While you may desire a certain food due to its nutritional content, much of the time food cravings can have emotional roots. Instead of looking at cravings as something to resist, ignore, or stamp out altogether, it’s possible to gain insight from food cravings as a way to meet the deeper needs hiding underneath. Here’s how to mine the wisdom your food cravings hold to find peace in your relationship with food.
Food cravings indicate that deeper feelings and stressors that are lurking under the surface. Instead of restrictive dieting, intuitive eating embraces desire as something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Intuitive eating is considered an adaptive mental health strategy that’s connected to several positive outcomes, including increases in:
- positive body image
- overall well-being
If food cravings are covering up deeper feelings, repressing or controlling them doesn’t ultimately solve anything. Food deprivation increases cravings for the foods being avoided when it comes to specific foods. Cravings are a conditioned response brought about by learned cues rather than nutrient or energy deficiencies. This means they can be unlearned.
While it’s difficult to say exactly what these cues are, they likely have emotional undercurrents, typically, it’s fear of something—not being lovable, fear of not being worthy, fear of not being perfect, fear of not being in control.
Seven Food Craving Techniques
The techniques below can help you mine the wisdom hidden behind the desire to eat to cover up your feelings.
Sit with the craving
It’s only natural for cravings to arise from time to time. Instead of repressing, ignoring, or immediately gratifying them, try sitting with the sensation of craving to tune in to the message it has for you. You can apply three steps to put this into practice:
Sit with the craving.
Explore meeting the need.
If the desire is still there, enjoy the food.
First, sit with the craving. Feel where it is in your body. Notice what sensations, memories, or images arise along with it. As you do so, you can ask yourself where the craving comes from, without trying to ‘figure it out.’ Just let any information arise naturally—or not.
Second, explore whether the feeling of craving can be met or lessened in other ways. These can include:
- drinking some water
- taking a cat nap
- going for a walk
- calling a friend
- taking a warm bath
After you try a few ways to meet the desire, you may discover the need for the specific food you had in mind isn’t so intense. This may indicate that your craving didn’t come from hunger after all. Once you’ve taken space to experience and explore the craving, you can decide whether you’d like to go ahead and eat based on what you’ve discovered. If you do choose to eat, make sure you allow yourself to enjoy the experience. This practice isn’t about willpower at all—it’s about exploration. There’s no way to do it wrong, whether you decide to eat the food or not.
Be aware of the belly
Give attention to your belly, especially because this can be an area of the body that many try to cover up, hide, or ignore altogether. You begin the process of bringing yourself back to your body, to your belly, to your breath because they…are here now. The steps to belly meditation are as follows:
Become aware of the sensations in your belly. These can include numbness, emptiness, fullness, tingling, warmth, or anything at all.
As you continue to focus on belly sensations, begin to count the breath. This helps prevent the mind from wandering. Whenever you get to seven, start over again at one.
Once you feel in touch with the sensations in your belly, feel into whether you’d still like to eat. Either choice is OK.
Delegate the decision-making
The question, ‘Should I eat or not? This can often lead them to spiral and feel overwhelmed with the decision. As a solution is to delegating the task. When it comes to my metabolism and burning calories, thankfully your brain doesn’t actually have to be the one in control of that. “Metabolism can be the one in control. Let me delegate that, release that control and trust that your body is going to handle it. This involves trusting that the body—including the part of the body responsible for cravings—knows what it’s doing.
Learn your cues
Practicing sitting with your cravings and feeling your belly sensations can help get you out of your head and into your body. The more you practice, the more likely you’ll be able to interpret your body’s cues. Learning about your cues can help you get back in touch with it. Cues are available at all times, but a lot of people are numbing them. Whether it’s hunger, fullness, or craving, they’re numbing their desires. The body basically starts screaming to get your attention. Once you start turning your attention to the body itself, rather than an outside object of craving, you can begin to get more in touch with your true desires.
Celebrate your cravings
Some people mistrust the idea of intuitive eating because they’re afraid that if they eat whatever they want, they’ll lose a sense of control. Instead of fearing cravings, you can celebrate them. Celebrate the fact that a craving is a line of communication to your body.
Ask ‘what else am I hungry for?’
An integral part of understanding your cues is getting curious about them and asking what else you might be hungry for. Let’s say it’s breakfast time and you’re craving cake. You intuitively know that eating cake for breakfast wouldn’t actually be the most aligned for your health. Then you get curious and say, ‘okay, well, if we go a little deeper into this craving, what is it that I’m actually hungry for?’ This could be any number of things, like:
The more you ask, listen, and stay with the craving, the more likely you are to get an answer.
Keep the food you crave in the house
It may fly in the face of everything you’ve ever heard about eating healthy, but keep the foods you crave available in the house. This helps to reinforce the idea that food isn’t such a big deal. The cravings can feel really intense when you’re limiting them because you’re only allowed to eat dessert on the weekend. You’re going to be craving that dessert Monday through Friday until the weekend comes. Instead, have a little bit of what you’re desiring any time throughout the week. When you’re allowing yourself to eat what you want to eat, the cravings no longer seem that special.
Tips for enjoying food
1. Eat when you are hungry.
2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations, or music.
4. Eat what your body wants.
5. Eat until you are satisfied.
6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.
Doing these can help you truly experience the pleasure of eating, as well as take away any sense of the shamefulness or specialness of food.