Body & Soul
How to Cope with Food Cravings: Chocolate, Chips and You, Oh My! (Part 1)
Recently my daughter, Cara and I joined a Curves location in upstate New York. The workout is great and incredibly doable, but I’d have to be honest when I say that the best part of it all is the fact that there is a hand-dipped chocolate shop right next door. So after our workout on Thursday we slipped in to take a peek.
As Cara and I glanced at the mountains of hand-dipped chocolates and sweets piled high on the trays behind the glass showcase, we decided which of them we wanted to take home. I smiled, thinking for a moment how wonderful it feels, having such great freedom knowing that neither of us feels compelled to eat them all because we don’t consider them a temptation anymore.
We selected about 20 different varieties of confections including my favorites; chocolate covered potato chips, dark chocolate covered maraschino cherries, milk chocolate pretzels, dark chocolate covered graham crackers with jelly and smore bars. With the exception of having a chocolate potato chip and 2 of the covered cherries that day in the car, and a chocolate covered apricot and a chocolate graham yesterday, I haven’t even thought about eating what we bought. The unopened box of the majority of the chocolates is sitting on my counter and there are still several cellophane bags of miscellaneous chocolates within easy reach. But they’re not calling my name.
But that’s my favorite food…
My relationship with chocolate wasn’t always so easygoing. I used to feel crazed around chocolate, chips or any kind of fattening food because being, on a diet, I never allowed myself to eat the foods I really wanted, so sweets of all kinds became my go-to cheat.
Then in those days whenever I ended up giving into my cravings, I always used to overindulge and hate myself afterwards. The guilt of giving in again, made the shame I felt so strong that I’d swear them off again for several months at a time. But inevitably once the feelings of deprivation got so bad, it was always my chocolate craving that grabbed me by the throat, making it impossible to say no anymore. How ‘bout you?
You probably know what I’m talking about when I say cravings are tough to handle. Most of us experience overwhelming urges to consume many foods that we try our best to avoid. Whether the reasons are medical restriction, dietary, nutrition or a combination of several factors, eating the food will often cause you more pain and suffering than not eating it. But it’s very easy to forget that when you’re wrapped up in the moments of pleasure before the consequence of eating the food really hits you.
Rising above the cultural view of overeating
In our culture, people view being overweight and giving into our cravings as being some kind of a character flaw. It becomes a moral issue if you eat something that you’re told that you shouldn’t. And the result is you end up feeling badly about yourself when you give in and eat. That ‘feeling bad feeling’ you may have felt comes from experiencing a sense of great shame for being judged and shame is a powerful emotional that can often trigger feelings of insecurity and fear. Makes you want to run and eat just thinking about being vulnerable. Doesn’t it?
So that’s why it’s not fair to judge yourself harshly, call yourself names or to be okay with letting anyone else put you down when you overeat. Remember this: What you eat and how much you weigh doesn’t speak to the kind of person you are. You’re not a bad person if you eat/want to eat cheesecake for breakfast, and you don’t gain brownie points if you chomp on celery and carrot sticks all day long. What you eat is not a determination of who you are.
Basic traditional methods of coping with your cravings
Avoidance – Because it creates so much stress in the body, it’s almost impossible to will your way through a craving. In our culture, people view being overweight and giving into our cravings as being a character flaw. It becomes a moral issue and we tend to feel bad when we overeat.
In their book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works”, authors, Evelyn Resch, M.S.R.D. F.A.D.A and Evelyn Tribole, M.S.R.D. talk about the importance of making peace with food explaining it as follows: “Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.”
Distraction – Go for a walk, take a bubble bath, do whatever you can to think about something else. This may or may not work, usually it just forestalls the craving and it comes back later stronger than ever.
Chew gum – Chew a stick of gum for 15 minutes. This is a variation on the distraction suggestion above because it occupies your brain long enough to get past thinking about and obsessing about what you crave.
Try peppermint – Surround yourself with the scent of peppermint. A study showed that people who sniffed peppermint throughout their day were able to avoid giving in to their cravings. It seems the powerful scent diverts your brain away from the desire to eat. I’m a big fan of the portable scents that you can plug into your electrical outlets at home. One of my favorites is Chocolate Peppermint.
Your Big Why! – Behind every goal that you set there is a reason why you chose it. By connecting with the reason why it’s so important for you to avoid the food your body wants, it can make it easier to say, “No.”
Patience – This is similar to the distraction method in that you try to ignore the craving and do your best not to think about it. Waiting it out sometimes works, other times, not so much. Usually your desire to eat the food will come back with a new level of ferocity. Shall we say, mind over matter?
What are cravings and where do they come from?
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a craving is an intense, urgent or abnormal desire or longing for something. Let’s talk food. Scientific studies have shown that 50% of our problem with obesity is genetic. That means that 50% of us are having an extra hard time fighting our bodies trying to resist the urge to eat foods that we crave.
Your cravings are hard wired into your genetic makeup. Back in prehistoric times when we lived in caves, we had to rely on our ability to hunt and scavenge for food. It was our craving to eat and our will to survive that drove us out of the safety of the cave and made it essential to go out and fight the elements to acquire that next meal.
But we weren’t always successful in capturing the prey and our bodies knew instinctively that whenever we were lucky enough to get a substantial calorie dense meal, we had to eat as much of it as we could to compensate for the times when it was not available. The threat of starvation and death was always just around the corner. But your body today doesn’t realize that times have changed and that there’s a burger joint and donut palace on every street corner. So your body is still acting like it’s starving, triggering those cravings to eat. The onus is on 50% of us to resist our biological urge to eat.
Then beyond that tangled mess of resisting our physical urges, for many of us cravings are further complicated by being emotion-based.
Cravings are unmet emotional needs in disguise
If you feel enslaved by any food it’s probably because your urge to eat it is connected with a powerful association in your brain that tells you that you’ll get more pleasure out of eating it than not. For many people there’s no denying the fact that there is a connection between what they feel and what they want to eat. Emotional eating is when you eat in response to stress. Many times we’re tired and cranky and that’s when we’re least resourceful, making it very difficult to choose foods that are balanced and healthy. The thing is food doesn’t really have the ability to make you feel as good as you may think it does. That’s because it’s really just food. And all the little bits and bites of your favorite goodies won’t heal a broken heart, don’t have ears to listen, can’t give you what you really need. Love. Only you can give that to yourself. But that takes a lot more than just wrapping your arms around yourself. That’s only surface stuff and although it may look and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside for a moment, that quick hit of love me feeling doesn’t last when the chips are down and you’re feeling blue or lonely or hating the way someone’s been treating you.
This is why I teach my clients how to deal with their cravings, at the root of their source; the emotions that drive the hunger. By changing the way that you feel it enables you to take bigger steps to make changes in your life.
You’ve probably read of my endorsement of the stress relief method called Emotional Freedom Technique. You can use that successfully to cope with your cravings. It works better and more effectively than all the above suggestions combined because it helps you to balance the energy in your body in such a way that the source of the emotion and even the physical imbalance that is likely driving your craving gets neutralized. In the next part of this article series, I’ll describe the process, teach you how to use EFT to cope with your cravings and show you how it works.
Until then, my best suggestion for dealing with your cravings is to eat the food you love and commit to loving your imperfect self, no matter what, warts and all. May seem crazy, but I’ll teach you how to do it. I consider myself an expert on the topic of body acceptance. After all, I did write the book, “Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” Can’t wait to share everything I know about the how to’s of it all. Because as my recent trip to the chocolate shop shows, you can have your chocolate, cake and chips, and eat it too! Stay tuned for Part 2 and I’ll show you how.