What to do when you are hit by cravings? The secret
Do you struggle with food cravings? Have you tried using will power to say no to your favourites foods only to realise that it doesn’t work for long? And have you ever wondered why you even have cravings, especially when trying to lose weight…all this and much much more. Stay tuned.
Hi there. How are you doing? Welcome to episode 11. In this episode Im unpacking the worst nightmare of a chronic dieter and a weight struggler….cravings!
So I always used to wonder that why is it that I do so well on my diet for the first week or so and then get hit by cravings that derail all my progress and even motivation. And then I also used to ask the dieticians as to how to deal with cravings…you know that urge to eat that chocolate pastry that your best friend orders while you are having sugar less coffee!
But the answer I always got from dieticians & nutritionists was make a “healthier” version of whatever you crave & you are good to go.
The other common responses to this question that I commonly see floating in the weight loss world are -
Suck it up…it’s all about will power
You got to have a strong will power or else you are doomed to succumb to your cravings
Or call a friend, talk to your mom or get a pedicure…
This is how we are taught how to manage our cravings.
And let me tell you that I have tried all these methods and that is why I can tell you with 110% confidence that these do not work long term.
In fact they don’t work at all and leave you more frustrated and powerless around food, body and your weight.
Sooner or later you end up giving in to the craving and you end up hating your self in the process….and in order to cover up that self loathing your brain gives you justifications like “Life is so short lived, no point saying no to your favourite foods.”… “You have a special gene, the foodie gene that simply cannot give up any of the favourite foods, so might as well stop even trying to lose weight”. Right.
Still the higher part of you yearns to have a better body and a peaceful relationship with food. It clearly knows that something better is possible.
Well, I would say that once you understand the anatomy of cravings…the urge to overeat, you can literally rewire your brain in a way that not only the the cravings diminish in intensity & frequency, with time they are no longer an issue are no longer. The no longer have power over you. And this is possible when instead of using surface levels measures to deal with them, instead of reacting to them or trying to suppress them, you get their root cause level & understand them thoroughly. Then you get authority over them.
Firstly before I get into what happens when we feel the craving, there is one thing I want to fully understand.
So let’s start with unpacking as to what happens when you get a craving. Let’s say you have a to eat chocolate. It’s mid afternoon and you had an early lunch some two hours back. You are in the middle of your work day and you suddenly feel an urge to eat something sweet particularly chocolate.
If this example doesn’t resonate with you, I want you to bring in your awareness the last time you had a craving. Maybe it was for a piece of sweet post dinner. Maybe it was for pizza on Friday night. Just for a moment imagine that craving. If you have been struggling with overeating for any length of time, my guess is that this is not hard to do.
Just imagine the craving and get inside your body. Tune in. And think about what happened when you experience a craving. As a side note, you could do this exercise the next time, you have a craving. Ok. simply think about this question and then from your head, get inside your bodily experience…what are the sensations that you feel in your body when you have a craving. How does the urge feel in your body.
Honestly during my diet days, going from one dietician or an expert to another, nobody…absolutely no body had ever asked me this question.
What happens in your body when you experience the craving…how does the urge feel like in your body. Don’t skip this question because this awareness is the key to ending your fight with the cravings. The more you truly experience your urge, the better you will get rewiring your brain from reaction to creation. Ill get to this more in a moment.
But first, when I say, get present to how does the craving feel like in your body, I simply mean, the way you would tune in to feel other bodily sensations. See cravings are not in your head. They are actually felt in your body. It is just that, the very moment we feel them, instead of actually fully feeling them, we react and that too in a way that we mostly regret later.
The next thing that I want you to know is that the root cause of the craving is the nearal pathway that begins in your brain. What I mean is craving is caused as a result of certain craving generating thoughts. Sure, highly refined, man made, ultra delicious foods do cause you to have more of cravings because of the intense dopamine that these foods release which re enforces the behaviour and perpetuates the cycle but the main cause for the cravings is your thoughts. Thoughts that simply feel like the truth…and you never question them. You never investigate them.
