful for… you just don’t think about them all the time. Think about them when a craving hits, for 5-15 minutes. Think about what you’re thankful for, and why. This helps put things into perspective and can ease feelings of emptiness and longing.
- Smile. Look in the mirror and smile at yourself for two minutes. You can change your physiology and self-generate any emotion you want by changing your facial expression. If you see someone with a fearful face, you immediately tense up, anticipating danger. If you see someone sad, you feel their hurt. If you see someone’s happy smile, you feel better. The trick is that your smile has to be genuine. Holding even a fake sad-smile for two minutes changes it into a mood-boosting, genuine smile.
You may be so used to feeling anxious, sad, or cornered that you may not even realize it. It feels so normal. Since your dominant emotions always show on your face, look at yourself in the mirror…notice what you are feeling… and smile to improve it!
The Immediate Reward of Delaying Gratification
Having tools in your toolkit when you feel a craving for something to eat can help you feel empowered and leads to more confidence in other areas of life. So take some baby steps in delaying gratification while building self-esteem. Tiny victories every day add up to a more positive self-image.
Heal Your Hunger can help you with the underlying emotional causes of your cravings. I invite you to connect with us.