Cutting Out Cravings

crave cupcakes rachel kramer busselMy boyfriend Julian, who is studying Sociology and Psychology, shared something with me this weekend that blew my mind. It’s about cravings. (If you don’t suffer from cravings, stop reading this right now go read one of 23 Thorn’s posts on owls instead. He has several, and they are awesome.) If you do struggle with cravings, however, read on… I am about to change your world.

Julian has been reading and studying about cognitive therapy which, according to Wikipediaseeks to help the patient overcome difficulties by identifying and changing dysfunctional thinking, behavior, and emotional responses. The founder of Cognitive Therapy is Dr. Aaron Beck, who has written extensively on the subject. Dr. Beck also has a daughter, Dr. Judith Beck, who is a psychologist and who also is known for her work in cognitive therapy. Dr. Judith Beck has written several books, including works on diet and weight loss. I tell you all of this because it really helped me knowing this came from someone with authority in the field, if I had heard what I am about to tell you from some random person it would have been easy to disregard it. Here it is:

Cravings pass. Whether you give in to them, or whether you don’t, they eventually pass.

Seems ridiculous, right? Obvious. Think about it again though, let it really roll around your brain: Whether you give in to them, or whether you don’t, cravings pass.

How do you act when you get a serious craving? I have three methods of coping with them:

1) A Little Goes a Long Way: If I am craving something decadent like wine or chocolate, one way I deal with cravings is by having a small amount of what want, but of high quality. So, I might have a small bite of seriously wonderful, expensive chocolate from a local sweet shop, rather than having a full Milky Way bar.

2) Bait and Switch: instead of having what I want, I try to find something that is similar or has similar associations. Instead of having a bowl of ice cream, I might have a low-fat Fudgsicle instead.

3) All In: If the craving isn’t something I consider unhealthy, I will go ahead and indulge (and sometimes even if it isn’t.) In fact, sometimes, I will go ahead and deliberately eat more of the item than I normally would to “quench” the craving. I did that with fruit not long ago.

What I don’t do? Simply let it pass.

Since Julian told me that simple phrase that he had read, its been going around and around in my mind. (It seems so obvious, but that’s always the way with hindsight.) Every time I start to crave something, (and it is surprising me how often I have cravings,) I think of this phrase – like a mantra. “Cravings will go away.” You know what? Cravings aren’t a thing. They aren’t like a cold or headache. They aren’t a gremlin with a knife to your throat. It won’t kill you if you don’t give in. Cravings are simply thoughts, and these thoughts are made stronger by thinking about them. Once you choose not to give in to the craving, and I mean really decide, (no takebacksies) the craving starts to go away.

The thing is, we now live in a world where we can give into our cravings whenever we want. Pineapple in December? Done. Eggrolls at 3AM? Easy. Past generations never had this. If they wanted Grandma’s homemade cherry pie in February, it was just too darn bad. You had to wait until cherry season – and grandma to get around to making it. Now we can drive to a store and pick up whatever we want.

Here’s what I wrote back in January about cravings:

Usually if I have a specific craving, I figure my body is telling me something – sometimes it is a needed nutrient, (Craving steak? Maybe I am low on iron.) and sometimes it is a symptom of something emotional. (Craving chocolate? How are the stress levels?) I normally just have a bit of whatever it is and the problem is solved.

Now, I think it is something else. I think a craving is my brain’s way of distracting me from something else:

Last week a bag of sugared cinnamon almonds stole my soul. Someone had brought them in to work and left them on the “free food” counter. I thought I would have a couple with my morning coffee, and I decided to leave the sugar out of my coffee to balance it out. The almonds were delicious… and then, I could not stop eating them. All day I kept popping up from my desk to have just a couple more, long past when I knew I should stop. Thinking about it now, I think what was really going on was that my brain was desperately trying to avoid the big ugly work project that I have been procrastinating on. The whole “Will I? Won’t I?” battle in my brain kept me happily distracted from the work I was supposed to be doing. Our minds are amazing at finding ways to fool us.

I also think cravings are habits, as in “at this time, I aways want (x).” I’ll give you an example – after Julian and I had this talk, I kept thinking about it. Then Sunday night he and I went out for Asian cuisine. I had an amazing dish of spicy green beans. Afterwards, I found myself craving something sweet. The little fortune cookie that came with it was not nearly enough. I almost suggested going out for ice cream, and then I thought: cravings go away. I really looked at what was going on. I wasn’t hungry – far from it – I was stuffed with a great meal. There were two things behind this particular craving: 1) I was having fun with Julian and didn’t want the date to end, and 2) I have a bad habit of always following up spicy/garlicky food with something sweet. But that’s all it was – a habit. I didn’t need it. I sat with it and just reminded myself that the feeling would pass. It did, and our date kept going because we wanted it to, not because I had to throw something else in there.

When I got back to work on Monday… there were still some sugared almonds on the break room table.

I didn’t have one, and the funny thing was, it wasn’t even a struggle. Part of it was that I had gotten that dreaded project done, and part was that every time my brain would send up a little craving thought, I noticed it… and then went back to work. Instead, I set times throughout the day that I would eat. I decided what I wanted to eat, how much, and when, based my goals, not on cravings.

I want to eat well. I believe in eating delicious food. However, I am going to make those decisions consciously. And as for the in between times when I have a cravings?

They will pass.

Photo credit: Rachel Kramer Bussel

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One thought on “Cutting Out Cravings

  1. Pingback: The Curse of the Craving | Long View Hill

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