Does it seem like your cravings have all the power over what you eat? That they’re hindering your healthy weight loss goals? It doesn’t have to be this way. Try these simple practices to quiet their monstrous roars, so you can lose the weight for good.
Cravings are like sweaty salesmen. They come on strong.
There you are, going about your day, when suddenly YOU MUST EAT A BAG OF POTATO CHIPS.
Or, you’re headed to bed and suddenly YOU MUST EAT ICE CREAM NOW.
Or, sometimes, the cravings take a quieter turn. “Pizza-flavored crackers left over from your kid’s lunch box would cool right now,” the Craving says off-handedly, over its shoulder, barely looking at you. “Right? Just a few. Just three or four handfuls. Maybe the bag. It won’t hurt. You deserve it. You work hard. I don’t care what you do. Do whatever you want. But, sure, go for it. They taste so good.”
(Your cravings likely have their own voices—and we’d love to hear them! What do your cravings sound like? Let us know here.)
However cravings show up, they seem to possess us completely, until we do what they say. The painful part is that when the craving passes, we’re left with a lot of hard feelings, including shame, disappointment, discouragement, annoyance, frustration. We also just ate whatever the craving wanted, and our bodies might not feel so great either.
It would be nice if we could just ignore cravings, but we can’t. They’re part of the experience of changing our eating habits. So the question is, can we manage the cravings so we’re free to make our own choices about what we eat (and lose the weight for good)?
Yes, we can! Here are 3 simple practices to help you gain your freedom from cravings.
3 Ways to Find Freedom from Food Cravings
1. Time your cravings.
As intense as cravings are, they don’t actually last very long. Conventional wisdom pegs food cravings as lasting between one and five minutes.
We know this is hard to believe! When a craving comes on, it really feels like it’s going to last forever. Unless you eat what you crave, you’re sure this pressure will never pass. Not ever. And how can you withstand it for one second more?
The next time you feel a craving, pull up the timer on your phone. Hit “start” and then track how long it lasts. How long is the most intense part? At what point does it start to fade?
Two things happen when you time your cravings.
First, you get to know a craving as an experience with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s not forever, and it’s not even the same sensation all the way through. When you start to understand the shape of a craving, it loses some of its overwhelming power.
Second, by observing the experience, you put some distance between yourself and the sensation. You give yourself a little room to make a decision about the craving, rather than only reacting to it.
So now, you’ve got some freedom to make choices. What would you like to do during the one to five minutes of the next craving?
- Would you like to practice deep breathing?
- Would you like to drink a glass of water?
- Would you like to play a quick word game on your phone?
- Would you like to apply some lip balm, or snag some moisturizer for your hands? (Everything’s dry in the winter!)
- Would you like to ask for or give a hug?
- Would you like to watch a movie trailer?
- Would you like to put a small drop of essential oil on your palms, rub them together, and inhale the scent?
- Would you like to dance?
- Would you like to paint your toenails?
- Would you like to shoot some hoops?
Your choice. Your freedom. The craving will pass. These minutes are up to you.
2. Listen to cravings like they are a language.
Sometimes, we want the potato chips or the huge brownie just because we want it. We’re used to eating this or that particularly compelling food, and our body’s calling out for the taste and for the way it makes us feel.
But much of the time, a craving starts long before the sensation hits — and often when we are in some way vulnerable.
Once the intensity of the craving passes, take stock of your day or the last few days. Ask yourself a few questions:
- How’s my sleep been?
- How much water have I had lately?
- When was the last time I got outside for more than a minute?
- Have I skipped any meals or snacks? (Yo-yo dieting usually makes cravings stronger!)
- Have meals been on the small side?
- Have I been eating the same thing over and over?
- Have I been sitting a lot?
Hunger, fatigue, thirst, and lack of movement tend to make our bodies send out craving signals. When we’re not getting the nutrients, the repair, or the physical input we need, our bodies will do what they have to do to stay stable. The language of a body in need often looks like cravings.
Don’t get down on yourself if you’ve eaten only tomato soup for the last three meals, or stayed up late several days in a row to get a work project done. (We’ve all been there!) When you identify behavior that’s likely making your body speak in cravings, simply do the next right thing to take care of yourself.
Feeding ourselves, getting good sleep, and moving our bodies are our daily practices. We never really arrive at perfection with any of them! We keep trying; the cravings tell us when we need to care for ourselves; and that is the whole point.
3. Cravings can point to unmet or unconscious needs. Lovingly meet them.
Just like physical needs show up as cravings, emotional needs can, too. Once you’ve moved through the intensity of a craving, take a moment to reflect:
- Has work had any satisfying moments, or has it been a drudge?
- Have I done anything lately that makes me happy? (Sing, knit, read a book, go for a walk, listen to a podcast, grab coffee with a pal)
- Have I spent time in real life or online with people I love?
- Have I helped anybody lately?
- Have I thought about what I’m grateful for, or have I been complaining a lot?
You might not find a direct line from a feeling of loneliness or frustration to your craving for, say, mozzarella sticks. But when you take a moment to see a spike or a pattern in an emotional need, and you’ve also noticed cravings, then you get to see that the craving isn’t some mysterious force descending on you. It makes sense. And you can choose what you do next to meet that emotional need.
It’s good to remember that you’ll still sometimes go for the craving over anything else. The more you practice eating a whole food plant-based diet, the less intense those cravings will be, but they will come up.
And that’s okay! Plant-based eating is a practice, like everything else. You are working very hard to eat well and care for yourself. Just keep walking, one step at a time. The cravings will come and go and you can still experience healthy weight loss despite them. You are doing great!
- Cravings can appear impossible to control.
- With practice, you can gain freedom from them to make your own eating choices.
- Time your cravings. (They’re shorter than you think.)
- Listen to your cravings like they are a language.
- Become aware of emotional needs behind cravings.
Becky Karush is a writer, copywriter, and family woman. She came up through newspapers and magazines, including Disney FamilyFun and Martha Stewart Whole Living, with road trips to teaching and farming. She’s run BeckyK Creative Marketing since 2012. She hosts and produces READ TO ME, a literary podcast that ends the cult of the critic and surfaces the power and beauty in great writing.