Is it Hunger or is it Habit?
Unless you are physiologically hungry and your body needs sustenance, your food cravings are likely to be a security blanket, or a distraction from an emotional need or negative emotion. And in most cases, it is also a learned behaviour that has become a habit due to repetition, usually starting when you are feeling stressed or experiencing other strong uncomfortable emotions.
Feeding the cravings provides momentary distraction, a sugar rush or just plain comfort. But whilst this strategy to comfort yourself was originally well intentioned (as human beings, we always move towards comfort and away from pain), it has now become a burden because it ends up being unsustainable in the long term. This then creates its own internal stress, so more food is used to comfort that stress and a vicious circle is set up!
In order to stop the craving without using food, you need to discover the underlying cause and find other ways to fulfil the deeper need in your life.
What are you really feeding?
Instead of automatically reaching for the food – stop and ask yourself ‘What do I really need right now?’ You may be surprised at the answer.
Perhaps you’re feeling stressed and need to relax?
Or feeling lonely and need some connection with others?
Maybe you’re bored and unmotivated?
Or feeling fearful and worrying about something?
Food will always be a quick and easy fix for those who need to seek solace from uncomfortable feelings, as this is so much easier than addressing the underlying emotion. And no one can be admonished for that! It’s simply human nature, just taking the easiest and quickest route to comfort.
Your food cravings can also be associated with a special meaning or emotion. Maybe you were rewarded with sweets or biscuits as a child or you loved staying at Grandma’s house because she secretly gave you chocolate without your parents knowing. It was fun, it was rewarding and it brings back special memories and internal feelings. It is these associations that can carry forward into adulthood and be used as a way to feel better. Or perhaps, just the taste and texture of the food or the sugar content gives you that temporary high. Or you just simply feel you ‘deserve it’ because you’ve had a bad day and need to self soothe the easy way.
Equally, food doesn’t always deliver a positive feeling. Sometime there’s a darker association. When feeling out of control with bad eating habits, you may be telling yourself stories such as “I’m not good enough, not attractive enough, not worthy and I deserve to be punished”. This in itself also sets up a vicious circle of distorted eating.
The good news is that your cravings are fundamentally a habit and habits can be changed!
However, before this can occur more easily, you need to explore what the meanings are for you behind the habit. Try separating the actual sensory feelings of eating the food itself and the thoughts and feelings that hide behind it. Then consider more resourceful ways of addressing these emotional needs and plan ahead for the time when you know the cravings will hit.