Craving: an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing (Merriam-Webster online July 2016).
This is what you’re fighting against and food cravings and emotional eating are as powerful as can be!
The good news is that you don’t really have to fight at all. When your mindset about food is of working with yourself instead of against yourself the power of the craving crumbles and you’re no longer pulled toward emotional eating. The intensity fizzles and you are free to make choices without feeling deprived, guilty for giving in, or like you’re weak willed. You can enjoy delicious food, have a peaceful mind, and a strong body.
Let’s get started with the 27 simple solutions to stop food cravings and emotional eating right now.
- Eat when you’re hungry. If your body needs food for energy, there is just no replacing food. You can distract yourself and delay eating for only so long. Your hunger cues may go away, but you can be sure that it will come back with a vengeance. Eat a balanced meal. It’s great if the craving is for a balanced meal or snack since you’re taking care of both needs at once! If it’s not and you’re still craving a particular food, then after the balanced meal you will most likely experience a less intense desire. This will give you space so you can enjoy it, now or later, rather than ravenously eating and perhaps consuming more than you feel comfortable eating.
- Enjoy your food. Choose what you eat wisely so that you’re getting both the physical nourishment and the satisfaction your mind and heart also need. Sometimes you will eat purely for fuel. We all lead busy lives and sometimes food is merely a means to an end—putting more fuel in the engine so you can keep going. Food is also an important way people experience pleasure. If what you eat isn’t pleasurable on some level, most of the time, you will be left wanting, unsatisfied. At least once a day, eat for fuel as well as for the experience of pleasure.
- Calm anxiety before eating, rather than eating to calm anxiety. This can be tricky since hunger can make anxiety worse. Anxiety can also be one of the early signs of hunger. It gets complicated quickly. Our early ancestors needed to have a heightened awareness to make them more aware of their food and know when it’s available so they could catch it and eat. Although food is all around, when hunger is ignored, you may become a little edgy. Do your best anxiety-reducing techniques, a few deep breaths, a little calming yoga, a short mindfulness meditation, 2-5 minutes or so, and then eat a balanced meal or snack.
- Make choices based on physical needs first and emotional needs secondly. Check in with yourself about your level of hunger. Do you need a snack or a meal? Are you even hungry? Has it been more than a few hours since you last ate? If you aren’t in need of fuel, then look toward another activity to fill the space you need to fill.
- Sit at the table to eat. Be present and engage in the process of eating. Set the table, make it a pleasant experience for yourself. Use your favorite place settings, clear the clutter from the table, and play some nice music so you can enjoy the experience. This also helps you to slow down and be more conscious of your physical and emotional hunger.
It’s normal to crave favorite foods when you haven’t enjoyed them in awhile…
- Plan for the craved food. Sometimes there’s a food that you enjoy so much that you look forward to experiencing it. This is totally normal! The way to eat with pleasure and stop overeating is knowing that you can enjoy this food whenever you would like. When the scarcity is gone you can give yourself the gift of enjoyment. Make the craved food part of your food plan for the day and eat it with an awareness and free from judgment.
- Don’t wait until you’re famished to eat. You lose the ability to make conscious choices when you wait too long. Your physiology is going to drive you to eat whatever you’re craving, usually simple, easily digested carbohydrates, because they supply quick energy. When you eat a balanced meal you’ll restore your ability for clear thinking and conscious choice making.
- When you tell yourself you’re addicted to sugar you’ll crave it more. Now don’t get me wrong, sugar is super good, but more than the debate about if sugar is addicting or not is that the belief that it is leaves you without the option of free will. Shifting your mindset to, “I have the option to eat sweets,” rather than, “I’m forced by my addiction to eat sweets,” gives you space to consider what you really want. Sometimes it will be sugary foods and sometimes, after stopping for a moment, you might really want the sweet or you might want something else. You’re free to listen to your mind, body, and heart and choose for yourself.
- Do just one thing while eating. When you’re driving, watching t.v., working on the computer, playing a game on your iPad, reading, etc. you’re unable to really be aware of what you’re eating. This can be a distraction from feelings of guilt or shame for eating the craved food. When you pay attention to what you’re eating, especially if you can suspend judgment, you may find that less of the food fulfills your need for it than if you mindlessly consume.
- Be sure you’re eating well-balanced meals throughout the day. When you’re able to get a blend of carbohydrate, protein, and fat at each meal you’re nourishing your body with what it needs to function well. This will lessen cravings for missing nutrients. You can more easily maintain stable blood sugar and energy levels. Find the mix of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that works for you, just be sure you’re getting a blend of all three.
Managing stress is something we all need a plan for…
- Take care of stress. Managing stress is something we all need a plan for, so when it gets to you, you have options to decrease stress. Increasing your awareness of your stressors, prevention planning when possible, and taking action to bring it down regularly will help to prevent cravings and emotional eating as a distraction from what’s really bothering you.
- You’re tired and looking for energy. Cravings, especially for high energy foods, typically carbohydrates, often come from needing rest. Getting about 8 hours of sleep, or the amount your body needs to wake up feeling rested and not sleepy during the day, will decrease this type of craving.
