Most of us have faced a craving or two in our lifetime — some of us more than others. But how do we treat them? We spoke to Lisa Eberly, MPH, RD, who has a background in preventative medicine and nutrition. Eberly knows a thing or two about stopping cravings before they even happen.
She takes a psychological approach to treating clients' cravings. Eberly says the key to preventing cravings starts with something she calls "mindful eating." And it's pretty simple, though possibly more challenging to put into practice. "It sounds sort of cheesy, but mindful eating refers to exactly what it sounds like: being more mindful and aware of the food you eat."
What we love most about this practice is that the intent of mindful eating isn't to make you feel guilty or like you made a "poor choice." In fact, Eberly even encourages you to treat yourself to the foods you really want. But the purpose of mindful eating is simply to make you more aware of everything that's going into your body. We can tend to blindly consume and at the end of the day have no idea what we ate at each meal (or snack).
Here's how you get started with your first mindful eating practice.
- Start With a Favorite. Choose a favorite food or a food you really love and have eaten often.
- Sense It. Observe the look, touch, texture, and smell. Appreciate the appearance and scent of your food, and begin to observe any sensations happening in your body, particularly stomach and mouth.
- Observe Before You Chew. Once you take a bite, observe the sensation of food in your mouth without chewing. Carefully think about the taste of the food.
- Go Slow and Think. Chew slowly and pause briefly. Think about the location of the food in your mouth, as well as the taste and texture. Concentrate on how the taste and texture changes as you continue chewing.
- Pause. Before you swallow, pay attention to the urge to swallow. Do so consciously, and notice the sensation of the food traveling down the esophagus to the stomach. Pay attention to any physical sensation.
- Feel Grateful. Take a moment to express gratitude for the food, for those who provided it for you, and for how it was made. The concept of gratitude will help in the overall process of mindful eating.
Mindful eating as a practice has very practical techniques you can implement to kick-start your healthy eating and break bad food habits. Eberly recommends the following tips you can implement today.
- Put your fork down between bites. This will help you be acutely aware of portion and how much you're eating (and how quickly!).
- Take at least 30 minutes to finish a meal. Slowing down will allow your body to process leptin, which triggers the feeling of satiation in the brain.
- Eat when you're hungry and don't deprive yourself. This will stave off cravings before they happen. "Deprivation can lead to food obsession," said Eberly.
- Focus on eating. "When you eat, do nothing else." Do you typically eat and snack while you're working, watching TV, commuting, or focused on anything else other than eating? That's the opposite of mindful eating. Carve out some time to just focus on your food and how it affects your body.
"Food is a very powerful way to soothe yourself," said Eberly. But we create these cravings we experience by using food as a crutch and associating food with emotional experiences. Do you always crave a doughnut in the morning because you always get a doughnut on your walk to work? Do you crave popcorn at the movie theater because of a habit?
She said that "cravings can be satisfied by a number of things other than food, which involves tapping into why you're craving that food." If you're more mindful of why the craving exists and how you're feeling, you'll be better able to stop in the future. And if you're finding that your cravings are stress related, try these tips for alleviating stress and anxiety, or try foods with these stress-reducing minerals.