Having a strong craving and feeling powerless to do anything about it is awful. You feel defeated, weak, and 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 give you a tiny boost in self-esteem so you can avoid the knee-jerk reactions to a craving.
What Causes Cravings?
Cravings have little to do with hunger. They do, however, have to do with issues that are both biological and psychological 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 association between sugar and positive moods. 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 you always feel hungry. Excess body fat and a diet high in sugar and carbs spike leptin production and eventually leads to leptin resistance.
- Food addiction: Certain foods (especially sugar and salt) increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates—that’s 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, negative body image, anxiety, hopelessness, incompleteness, inadequacy, low self-worth, loss… the list of emotional triggers is very long. Food definitely offers temporary relief by numbing out the emotions so you don’t feel them.
What To Do When Cravings Hit
Long-term, healing your hunger means addressing the void that you are trying to fill with food. Heal Your Hunger can help! In the meantime… here are 7 tips to help you when cravings hit.
- Don’t deprive yourself. 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. Even if you do indulge, it feels good having the self-mastery to delay your gratification!
- Stay hydrated. It’s amazing how full you feel when you stay topped off with plain (or flavored with lemon or cucumber/mint) water all day. 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.
- If you must eat, have yogurt. Yogurt is high in natural probiotics, which increase dopamine production. Dopamine is another feel-good neurotransmitter responsible for positive moods, motivation, and self-regulation. When a craving hits, have some yogurt instead of your usual go-to. Choose yogurt that is low in sugar, such as Greek-style yogurt. If you’re avoiding dairy, you can go for dairy free options that are made with almond milk or coconut milk. Just be mindful of the sugar content.
- Distract yourself with a daydream. You can feel better just thinking positively about something you love, like something on your bucket list or an upcoming trip. There’s a big upside to daydreaming. One benefit is it helps you disengage from the craving. Deliberate attempts to suppress thoughts usually backfire. Since you can’t think about two things simultaneously, you can shift your focus onto something you love thinking about, and let your mind wander from there. Anytime your attention drifts back to the craving, gently redirect it back to what you love.
- Distract yourself with an activity. Doing is an even more powerful distraction than thinking, especially if you are making art. Studies have shown a direct connection between art, stress reduction, and happiness. Don’t feel pressured 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 or place 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, ready for danger. If you see someone sad, you feel their hurt. If you see someone’s happy smile, you feel better. The trick is your smile has to be genuine. Holding even a fake sad-smile for two minutes changes it into a mood-boosting genuine Duchenne smile. Bonus: you gain self-awareness. You may be so used to feeling anxious, sad, or cornered, that you may not even realize it. It feels so “normal”. Your dominant emotions always show on your face. Look at yourself in the mirror… see what you are feeling and smile to improve it!
The Immediate Reward of Delaying Gratification
Delaying gratification doesn’t solve the underlying issue, but it gives you an immediate reward in the form of self-mastery. This approach has a big ripple effect. Feeling empowered when cravings hit 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 by scheduling a Breakthrough Session to see just how we can help you overcome your cravings! To schedule your call, please click HERE.