- You’re thirsty and need to quench your thirst. If you find that you crave soda, coffee drinks, iced teas, etc., regardless of natural or artificial sweetener your body may just need hydration. Try drinking some clean fresh water and notice if you feel better than if you had a different type of drink. Are you getting enough water, generally eight, eight-ounce glasses a day, or does the flavored drink keep you from getting the water your body needs? Of course, it’s totally OK to enjoy flavored drinks, just be sure you’re getting the water your body needs.
- You’re feeling sluggish. Maybe you need to move your body. The boost that a craved food may give, may be masking your need to connect with your body in a physical way. Our muscles are made to work, our joints need to move to stay in good health and short walks are one of the best natural mood elevators available. Moving in a safe, compassionate, connected way is a form of nurturing your relationship with your body.
- Celebrations and food are intimately linked. Is the celebration focused on the food or the achievement? This can be a confusing question. In the west, birthdays, weddings or any other important milestone are celebrated with a special cake. This is great! The trouble is, when there is an over-focus on the food and an under-focus on the celebration. Other ways of celebrating can be a special trip or activities like a movie, roller skating, skiing, bird watching, a craft or art project, a one on one walk with someone special, etc. Shift your focus to the celebration for its self, not only for the special food.
Pinpoint worries, put them in their place and make a peace plan…
- Worry is often a motivator for cravings. Eating is something to do, it takes your mind off of the issue and depending on the food, your brain will be stimulated to release calming brain chemicals. The way through this is to identify the worry, pinpoint its cause and do what you can to address the situation. Sometimes this means making an action plan and other times it means reassuring yourself and creating a peaceful environment when you’ve done all you can.
- Motivation for connection. Cravings can be the motivator for re-connecting with someone, a memory, thought, feeling, etc. When you have a craving for a specific food, is it the memory or person you want to connect with and is the food a way to make it happen. The food is the pathway to the relationship you want to experience. This awareness can help you re-focus from the food to the relationship so you get your needs met.
- Mindful eating. Mindful eating is paying attention in the moment to the taste, texture, aroma, colors, etc. of the food you’re eating. When you eat the craved food in this way you can make assessments about your relationship to the food. Many people find that this is an excellent way to break the habit of eating a specific food that they maybe don’t care for so much, but eat anyway—out of habit.
- The broken record or you can’t get a certain food out of your head and you keep coming back to it over and over again, denying yourself over and over again. Acknowledge that maybe you just want to eat the food! Most people have a rotation of things that they eat frequently. When you get bored with the same food you need to enjoy something different. Boredom may be the cause and the treatment may be new menu items!
- Comfort with a habit rather than taking a risk to trust yourself. People are most comfortable with consistency. Feeling safe in a habit can become so safe that you become stuck and convince yourself that you crave a food, (similar to feeling addicted) rather than take the risk of leaving your comfort zone. Small steps, changing one meal or food, can ease you into a richer relationship with food.
Shift your thinking to creative outlets that don’t involve food…
- Cooking, watching cooking shows, reading recipes are all ways of engaging your creative self. Looking for the perfect recipe for the food you crave is still focusing on the craving rather than what you may need. Shift your thinking to other ways of being creative. These don’t need to be big projects, expensive or masterpieces Look for ideas at your favorite craft store or online.
- One last time. “I’ll only eat this one last time, get it out of my system and then be done with it.” This type of thinking leads to the next, “one last time” food. You can eat whatever you want, whenever you want and Conscious Eater gives you the tools to listen to your mind, body and heart for how much, when, what, etc. You are your guide in your relationship with food.
- Create a culture of respect and kindness for your own needs. Shift your relationship with your body from domination, “I will not give in to craving,” to a relationship, “hmm, what’s up that I keep thinking of eating cake every 10 minutes?” This is a fundamental shift that provides the breathing room for you to get to know yourself a little more. Understand yourself a little more and as a result care for yourself a little more kindly.
- Get rid of good vs. bad food. Foods have different nutritional values and some are more nutrient dense than others, this doesn’t imply that less nutritive dense foods are bad! Food is just food, not good or bad. Most people find that when bad food leaves their vocabulary they are less inclined to overeat or crave foods that were once judged.
- Pay attention to how your body feels when you eat certain foods. This increases your attunement to how and what you eat based on how you truly feel. Nourishing yourself with foods you enjoy and that feel good in your body will lead you to a happy place.
- Leave morality out of it—food is not sinful! How many times have you heard, usually at dessert time, “we’re being sinners tonight?” How many foods are called sinfully delicious? What if we accepted that our bodies enjoy pleasurable experiences like eating good food? Acceptance in the fullest sense means honoring your desire for pleasurable experiences with food, non-judgmentally.
Stop dieting and start Conscious Eating!
- STOP DIETING! This is the best way to solve craving once and for all. Everything I’ve said so far is summed up in the fact that the simplest of all solutions is to establish a partnership with yourself for you own self-care and well-being. This includes nourishing yourself with good food, loving relationships, and pleasurable activities. This includes the discipline to stop and invest in your relationship with yourself by honoring what you need for fulfillment; mind, body and heart.
Becoming a Conscious Eater is a wonderful gift!
You can be free from counting, restricting, bargaining and compensating.
Cravings are far less intense and you have tools to honor your desires when you experience them.
The tradeoff is the responsibility to care for your well-being from a place of self-compassion, honesty, and love. Sometimes it will be challenging and you will need to push yourself to be uncomfortable. You will learn new skills and develop new habits.
The time and investment are worth the reward of gaining a richer relationship with yourself, filled with peace!