What Your Food Cravings May Be Telling You

Pastries to the left of us, drive-thrus to the right, candy dish straight ahead… we live in a time where food seems to be everywhere we turn. For many people, just seeing and/or smelling food triggers cravings that seem uncontrollable. If we change how we think about cravings, however, we can find it’s not at all about control. It’s about understanding why foods call us and then taking steps to heed that call in an intelligent, supportive way.

What could these scenarios be telling you?

  • Your office mate keeps a dish of candy at her desk — and it’s all you can think about.
  • The movies equal popcorn for you; the smell is something you just can’t resist.
  • You see pictures of food, whether they be on TV, in magazines, or online, and the next thing you know, you’re munching on whatever food you have on hand.
  • Your co-worker reads a take-out menu as she contemplates what she wants for dinner and your plans for your dinner automatically change.
  • You’re two days into your new diet and food thoughts have you obsessing and craving about all the foods that you can’t have.

What’s Your Trigger?

The candy dish.

Do you worry that candy is “fattening”?  Do you skip breakfast and/or lunch, or eat lightly at those meals, so that you’re overly hungry between meals? Are you on a diet that forbids candy?  A “yes” answer to any of these questions almost guarantees that candy dish will call your name.

Popcorn at the movies.

It’s perfectly normal to smell something as fragrant as popcorn and want it.  The question, then, is why do you believe you shouldn’t have it?  If it’s because you’re allergic to corn, or something similar, that’s one thing. But if it’s because you’re following a diet rule that you shouldn’t have it, again, you’re setting yourself up for a struggle.

Pictures of food.

If you’re triggered to eat just by a picture of food, ask yourself whether you’re hungry, feel deprived or whether it’s just something you love and haven’t had for a while. In the latter case, if you begin eating, you’ll probably seek out the food in the picture, not just start eating anything.

Changing your mind.

Again, it’s perfectly normal to change what we want to eat when the time comes to actually do it. If you change your mind every time someone suggests something else, ask yourself whether what you have planned is something you really want.

Food obsessions.

Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. Any dieter can tell you that.

WWAMED (What Would a Mindful Eater Do?)

Mindful, intuitive eaters rarely experience struggles with food exposure. That’s because food isn’t an enemy. Instead, it’s something to enjoy and eat in a way that makes us feel well. Mindful eaters sometimes eat when they’re not hungry, but rarely eat past comfortable. They experience cravings but instead of running from them, they stop and listen to what they’re saying.

If you’re not quite there in terms of mindful, intuitive eating, these strategies can help you take charge of your eating even in the middle of a food-abundant environment.

Strategies That Work

Stay well fed – Eat regular, well-balanced meals. If you’re hungry, you’re going to want to eat.

Eat foods you enjoy – If you do not enjoy what you eat, you are more likely to crave other foods when you see them. Consider regularly eating foods that call your name. Have pizza for lunch or dinner or even breakfast occasionally — it’s actually a balanced meal, particularly when topped with veggies. Have a candy bar for dessert once in a while. Or if it’s something that really calls to you, make it a part of your daily meal plan.  You’ll get tired of it eventually, and voila, your craving will be gone. In the meantime, you won’t be eating it guiltily, which generally leads to overeating.

Slow down and listen.  Try to discover what’s driving your craving — hunger, feelings of deprivation, boredom, frustration, anger, sadness? If you’ve dieted on and off for years, you could be nutritionally depleted; a craving could be your body’s signal you need certain nutrients.  If you discover emotions are behind your craving, think whether food is going to help or hurt. Remember that food is a wonderful way to make ourselves feel better temporarily and is entirely appropriate to use for that purpose sometimes. But if we use it too often, and don’t address the real issues, emotional eating can start to create more problems than it solves. Read how Green Mountain teaches women what to do to lessen their stress and soothe themselves.

Try the 4 Ds

If you’re in the habit of frequently eating in the absence of hunger, and want to change that habit, try using Green Mountain’s 4 Ds to tune in and make a conscious decision about whether you really want to eat.

  • Delay.  Take a few minutes to make a conscious decision, instead of impulses responding to the presence of food.
  • Distract yourself with another activity not compatible with eating.  If you’re walking through the mall on your way to buy those new shoes, and find yourself waylaid by the smell of cinnamon buns, keep heading for the shoes.  The cinnamon buns will be there if you still want them later.           
  • Distance yourself from the food.  If you stand there and keep smelling the cinnamon buns, you may be more likely to eat one, even if you really don’t want to.
  • Decide.  If you’re still thinking about the food, make a conscious decision to eat it now or to forgo it until another time. If you do decide to eat it, sit down, savor and enjoy it fully.

Ultimately, it can help to think of food thoughts as friends. They’re telling you something. And if you’re spending too much time with them, in this day of eating and weight worries, they may be telling you it’s time to stop with the diet mentality and learn how to truly feed yourself well.

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