We all get cravings – the question is how do we handle them?
One approach is to tap into your mindset.
“It’s always the difference between a negative and positive mindset,” says Jessica Watson, a Winnipeg-based life coach, explaining that your mindset affects how you feel about cravings.
For example, if you are eating healthy but are feeling negative and restrictive about it, having thoughts like “This sucks” or “Why me?” or looking at others and envying them, your cravings will be amplified.
Watson, who also successfully participated in the Weight Watchers program with her mother, says being aware and mindful has been, for her, the key to maintaining a healthy weight.
Tip: Have a plan
You know yourself – use that to your advantage. Watson explains it’s key to have a plan for how you’re going to handle cravings ahead of time. That way, when they hit, you’ll know what to do. Whether that plan keeps you from indulging in cravings altogether or allows you to have a treat under certain circumstances, is entirely up to you – and different for everyone. The trick is knowing what works for you. Can you be allowed to have a spoonful of ice cream or a handful of chips and have that be enough? Or do you know you tend to lose control and will want to have the whole tub or the entire bag?
“I will always crave popcorn once I smell it,” Watson says. So she has a plan in place for handling that craving – in this case, allowing herself to have it once in a while, only when she goes to the movies.
“Try as much as possible to make those decisions [about cravings] when you’re in a more clear head space,” Watson says.
Tip: Be kind to yourself
We all give in to cravings from time to time. What’s important is how you treat yourself emotionally after indulging.
“Go easy on yourself. Show compassion towards yourself.”
Don’t get stuck in the loop of being upset and being disappointed in yourself because you ate something that wasn’t very good for you. Use the time after an indulgence for reflection, Watson says. Are you okay with giving in to that craving? Maybe this is an indulgence you can comfortably allow yourself without regret. If you had a cravings plan in place, did you follow it? Why or why not? If you didn’t have a plan in place, now’s a good time to make one.
It’s crucial to avoid battling or shaming yourself when you do something that goes against what you thought you were going to do, she explains. Instead of feeling really guilty about eating two cookies or even a whole box, approach it with compassion and think about why you’re having them at all. Then, use it as a learning moment to figure out how to make the situation better next time. Be a “loving friend” rather than a “strict enforcer”, Watson adds.
Tip: Mind tricks
Another tip Watson shares may sound odd at first: Get comfortable with the discomfort of hunger.
She explains: You’re having a craving. Do you have to indulge it or can you just sit with it? Is there a physical hunger pain there or is this a mental thing?
“Try not to panic,” Watson adds. This is all about being more aware of yourself.
Bait and switch
Sometimes your cravings could just be habits, Watson explains. You’re used to having the thing and craving the thing, so you keep craving it.
“You can try to switch that habit, too,” she says.
Here’s how you do it: You’re craving potato chips. But rather than eat potato chips, you eat something healthier like salted seaweed snacks or nuts. Or you move it away from food altogether, and when a craving hits, you blast some music or do a push-up.
If you’re struggling to combat cravings for unhealthy foods, being mindful of what you’re eating and grateful for healthy food can help you think differently. Watson suggests trying affirmations to, for lack of a better word ‘trick’ yourself into enjoying healthy foods more. She once tried an affirmation to help herself drink more water. She would take a sip and say, “Mmmm, water, refreshing,” and it worked.
“I did start to think that a little bit more,” Watson says.
- “Mmm, this is just what I wanted.”
- “I eat foods that are healthy and nourishing for my body.”
- “Healthy foods taste good.”
Set a timer
If it’s a real struggle to ignore a craving, Watson suggests setting a timer for a little while (you choose how long). When it goes off, see if you’re still feeling that craving. If you are, try setting the timer again. Chances are that craving will wear off. And if it doesn’t, refer to your preset cravings plan.
In order for any of this to work, you need to be able to experiment with your thoughts and mindset. Stay positive, Watson says, and get curious about what you’re thinking.
And recognize that building your own willpower and trust in yourself takes time and effort.
“It is like a muscle,” Watson says. Doing little things to strengthen this will be more beneficial than doubting yourself. Simply following through on goals, like eating clean for the day, will help you believe in yourself more.
Realize you have the power to make a change, Watson says.