One of the classes we teach at Green Mountain focuses on the various types of food cravings people have: physical cravings, those due to food exposure, and habit-based cravings. Wanting to eat out of habit it usually a response to an event, location, activity, time of day, or routine of some sort. Some common examples are eating while watching TV, snacking on long car trips, eating candy at the movies, etc…
Not all habit based cravings are frequent enough to be a problem, however if these cravings are obstacles to serious weight loss, I’m a fan of using strategies that address the what, why, when, and where of habit based cravings. Consider these questions:
What do you find yourself doing when cravings strike?
What purpose do you think the food serves in this situation?
Why do you think you reach for food at this time or in this environment?
When is this most problematic?
Where is this most likely to occur?
Where is the food that you crave at this time?
There are many more questions like this (including some “how” or “who” questions) that might give us an idea about things we could modify. Try to change the what, why, when, & where to reduce habit based eating. Review the example below, including strategies in parentheses.
Ex. Habit-Based Craving – Snacking at night
What do you find yourself doing when cravings strike? Watching TV (decrease TV watching, increase other forms of entertainment less compatible with eating)
What purpose do you think the food serves in this situation? Maybe reducing boredom, maybe just something to keep my hands busy. (Switch to more entertaining activity or do things to keep hands busy while watching TV like: crochet, crossword puzzles, pet dog/cat, sketch, etc…)
Why do you think you reach for food at this time or in this environment? The evening is when I like to wind down. I look forward to food at this point since I don’t eat much earlier in the day. (Don’t have food be the only thing you look forward to, make a list of things that interest you or give you the feeling of winding down and plug them into your nightly routine)
When is this most problematic? Evenings (change the time you watch TV programs, record the shows you like to watch in the early AM while using home exercise equipment, this will require going to bed earlier, so finding night time activities to replace TV viewing may be less of an issue)
Where is this most likely to occur? In the living room (watch TV in your bedroom, where you are not used to eating)
Where is the food that you crave at this time? Usually is being brought into the living room by family members, if it isn’t I grab it myself from the kitchen since we have lots of snack foods around. (request that no food is brought into the living room in the evenings, if others need snacks they can have them in the kitchen; keep less snack foods around and if need be watch TV in another room, farther away from the kitchen)
Can you identify a “what, why, when, or where” you could change to reduce habit based eating?