Let me give you examples. Simple everyday thoughts that we never think generate our cravings and that we never think are optional.
Thoughts like -
I love sweets
I have a sweet tooth
I need sweets
Sweets are important in my life
I have to have my dessert after dinner
I cannot give up sugar
I’m a foodie
Don’t tell me to give up xyz
I have an overeating problem
Chocolate are my weakness
Xyz are my weakness
This bite doesn’t matter
Everybody else is eating, so I need to eat
Ill start tomorrow, let me eat now
Its not that any of these are wrong. It is just that these are thoughts. Simply thoughts that are running your real life…that are driving your results…the results that you don’t like…The results that you want to change.
These thoughts when go unexplored make a feel powerless around food.
You may be the CEO of Fortune 500 or the top notch doctor or a highly successful individual in your field yet feel like food is your weakness…yet feel like a failure when it comes to weight loss or struggle with losing and maintaining your weight….why…because of these thoughts that generate cravings that then drive your overeating.
Listen, it’s not wrong or bad to eat sweets or pizza or a dessert after dinner. The problem is the craving dictating or action instead of you. The food is not the boss, ever. You are. So when food calls your name and you give in thinking its too unbearable to not have it, you let the food be your boss…you let the food control you….which if you notice, is a lie. Yet, we continue to believe this lie and live our lives at the mercy of the foods we crave.
So the cycle goes like this…
Let’s say, your college offers you a cup cake or a laddoo.
You have a thought like “Oh, I want that sweet right now” and then you feel a craving for that cupcake. Most of the time, since we don't know what’s happening when we have a craving, the thought is unconscious…we are not aware of what we are thinking. So we think that the food caused the craving instead of your own thought. And then because of the craving, you pick up the cupcake and eat. And then that eating results in the outcome of extra weight or halting your progress.
So it's like thought-craving-eat-weight gain
And then you know how many times you have repeated the same cycle over and over again….literally thousands of times. It’s a very well practiced neural pathway. It’s a default now that happens so so fast that it feels like automatic. As if before you even got conscious of the thought and the craving, you polished off that cup cake…right!
When you give in to the cravings and eat, the pathways in your brain wire together to produce even more stronger cravings the next time.
Let’s take the same example and give the alternative which is what is the common advise. Use will power and say “no” to the cupcake.
Let’s say, your college offers you a cup cake or a laddoo.
You have a thought like “Oh, I can’t have that sweet right now, Im on a diet” and then you still have a craving for that cupcake. You resist the craving, you are fighting with it…saying “no” to yourself , no, cant have it!
What happens then? Sooner or later….more sooner than later, you cant fight it any more and you resign completely. You are like, no point feeling so uncomfortable….might as well eat it.
Both the cases, when you give in to the craving or when you resist and fight with the craving are completely ineffective ways to tackle them.
By the way, substituting your craving for junk or sugary food or for fried snack, something unhealthy with something healthy is absolutely the sure shot way to keep struggling with your weight as well food….whatttt!
Yes, this common advise also do not work. Now this might surprise you.
You may be like Anu, come on…when I have a craving for a burger, whats wrong with making a whole wheat burger with home made patty or what wrong with substituting an apple with a brownie?
Because when you eat in response to a craving, even if its healthy, it strengthens the same neural pathways of thought-craving-eat…thought-craving-eat-repent-repeat. Its reinforces the same wiring.
No body is denying that your “healthier” version of fast food or unhealthy food may have less calories, fat or sugar and more nutrients but that a surface level way to tackle weight loss….this sort of advise belongs to the school of thought where weight loss is all about calories and may even seem legit. Because after all you are eating something healthier…right.
But eating in response to a craving itself the problem. This itself feeds the fire and keeps your struggle with weight and food alive. Food is still your boss. You are still a save of ur primitive brain and instant gratification.
