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The One Approach You Need to Master Your Food Cravings

Are you hitting a wall with nighttime eating? Unable to master your food cravings?

Well, I’m not one who believes that finding something challenging means that you give up.

Perhaps you haven’t found that one thing you need to in order to conquer your cravings for good.

Lucky for you, I’m here to teach you all about not only understanding your cravings, but finally kicking them to the curb!

Grab your emotional support drink of choice and dive on in with me, friend!

First, what are cravings, and why can’t you seem to resist them?

woman sneaking food out of the refrigerator at night and not managing her cravings

Cravings are simply a strong desire to use a particular substance or a particular type of food.

They can be triggered by habitual behaviors, strong emotions, or social situations. When you do something repeatedly, like eating a specific food whenever you’re bored or stressed, neural pathways in your brain are reinforced.

The neural pathways create connections between the triggers, the behavior, and the feelings of pleasure, relief, or comfort you get when eating it. Over time, these pathways become stronger and more automatic. Essentially, you develop a habit.

Have you heard of the hypothalamus before? It’s no problem if you haven’t.

The hypothalamus is the part of your brain that regulates the secretion of chemicals and hormones related to stress, pleasure, pain, and hunger.  The chemical messenger dopamine originates in the hypothalamus and it’s responsible for sending the messages that tell your brain something is rewarding.🤯

Translated for regular people, this means that your brain recognizes when something was rewarding in the past, thinks you should eat it again!

Finding a way to slow down or interrupt this process is the key to overcoming your cravings!

It’s also good to know that:

  • White-knuckle willpower isn’t the way to go.
  • You’re not “messed up” or abnormal if you have cravings (every human does).
  • You can learn to create some space between the craving and the action to help you finally conquer them!

How I Started Using Mindfulness to Help Me Master My Food Cravings

Not all that long ago, I was just like you. I craved sweet or salty snacks every single night. Most of the time I didn’t even realize it. I just found myself spoon deep into the pint of ice cream, or my hand halfway down the chip bag.

Then, I found a mindful approach to cravings, and it changed me and my life by:

  • Helping me stay more calm when I was getting anxious (a common occurrence)
  • Changing my views about why people find it hard to change
  • Altering my relationship with cravings!

Side Note: This may sound pretty magical🪄 but it’s still hard work. Others approach it differently. For example, Healthline approaches managing cravings by focusing on eating more protein (more on that later), managing sleep, and keeping “trouble” foods out of the house. None of these are bad ideas; but you need something actionable when you’re in the midst of a craving!

But check it out to see how if some of the ideas may benefit you in the long term.

5 Steps to Implement A Mindful Approach to Food Cravings Today

You now understand what cravings are and how they work. Now you need some specifics on how to make this work for you.

Trying to Eliminate Cravings Doesn’t Work

These methods include trying to put the cravings out of your mind, think about something else, distract yourself, etc. I mean, what generally happens when you tell yourself NOT to think about something? 

pink frosted donut held by woman with long pink fingernails under a neon light that says "you are magic"
Photo by Karley Saagi

I don’t know about you, but if you tell me not to think about  the proverbial white elephant, or a pink-frosted cake donut from VooDoo Donuts, it’s the only thing I’m going to think about!

Though well-meaning, these tactics work about as well as all the advice I got when I was young,  worried, and anxious: “There’s nothing to worry about,” or, “Don’t be silly,” “Don’t be so self-centered!”

Even telling yourself all the logical reasons for not giving in to your cravings doesn’t work in the long run.

You DO know all of them, right? You’re not really hungry. Too many sweets/refined carbs aren’t good for you. If you’re really hungry, you’d eat broccoli (no I wouldn’t). You need more veggies, you’re weak, you have no willpower. 

And on and on and ON. So clearly this “method” doesn’t work!

Be Careful With All-Or-Nothing Thinking

There are two ways that all-or-nothing thinking can sabotage your efforts to deal with cravings. The first goes like this:

“I blew it! I had a half-bag of Doritos and now everything I’ve worked for is down the drain. I might as well eat the rest of it. I’m hopeless.”

Have you ever said anything remotely similar to yourself? I’m guessing probably. Everyone has this sort of thought from time to time, but some of us more often!

The other way this thought distortion can snag you is this:

“I’ll just STOP eating Oreos [insert problem food(s) here]! I’ll never eat or buy them again.” 

This is almost guaranteed to come back to bite you. I mean, really. If you have a long-standing love affair with Oreos, do you really believe that you’ll NEVER eat them again?

Photo by Kian Philippe Martos

Sure, you may swear off them for a week, or even a month, but one day when you’re at the store, you’ll probably say to yourself, “Weeellllllllllllllllllll, maybe just one bag of Oreo Thins!” You’ll admonish yourself to only have 3 (or 4) of them each evening, but when you’re stressed out, there goes a whole sleeve!

