Using mindfulness for cravings has proven to be quite effective for me. I think it’s human nature to get cravings every once in a while, though for some it might be so often it becomes harmful.
I get cravings mostly when I’m out and about, and starting to get hungry. Sometimes it’s tough to find healthy food when you’re away from home; or if I’ve been out so long that my breakfast has ‘worn off’.
This happened to me yesterday when I was running errands and had stopped at the local food co-op. They don’t have a deli, but there’s a great pizza place next door. As I drove up and parked, I saw the café and realized how hungry I was.
I started thinking about their ultra-thin, perfectly toasted crust, and the fresh ingredients they use, the delicate sauces, how their pizza is not overloaded with fat and grease but I can actually TASTE the individual ingredients. I WANTED pizza!
My first thought was, ‘Well, maybe after my co-op shopping.’ In the co-op I stood for a moment in the produce section and tuned in to the sight, smells and sense of all the beautiful fresh local produce. I thought about the beauty of the fields, the sunshine and clean water that goes into those plants, the peatiness of the dark soil. I thought about how good I feel when I eat foods like this – the sweetness of fresh baby spinach, the crunch of earthy carrots, the fragrance of freshly picked ripe tomatoes, the sticky juice of a nectarine that I have to slurp up before it drips down my chin.
Then I thought about my resolution to lose the extra pounds I gained on my recent travels (that’s another story). I thought about how I would feel that I let myself down by eating pizza, how it wouldn’t help me get to my goal. I thought about what I really want for myself.
This all happened in the space of a minute or so. It was a moment of mindfulness and clarity. Then it was easy for me to forgo the pizza and go for a hike. The nuts, seeds and fruits that I purchased were sufficient to tide me over until I got home.
Mindfulness Versus Willpower
My old way of dealing with cravings was to tell myself something like ‘NO! I will NOT have pizza!’ I did it over and over, unwittingly reinforcing my thoughts about pizza. And let’s face it, willpower only gets you so far; just like gas in your car, sooner or later you run out of it.
In contrast, mindfulness is always there for you to access. It’s easier and gentler on yourself. That pause is a way to tune in to what your body really wants, instead of giving in to your emotions.
Keys to Use Mindfulness for Cravings
There are effective steps you can take to overcome your cravings, regardless of what your vice is:
- The minute you sense the craving, pause and evaluate it. Ask yourself, is this an emotional thing? What emotion am I trying to soothe? Will this ultimately help? How will I feel after giving in to this craving? Is there something else I can do instead?
- In the case of food, ask yourself if this is food you really want in your body. How will your body feel after you eat it? If it’s true hunger, ask yourself if that unhealthy food is genuinely going to help you or if there is something you can substitute that would be a better choice.
- Engage your senses in the positive sensations you feel when you’re doing what is healthy. Tap into the triumphant feeling you get when you know you’re giving your body the fuel that’s best for it, or when you’re stretching and breathing deeply instead of smoking.
- Connect with what you truly want for yourself and understand ‘The Big Why’ behind what you want. Wanting to lose a few pounds is a superficial ‘why.’ The deeper ‘Why’ could range all over the board – you want to be healthy and active to play with your grandchildren and see them grow up; you want to stay healthy for life so you don’t end up with a debilitating disease; you want to love yourself and feel good about yourself. ‘The Big Why’ is different for each of us, but it’s there. When you bring it to the forefront of your consciousness, it’s easier to make those choices when you feel a craving coming on.
- Critically important after all this: if you’ve diverted your craving, pat yourself on the back. Acknowledge what you just did because this small win is simply one of many that will get you to your goal. Celebrate your mindfulness.
All this is not to say that I don’t eat pizza every once in a while because I do. I’m also not mindful every moment of the day. But I’m getting better at it, like honing any skill. There are times when I practice the pause, go through the evaluation process, then decide from a more informed point of view than an emotional place.
Especially when dining with friends, I allow myself a glass of wine or pizza or something I normally wouldn’t eat. The sharing of food and wine is a part of my culture that I enjoy, and denying myself an occasional pleasure would not be honoring who I am.
I think ultimately this is the bottom line – fully honor yourself to enjoy the health for life that you want.