Ok, coming back to the how you commonly respond to cravings
One you eat it
Two you resist it
Thats it. Both the ways are dysfunctional. They keep you struggling with the urge to eat the food that you know will halt your weight loss progress or make you make you put on weight or the food you truly don’t want yet feel the pull to eat it.
Now I’m going to put forth the third way to respond to your cravings…that your urge to overeat what you are already eating or eat the unhealthy stuff.
This option disrupts your well practiced neural pathway and create a new one.
The third way, is the only way to get your power back and put food to where it belongs. And this way is to simply allow the urge to flow in your body.
Hear me out fully to get this.
What I mean by “allowing” is letting all those sensations that comprise a craving to flow through in your body…this would essentially mean that you don’t fight them. You don’t say to your self life is unfair. You simply be with the urge like a friend who is listening to a another friend ranting. You don’t distract yourself. You pay attention to the bodily vibrations…where does the craving feel in your body. Is it a tingling sensation in your tummy…is it in a heaviness in your chest or throat…whatever is happening in your body, you become curious and observe it.
Simply your awareness to the sensations that accompany a craving begins the brain rewiring process….now as a side note, let me add, in the beginning you can decide to this for only ten mins. You can say to your self, Ill do this for ten mins and eat. Just by doing this, you have begun the dismantling of your super fast neural pathway of though-craving-eat…you’v introduced space between your reaction…
Although my goal for you is that you stay with your craving, all the way through and not eat.
Now you may ask, how is this different from using using will power and not eating.
Well, if you are fighting your craving, you are using will power. But if you allow it as if nothing has gone wrong…if you let it be like…oh, no big deal. Its just a bodily vibration, sure uncomfortable but I can do, that when you are actually feeling it and not reacting by eating. That is when you are truly weakening the old neural pathway and creating a new one…which is thought-craving-not eat.
Another example to clarify the allowing part of craving and the urge is lets say you are swimming against a fast stream of water in the opposite direction, uphill….how does that feel…you have to use a lot of power and resist…this is it is when you suppress the craving, try and use will power and not eat…vs
You are floating in the fast stream of water, in the direction of the water, downhill. It’s effortless, right. That is exactly how you allow and fully feel the craving. You watch the sensations like a pure witness…that is how you train your brain that cravings are not real hunger, the urge to overeat will subside on its own…nothing has gone wrong…the survival is not question.
You know one thing I want you to remember is when you give in to the craving, you are literally putting petrol in the fire. You are feeding the fire. You are making it stronger.
The other thing that I want you to remember is that what you don’t need can never satisfy you. Trust me. There isn’t enough chocolate or sweets or chips in the world that can fill you up. There was a time in my life that I had put a sticky note on my fridge which said, what you need is not here. ha ha.
You always have a choice. You can either reinforce the craving or extinguish it from your life and every single time you choose to fully feel it instead of giving in or resisting it, you are diminishing its power over you. With time, it almost becomes like, craving, what craving! Just like naturally slim people or women who have a peaceful relationship with food, cravings become no big deal…like a total non issue.
So my dear, start practicing the skill of allowing the cravings. It’s unfamiliar and lets also say uncomfortable in the beginning but I promise with every single time, it becomes easier and there comes a time when it becomes effortless. Your higher pre frontal brain is well equipped and actually designed to feel the cravings and put the brakes on sabotaging behaviour with ease. It can inhibit the primitive brain’s screeching as to how important it is eat and let it take over. The evolutionary design provide you with the pre frontal for this exact purpose. Ok.
Lemme know if you have any questions regarding this in my private facebook group. I invite you to join that. I’ll leave the link in the show notes. If you found this episode valuable, consider leaving me a review on I tunes. That way I will be able to help more amazing women like you. I will talk to you very soon.
You this week I had several occasions when I had to eat out…I mean not by choice like your favourite restaurant or something…I mean kid’s birthday parties and weddings…those kinds of eating affairs where sometimes the options are pretty limited and not healthy at all. And this is also the kind of scenario that my clients face a lot…like how to manage