By Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. HuffPost Healthy Living
Some nights, chocolate calls from the cupboard. A tractor beam emanates from the cookie jar. Our cravings drive us, whether for love, money, power, fame or simply those sea salt caramels.
So what to do when the siren song of garlic breadsticks is leading you to certain doom? Here are seven tips to navigate the waters.
Tip #1: Remember a craving is not an emergency. Rather than getting swept up in the urgency of “I need it now!” let the craving perch on your shoulder and carry it around for a while. Like a storm, cravings fizzle and pass. Welcome it as a temporary visitor rather than fighting it like an enemy.
Tip #2: Lean in. To resist the craving, use a counterintuitive tool and lean into the craving. Your body may need acknowledgement and attention, not Fritos. Breathe. Calmly notice and describe the craving in undramatic terms. You may uncover some other need under the craving, or you may not, but it’s the tuning in that will tell you.
Tip #3: Delay. Some cravings are like a firecracker — a quick pop and they dissolve. But others are a slow burn — they smolder on for hours and days if not fulfilled. To deal with the firecracker variety, tell yourself you can have those salt and vinegar potato chips in half an hour. Fast forward to your target time and you may have forgotten about them. If you still want them, maybe you’ve got the slow burn. Into the shopping cart they go, but then, do #4.
Tip #4: Ladies, talk it out. Gentlemen, keep it to yourself. A 2008 study found that when women tried to suppress their thoughts about chocolate, they actually ended up eating 50 percent more than those who were encouraged to think and talk about it. For men, however, the response was different — those who thought and talked about the chocolate ended up eating more than those who suppressed.
Tip #5: Create a mini ritual for your favorite foods. Having a ritual for food makes it more enjoyable. For instance, lighting candles, singing “Happy Birthday,” and making a wish really does make the cake taste better. But it works on a smaller scale, too. In a 2013 study from the University of Minnesota, something as small as opening a chocolate bar in a specific way made the participants savor the chocolate longer and rate it more highly.
So create a ritual for foods you crave to maximize your enjoyment. You don’t have to do an elaborate doughnut dance. It could be as simple as always breaking the donut in half before you eat it.
Tip #6: Don’t try to substitute. If I want a cookie but eat a carrot, I’m guaranteed to end up eating a carrot and, a few minutes later, a cookie. Or four. I’m willing to bet you’re similar. If you’re craving something, don’t try to fool yourself. Your body and taste buds are smart, and they will get mad if you try to trick them.
Tip #7: Savor it. When you finally get your hands on that kettle corn, really taste it. Eat it slowly. Sit at a table, but not in front of a screen. Chew, don’t inhale. Taste each ingredient. Mindful eating can be both freeing and frustrating. The tendency to plow through a meal without tasting it is so common that it feels odd to slow down, but eating mindfully can decrease your cravings, your waistline, and improve management of Type 2 diabetes. But not to worry — your food doesn’t have to be fancy, vegan or organic — you can eat anything mindfully, even your kids’ pizza crusts, not that I know anything about that.
So when a craving strikes, calm down, tune in and savor every bite. With some practice, that tractor beam from the cookie jar may be weaker than you remember.