Not being in control of our cravings can make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. You might feel like you just don’t know something that everyone else has mastered. I know how disheartening this can be. You want to lose weight but something keeps sabotaging your progress.
Friend: “Hey want some cookies?”
Me: “No thanks, if I have one I’ll want the whole box…”
If this is you and you feel like you have little control over your eating there is nothing wrong with you. This is common AND fixable!
I'd like to share three common reasons people give in to their cravings and how to overcome them! Once you understand these core concepts you’re one step closer to being in control of your cravings and achieving your weight loss goals.
Let’s dive in.
Reason #1: You rely on willpower
The first mistake we tend to make is trying to use our super-strength willpower to save the day. But as you may know, will power can fail you. But why is that? Well, willpower is like a muscle that gets tired from overuse.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re on a diet where you can’t eat donuts. On Monday morning you use your willpower to say no to a co-working offering powdered glazed donuts. On Wednesday night you turn down your partners’ request to go to Krispy Kreme and get a 12 pack assortment. You’ve been exerting your will power all week to make ‘good’ choices. Now it’s Saturday night and you’re home alone. Then it happens, you crack under pressure and overindulge. What happened in this scenario? You tired out your willpower muscle. Relying on willpower to control our cravings usually leads to binge eating. So what do we do instead? Well that brings me to the second reason.
Reason #2: Because of biology
As human beings, we are wired to soothe ourselves. We are designed to avoid pain and seek pleasure. And this is what’s happening when it comes to cravings.
There’s a cravings cycle that occurs. Normally the cravings cycle goes like this: you have a TRIGGER (like the time of day or an emotion), which leads to a BEHAVIOUR (like eating, drinking, or smoking), which causes a REWARD of happy hormones to be released so you feel relief.
Trigger --> Behaviour --> Reward
Sometimes the behaviour we choose isn’t the best for us. In the case of food cravings, we’re associating food as a form of relief from our triggers. When we're not aware of this, it can lead to mindless binge eating where we don't feel in control.
To fix this cycle we have to disrupt it. You do that by changing the behaviour. I know that sounds easier said than done. The trick is to find an uplifting way to soothe yourself. Choose an activity that makes you feel good. One that you can get into and it keeps your mind and/or body busy. If your craving is not related to hunger then it’ll go away in about 15-20 minutes.
Some examples of things to do to keep you busy are:
working on a project you’re passionate about
playing with a pet
playing a board game
calling a loved one
playing an instrument or video game
exercising or gardening
cleaning or organizing
By understand this cycle, you can regain control. You can choose to replace the old behaviour of eating with something else or be more mindful and present when choosing to use food as a way to soothe emotions.
We eat for many reasons like hunger, to enjoy a certain taste or to heal our hearts. There is nothing wrong with eating for anything reason. The power lies in being mindful of why you're eating.
Reason #3: We love to label.
Many of us like to label food as good or bad. When we label something as bad or off-limits it increases our desire for the very food you’re trying to avoid.
When someone tells us no, we don't take this very well. Think about your teenage years or when we went through a rebellious phase in life. Why do you think bad boys have such a high appeal?! We’re told ‘don't date the bad boy he’s no good for you’ and that makes us want him even more! And the same thing happens when we do this with food.
The second thing that happens when we label food as good or bad is the guilt and give up effect. When you eat this bad food you take on that label and think of yourself as a bad person. This can make you feel guilty which increases the odds of you throwing in the towel because you already screwed up. We tend to assign moral value to food. When we do this, we inherit our value as a person from food.
What you need to understand there is no good or bad food. Food is just food. You have more nutritious food and less nutritious food but that does not make one better than the other on a moral level. The food you eat doesn't determine your value just like the clothes you wear don't dictate whether you are a good or bad person.
You can take back control of your cravings by not letting food control your self-worth. Instead you can flip the script and say it like it is. For example, “this food is something I tend to overeat.” This way you can stay flexible and grow into the person you want to become.
Bonus Reason: Our current food environment
We’ve been trained to believe we can’t trust our bodies. If we don't have strict rules to follow we’ll go off the rails and fail. I’m here to tell you that, that doesn't have to be the case. You’ve simply lost touch with your innate ability to control your eating and the good news is you can find it again.
Trust me when I say there is nothing wrong with you for not having control over your cravings. You are battling so many obstacles that so many of us aren’t even aware of. Think about it, we have food marketing, 24/7 food availability, bulk food stores, and so many different choices. We are living in a food-obsessed, food-everywhere all the time culture.
Once you see this you can start to be a little bit kinder to yourself and build the way you want to respond to the food environment that we’re in right now. I hope to educate you and give you the skills you need to feel empowered.
Here’s to you and your success!