Scientist are still working on piecing together the puzzle around how to conquer cravings. Some of it is related to hormones and some to mindless eating. One thing we know for sure is that every craving starts with a cue.
Identifying Cues and Hormones to Conquer Cravings
Any cue that is associated repeatedly with a particular food can create a craving. For example, you might have been brought up on your mother’s homemade chocolate chip cookies which were associated with comfort. As an adult, you will very likely crave chocolate chip cookies when you are stressed.
Moreover, this cue activates the brain’s pleasure center which releases dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is associated with reward creating a rush of euphoria that the brain seeks over and over again. So, it’s not about willpower. It’s a physiological response.
At the same time, your brain starts to convince you that you are starving. Seems devious, doesn’t it? Ghrelin which is the hunger hormone increases and insulin decreases both of which make you hungrier. So, when you are presented with a plate of chocolate chip cookies, it becomes impossible to eat just one. You may have noticed that the pact that you make with yourself to just have one itty bitty piece really doesn’t work.
And it’s not helpful that the dopamine response starts immediately while satiety signals can kick in more slowly. This may seem incredibly maladaptive but back in caveman days it was necessary for survival of the fittest. It helped us to remember to get hunting and gathering for nutrient and calorie dense foods. But here is the rub. In today’s environment food is everywhere! People are talking about it, you can smell it or see it on television, on the internet or in a magazine. It’s all around. And manufacturers know exactly how much salt, sugar and fat to get your cravings going.
Teasing out associations to help conquer cravings
Also, we have learned to associate feel good moments with certain foods of childhood, we like to turn to them for an emotional pick me up. It’s not the food so much as the emotion we tend to associate with it. You don’t want the cookies so much as the love and care associated with every time your mother gave you a cookie. In fact, what you are looking for is nurturing.
I often ask my clients a question which is often met with complete silence and that is “What nurtures you?” They generally don’t have an answer because they have been too busy taking care of everyone else. A good tactic to conquer cravings is to come up with a list of 5 nurturing activities that have no relationship to food. It’s different for each person. Some say deep breathing, others feel that spending time in nature makes a huge difference while others are nurtured by music and/or reading.
Learning how to distract yourself is a good strategy because cravings are short-lived. Some people think that cravings will build in intensity until they become overwhelming. But cravings are more like waves. They build, crest and then they disappear. So, find something that you love to do and let the craving pass.
Stay tuned for the month of July as I spend time focused on cravings and how to manage them in preparation for the 5 Day Challenge—Kick Your Cravings to the Curb in August.