Cravings and how to combat them
One of my clients Amber who I’ve been working with since last August had succumbed to binge eating and sugar cravings most of her life. Her weight was always fluctuating but she desired more than anything to achieve effortless weight loss.
Amber had tried every diet you can imagine, but every time, felt restricted and deprived, with the same result… weight loss and then the inevitable return of her lost kilos.
The problem is – and this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt myself over the years and through my studies – when you overeat, it has very little to do with the food.
Sure, sugar tastes sweet and science has even proven that sugar is addictive. But the CAUSE for wanting that sweetness and succumbing to an addiction like food, is always linked to an emotional problem; a habit of the mind that keeps you in the overeating game.
The other reason it may actually be to do with the food is if you’re malnourished and starved; which could even be the case if you’re living in a western world. If you survive on processed, poor quality, ‘empty’ calories, then your body is very likely missing key nutrients you need for sufficient energy, sleep, brain function, digestion, and other functions of the body. So eat your greens!
But what I want to focus on here is the most common reason for overeating and cravings, and the major reason Amber suffered for so long.
Whenever Amber felt the need to binge, it was due to 1 of 3 reasons – which are the same reasons most people feel the need to binge. Today I'll share with you the 3 steps we worked on to overcome her cravings and binges, so you can use them too.
I’m so happy with Amber’s results! Not only has she lost 5 kilos and kept it off over Christmas, but she feels confident, in control and at peace with her health. And that feeling is what we really all desire!
Step 1: Feel
The most common reason Amber felt like bingeing was to mask an emotion she didn’t want to feel. Amber had a stressful job and was often very tired when she got home from work. She also felt lonely and bored often, living by herself. Because stress, anxiety, loneliness and fatigue are not emotions Amber wanted to feel, food would be used to cover up the sadness and void.
As you can likely empathise, the food made her feel happy for a second – sugar does release dopamine which is a ‘happy hormone’ – but after a couple of minutes, the stress and sadness would return; only this time, it was coupled with guilt about eating too much.
So to mask the pain of guilt, Amber would… you guessed it… eat (or drink!) a little bit more, or absolutely berate herself with negative talk that spiraled into self-abuse and more sadness.
To address the cause – rather than use food as a bandaid fix for her troubles – Amber needed to get into the habit of allowing herself to FEEL.
That meant, whenever she’d want to binge on unhealthy foods, Amber stepped into the routine of feeling WHY she wanted that food in the first place, with the acknowledgment that food was not going to take away that pain.
She needed to respect her body enough to allow it to communicate with her, telling her firsthand what the issue was she was covering up; what the problem was that she needed to address.
The key here was for Amber to invite open communication with her body. Your body is very intelligent and sends you signals and messages all the time with feedback on what’s going on and what it needs from you.
By truly respecting and loving your body, you recognise that listening to your body and allowing yourself to feel what comes up is key to knowing yourself and healing any deep wounds.
In understanding that experiencing a variety of emotions is part of the human experience, Amber learnt to allow herself to feel sad and stressed and even have a cry, to go deeper, and eventually understand why those feelings were there in the first place.
Through this process, I was able to guide Amber step by step on addressing the actual root causes of her emotional eating – mainly stress, fatigue and loneliness.
This new habit allowed Amber to no longer rely on food as a bandaid fix for pain, unlocking those chains once and for all!
Step 2: Dialogue
Step 1 may have raised a question for you that I wondered for a long time myself. Why do we use food as the “drug” to mask feelings we don’t want to feel?
The answer is: we were taught that way. Neuroplasticity 101 tells us that what we think or witness over and over again becomes our beliefs or ‘truths’.
So if you saw your mother drink a glass of wine and eat a bag of chips to heal worries or stress, you were wired to believe that wine and food can actually make you feel better!
Other children may have seen family members or friends use cigarettes or drugs or sex as an addictive tool to mask feelings they didn’t want to feel.
