People always say things to me like, "If I just didn't have cravings for (fill in the blank with sugar-filled, or carb-laden thing here), I'd be the skinniest person alive!" or they'll ask, "How do I stop craving (write greasy delicious fast food item here)?"
I'm going to offer you a new piece of advice about your cravings that you have probably never been told before. Cravings are actually a good thing! Cravings are a quiet, subtle message from your body telling you that something is out of balance.
And, contrary to popular advice, cravings are not something you can inherently control.
Cravings are there to serve you, not to piss you off or convince you to eat junk all day. Cravings are actually a wonderful thing to experience; if you approach them mindfully by using the steps outlined below.
The next time you have a craving, I challenge you to look at it as a secret message from your body and then take a second to decode what that message is.
Here are the three steps you need to take in order to decode your body's cravings:
1. Ask Yourself, is this Craving Emotional or Physical?
Many people crave McDonald's and other kinds of fast food quite often, so for this example we will use a McDonald's hamburger. Let's say you suddenly start thinking about a McDonald's hamburger and you cannot stop thinking about it. So, first, you need to dig into it. Ask yourself "why?", where is this craving coming from? Is this a physical or emotional craving? Ask:
Physical: Has your diet been low in fat or one of the other major macronutrients? Is your body in need of essential fat, carbohydrate, or protein that it hasn't gotten lately? Are you on your period and need some iron-rich red meat? Perhaps you are tired and need a jolt of energy to keep yourself up.
Emotional: Maybe you realize you are not hungry, but you still want to eat something. Again, it is extremely crucial here that you ask 'why do I want this?'
*Maybe you're up against a deadline at work and feel you need some extra energy.
*Maybe the McDonald's keeps you going because it gives you a temporary, pleasurable break.
*Maybe McDonald's is your comfort food, so you need to ask, 'why do I need comfort right now?'
I once had a client who told me she would eat 6 McDonald's cheeseburgers in her car before she would go home and eat dinner with her roommates- several times a week. After questioning her and finding out what was going on in her life, we discovered that she needed some adventure and excitement in her life. She felt a rush from eating the cheeseburgers in secret and then going home to eat dinner without anyone knowing. We also discovered that she felt deprived when she only ate the dinners that her roommates cooked because they were vegetarian.
She handled this by offering to cook meals more often so that she could select the menu...with meat! She also enrolled in a creative writing class which felt like an adventure that didn't involve making herself physically sick with cheeseburgers every night.
Now, I'm not saying that her solution is going to be the right solution for you. I am not proposing that there's any solution that I can give you at all. I am saying that by questioning your cravings you will get more clear on the underlying reasons for your cravings which will help YOU to effectively give yourself what you truly need.
2. Decide what you are Going to do with the Information you Gain from the Craving.
If you're up against a deadline at work, are exhausted and feel like you've been working yourself to the bone for weeks, and you find these cravings for McDonald's hamburgers keep coming up again and again, perhaps you need to take this as your body's way of asking for some rest. Maybe you should tell your boss that you need some time off when the deadline is over. Or, you could take a couple sick days for your mental health. Or, Perhaps you should consider leaving early or at the very least, commit to not staying late for a week straight.
Maybe you can't choose any of the suggestions above right now because you've got several projects that you are in charge of, so perhaps, right now- the McDonald's Hamburger is the best possible option at this point in time. And that's okay too.
As long as you make a mindful, informed decision, there is no wrong choice. You take the information that you learned from that choice and you use it to make another informed decision the next time a craving pops up, since next time you might be in a place where sleeping or taking time off work is an option and you won't need to eat in order to stay awake or power through a deadline.
3. Don't Judge Yourself.
Be curious. Don't be judgey. When you go on a lot of diets, you become programmed to see eating as a moral act. You are good or bad based on the foods you eat or don't eat. But, as Jes Baker, from the Militant Baker puts it in her book:
"You're not a better person if you eat carrots, and you're not a fuck up if you eat pie."
Excuse the language, but the point here is that when you start judging yourself and spouting phrases at yourself like "I can't believe I'm eating this", "I am such a fatty", "I have no self-control", "I don't deserve this" you automatically miss the messages your body is trying to send to you.
You don't learn from the experience, so it repeats itself over and over and over and over again.
That's why you get people who complain that they are addicted to certain foods and the gurus who tell you that you need to go on their $500 "sugar detox" in order to "break free" from it.
If you never get curious about your cravings or what else is going on in your life, then you will never know the underlying reasons your desire for food is constantly being triggered.
Trying to yell at yourself or 'muscle' your way through a food craving (as most diet/detox/cleanse gurus tell you to do) will do nothing but send you into a time-wasting shame spiral.
Saying cruel things to yourself about your food craving or the act of eating a certain food, is another form of food restriction because you're emotionally restricting yourself and you miss out on the pure enjoyment that the food has to offer you.
I mean, if you've made the decision to eat the McDonald's Hamburger, shouldn't you do it with gusto and enjoyment?
Of course you should!
But, the sad thing is- sooo many people don't. They miss out on the entire experience of the hamburger because they don't take a single second to notice how the burger tastes and enjoy it.
This happens because people subconsciously believe that they don't deserve to be eating whatever is in front of them, so they physically eat it, but they don't allow themselves the chance to emotionally enjoy it. This is good for no one because now the person feels guilty, they haven't enjoyed the experience, and their self-imposed emotional restriction usually leads to eating more food, not less.
If you're going to eat the McDonald's hamburger, there's no useful point in judging it, you won't not eat the hamburger next time just because you called yourself a "pig" the last time you ate one.
You will however, have a lot to gain from taking a moment to realize how much your stomach hurt after you ate that last hamburger, or how it gave you brain fog which slowed your production at work or how delicious it was and how totally satisfied you are and can go through the rest of your day without thinking about food so you can focus on more important issues, like asking for a raise!
And now that the experience is mindful for you, you will want to take away key learnings from it: Like maybe you will want to eat a smaller amount next time so you can avoid the physical pain of feeling stuffed. Or, perhaps you didn't perform as well at work on your deadline after you ate that hamburger and you want to make an eating choice that better fuels your brain at the next deadline so that you can power through it more efficiently. OR, perhaps you took a minute to stop and enjoy the burger and you felt satisfied after eating it, and that's a perfectly great choice too because you moved on without obsessing over it.
Cravings aren't something to be feared or to get rid of. I could make the argument that you should actually look forward to your food cravings since they are insider information from your body and subconscious mind about what's going on under the surface in your life. Ignoring or white knuckling through your craving is possibly the worst thing you can do when they pop up.
I hope this empowers you to tap into the wisdom your body and subconscious mind can offer you the next time you experience a food craving.
I'd love to know, what food cravings do you experience and what information did you gain using the steps outlined above? I can't wait to hear all about it! And, if you want more advice on breaking free from emotional eating and food obsession, click here to sign up for my weekly newsletter, plus grab my free guide on ending emotional eating right now!