Too many sweets can leave you wanting one thing: more sweets. Our food cravings, whether for salty, sweet or something else, when overindulged don’t result in satiety or satisfaction. Instead they affect our bodies in the same way as alcohol or drugs, causing us to want more and more, while we experience less pleasure each time we give in.
Knowing that food cravings are much like other addictions can be disheartening and you might despair that you will not be able to make changes.
The good news is that there are several effective strategies to delay eating craved food and weaken your habitual response to food.
Acceptance vs. Fighting Your Urges
Many turn to dieting, in an attempt to fight urges to eat. But fighting urges has two problems: it often makes them stronger, rather than weaker; and when we lose the fight and ultimately give in to our cravings, we learn that we can’t control them and lose motivation.
It might seem counterintuitive, but accepting your cravings, rather than trying to fight them, is one of the most effective methods for changing your response to food.
In an experiment conducted by Dr Robyn Vast, participants learned to control urges to eat chocolate by accepting that they would have these urges. They underwent training to notice thoughts and cravings related to eating the chocolate. Rather than try to push these thoughts away, they were instructed to think of them as merely thoughts, not a physical need that must be acted upon.
81% of subjects who were taught this technique were successful in resisting the urge to eat chocolate, compared to 56% of a group taught different cognitive techniques and 43% of a group who were not taught any techniques.
This technique is similar to one used with drug and alcohol addictions, called “urge surfing.” When “urge surfing,” you notice your urge and attend to it without acting. You notice how these urges come and go like waves, at some times intense and at others weak.
Additional Strategies to Fight Food Cravings
Other techniques that delay acting upon cravings can weaken the strength of your cravings over time. Some of them include the following:
- Imagine you are eating the craved food. Simply imagining the food will increase your craving, but imagining eating the food can decrease your craving.
- A new study found that exercise can cut food cravings (found in the journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise).
- Distract yourself with scents of flowers or by chewing gum. This delay in satisfying a craving can weaken the urge.
- Set a timer when you experience a craving and then distract yourself with something else. Often when the time is up, the craving has passed.
In order to curb your cravings you may need to think about food and eating differently. We are not in a war with food that requires us to avoid it, restrict it or fight what we long for.
Instead, we can recognize that our longings and desires for certain foods are just thoughts, often triggered by our environment, hormones or a desire for comfort. Try telling yourself, “That’s a thought about craving food” the next time a craving hits, and then move on with what your were doing and see if you notice a change in how often you give in to a craving.