There you are with the door to the cabinet open, gazing longingly at the chips and crackers, gripping the door handles while you try to get a grip on your cravings.
This seems to be a habit now, like the Monday morning promises to clean things up for once. This moment where you could swear you’d eat anything that was semi-edible. This moment where the urge to eat seems stronger than any willpower you could possibly summon up. Where you forget about your goals, your long-term desires and those feelings of guilt and frustration that always seem to surface after you consume the entire top shelf of the cabinet. You just don’t care. You want that food and you want it now.
You know what I’m talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there too.
First, let’s all realize that sometimes indulging in a craving actually IS really therapeutic and helpful. It’s a relatively harmless way of zoning out for awhile or disengaging from a strong emotion. So if you’re stressed out or overwhelmed and want to eat mindlessly to soothe yourself, then I say go for it.
BUT (all caps “but”, you know I’m serious now!)…if you feel like the frequency of these indulgences are derailing your health efforts or are simply becoming a bad habit in that it’s a way for you to keep avoiding the deeper issues, then we need to talk about a new way to handle these cravings.
So there I am. In front of the ‘fridge, staring down the last brownie. I realize I’m in the cycle again, so I first ask myself if I’m actually hungry. You know, stomach growling, light headed, etc. I know this sounds ridiculously simple and I don’t mean to offend, but this has actually come up more times than I can count in my past. If I slash my calories to a barely comatose level, of course, I’m going to have out-of-control cravings and hunger! My willpower, nor my emotions, is to blame for these cravings. I’ve learned to eat at a caloric level to fuel my body, my brain and my stress level. Surprisingly, you can’t live your whole life in a caloric deficit (cue the sarcasm).
If I know I’m eating at a sustainable level and I’m dealing with a true craving, not hunger, I then ask myself what emotion I’m feeling right now. I remind myself that there are no judgies on whatever my answer ends up being. I’m just curious right now. I know that outside of true hunger, we all crave foods for emotional reasons. What I want to know is which emotions are my personal triggers.
This time around, I’ve identified that I’m just bored, so now I grab a pen and paper and write down “bored”. Then I scribble out why these emotions don’t feel comfortable right now, and what other ways I can alleviate these emotions without eating something. Now this is pretty much the last thing I want to do while I’m staring down that brownie, but I just promise myself that after I write this stuff out, I can go ahead and have the brownie. No white knuckling my way through this craving. Just write the emotions out first.
If you thought that writing step was bad, this might be even more uncomfortable. Now I’m just sitting with that bored feeling. Wallowing in it. Seriously. I close my eyes and get curious about it. I explore why feeling bored bothers me, where it came from, what typically makes it go away, what situations don’t make it appear. And I just feel it. After 5 minutes, maybe 10, I open my eyes and write out how I feel after just sitting with the emotion instead of trying to dodge it with food. Mostly, I find it interesting that I didn’t die from it.
Lastly, it’s time for some ACTION. It’s time to stand up and DO whatever I brainstormed in the last step. Maybe it’s listen to music while doing some booty shakin’. Maybe it’s calling up that person I need to have things out with. Maybe it’s getting outside and moving my body. Maybe it’s doing whatever the hell I need to do to light myself up and feel ALIVE! By the way, fear & boredom, two very popular emotions that cause overeating, tend to disappear rapidly in the face of ACTION.
So was I really craving that brownie? These steps helped me figure out what I was REALLY craving!
Now it’s YOUR turn!! If you’re truly committed to working through your emotional food cravings, use this Craving Worksheet to get started on identifying what YOU are really hungry for. It’s one thing to read about these steps, it’s another thing entirely to act upon it. High five, badass.