You can learn to enjoy Oreos (thin or otherwise) without resorting to a craving-binge. But you need to do so gradually, and with lots of mindful practice.

And along with this practice comes copious rewards for making even tiny progress!

Be Willing To Make Room For Your Cravings

This may sound strange, but as mentioned in the first step, trying to make your cravings disappear is a losing strategy. Cravings are literally wired into the human brain, so there’s just no sense in wasting precious mental energy on trying to get totally rid of them.🔌🧠

What you CAN do, however, is make 󠀠▫ room󠀠 ▫ for them! What the heck does that mean? It means first, understanding what feeling or emotion you are trying to avoid 🤯 by continually giving in to your cravings for highly palatable, energy-dense foods.

Once you understand what your feeling/emotion is, sit with it for a few minutes. This gives you some time between the immediate, nearly overwhelming craving, and the action of eating whatever it is you’re craving.

Then you can use the moment in between impulse and action to sit with whatever it is you’re feeling. You’ll eventually begin to realize that you don’t have to act on the feeling/emotion!

I’m here to tell you that this is absolute 🗝️🗝️key information.🗝️🗝️ Once you realize that your emotions are just thoughts in your head that aren’t necessarily true (I mean, really, do you actually NEED that sleeve of Oreos? Of course not), you’ve won the battle. 

It will still take lots of practice to win the war, but this is the first step to mastering your food cravings.

Download My Free Guide!

This guide shows you two actionable ways to stop a craving in its tracks using the “space between impulse and action.” It’s a great and free way to get started practicing!

a graphic depicting a free guide to learn to master your food cravings

Eat More Protein

Although this step isn’t specifically mindset, it’s important nonetheless. Eating adequate protein has an effect on cravings in general, and cravings in the evening specifically that I found astounding. In fact, at first I didn’t believe it!

I actually had to force myself to consume more protein to see if it was true. For me, it was absolutely, positively true. You see, I had been in the low protein camp for literally decades, when I first became aware of Dr. John McDougall and his starch-centered approach.

I’m still careful not to overdo it, but I have upped my protein intake significantly and it’s helped tremendously, along with the mindful approach (which I also initially pooh-poohed). Just shows you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!🐕

On to the scientific studies.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “higher protein meals reduced unhealthy evening snacking on high fat and/or high sugar foods compared to standard protein meals.”

Another study, this one in Science Daily says eating a protein-rich breakfast, both “increases satiety and reduces hunger throughout the day,” AND “reduces the brain signals controlling food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior.”

So, while eating more protein was and is a BIG factor in mastering my seemingly overwhelming food cravings, the mindfulness has been the icing on the cake (and let’s be real – isn’t the icing the best part???).

Cravings are physical for sure, but also reward-driven, and that part starts in the brain, the old lizard brain specifically. And the mindful part of making room for your cravings without acting on them is what can tackle this and render it far less destructive to your sanity and waistline!

The bottom line? Eating more quality protein balanced throughout your meals can help you master your food cravings!

Case Study: Saundra

Saundra was fed up with with constantly telling herself that THIS TIME would be the last time she gave in to her cravings, but then of course it wasn’t. She tried so hard during the day to be “good,” but when the evening rolled around, she could not resist, no matter what she tried.

Thankfully, she came across the “allowing space” approach through my free guide.

In her own words, “I had tried so many things and when Kathy mentioned being willing to make room for my cravings, I thought it sounded crazy and I was sure it would only work for others; certainly not someone with so little willpower.”

graphic of woman whose eyes show confusion wearing a blue blouse with her hands on her head

But since she had tried everything else, she thought, “What did I have to lose at that point? I knew the way I was eating and then beating myself up wasn’t working.”

To her surprise, although it took time, she eventually managed to get control of her nighttime cravings by combining eating more quality protein spaced throughout her regular meals, along with employing the “make room for your cravings” method.

I am proud to call Saundra a friend and favorite client to this day.

From Saundra:“For anybody unsure of whether this might work for you, I must say, just try it. I believe you will be as surprised with your success as I was.”

Wrapping it Up

People like you and Saundra are precisely why I made this free resource.

I knew there was a great need for an approach to cravings that didn’t call for white-knuckle willpower (you know, the kind that is completely exhausted by the time evening rolls around), denying all your favorite foods forever, or constantly beating yourself up.

From there, I launched crafted the Control Your Cravings Now guide, which shows you how to make room for your cravings in two simple ways.

You’re not doomed to binge-crave every night! Get the free guide and learn to control your cravings!

Good job on making it to the end of this post! That type of commitment shows that you will achieve control over your cravings!

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