A big part of the problem is that as a society, we’re told to think positively and not allow ourselves to feel sad or stressed.
Which can sometimes do more harm than good. Because that teaches people that feeling feelings labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ are wrong and need to be avoided. But remember… ALL FEELINGS are HUMAN FEELINGS.
You need to feel all feelings to fully experience life. And you need to feel all feelings to know yourself and allow yourself to move forward. Otherwise, you get stuck in a holding pattern where you never achieve your goals!
Getting back to Amber…. Amber grew up with a dad that drank beer every night to “wind down” and a mum who snacked on chocolate every day to “feel better after a long day”.
She learnt from her surroundings that food would make any pain go away, even if it was just for a little while – even the media (go watch the next chocolate or chips commercial and notice what they teach you about how their product is the ‘key’ to living a happy life!).
Amber linked food and wine to pleasure, which is what, as humans, we’re always seeking. So we worked together to let go of that belief and help Amber connect with the pleasure she was truly wanting… to feel confident, energetic, fit and at peace with her body and herself. This “realignment” allowed her to make future food choices much easier.
So for you at home… I recommend you recognise what you have linked to pleasure that actually isn’t serving you.
And what have you linked to pain that actually isn’t causing you harm? Then take some time to connect with what you truly desire and long for, and connect with that on a daily basis. This acts as your internal compass for making decisions that truly serve you.
Step 3: Nourish & Enjoy
Given we’re pleasure creatures and we’ll want things that are pleasurable rather than depriving, there is nothing wrong with preparing foods and drinks that are deliciously satisfying. In fact, it’s in our best interest!
If you deprive yourself with fad diets that create a terrible hunger inside of you, you’re going to buckle under pressure and crave MORE sweet foods. After all, your body needs good nutrition to stay healthy and energised, so if you starve it, you’ll naturally crave more.
Amber spent many days eating hardly anything in the mornings and during the day when she kept busy at work, thinking this would equate to less calories overall.
The problem was, her body became deficient in the energy and nutrients it needed to stay afloat, which created more fatigue and hunger in her body. So when she went home, of course she binged more.
So I worked with Amber to create an eating plan where she ate appetising, nutritious foods and plenty of water during the day, allowing her to feel more satisfied at night.
The plan also meant she had more energy and mental clarity through the day, improving her focus and productivity (and stabilising her mood!).
So the key is, find nutritious foods that are enjoyable and delicious. And believe me, there are so many delicious healthy meals around! In fact, when you listen attentively to your body, you will feel how much it has been craving that natural, wholesome food.
In turn, your body rewards you with greater energy and health, because it now has the building blocks to do so!
And remember… be realistic! If you’re one of those people that say “but I need that chocolate, or cake, or McDonalds to feel good…” give yourself a big fat reality check.
Your ancestors ate far less than is available to you today and survived brilliantly (without the health problems our society is experiencing today).
You don’t need that food; you want that food. Big difference. So stop kidding yourself.
Food’s role is to nourish your body for survival and optimal health. So stop acting like you’ll die if you don’t have your morning muffin or your afternoon chocolate. (Sorry, but you needed to hear it!)
Amber's End Result
Amber has now minimised her cravings and can’t even remember the last time she binged out of control (which used to be a weekly occurrence)!
She feels in control and confident in her body after losing 5 kilos since we started working together in August last year!
She has more energy and focus during the day because of her better diet, which will no doubt contribute to a healthier body over her life time.
As a bonus, she has worked on the root causes of her emotional eating, which means she now has less stress and worries in her life, living with greater energy and joy. (How’s that for a kick-ass side-effect!!)
What can YOU do?
If you’re reading this because you’ve experienced a poor relationship with food, go through these 3 steps to work through the root cause of your bingeing and craving.
If you want help with your own food relationship challenges, contact me to set up a private consultation where I can help you like I helped Amber. Or visit this page to learn more about private consultations.
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To effortless health,
Recipe for Health