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By Dr. Alexa Altman
What is a craving? A craving is an important messages or communications from our body to our brain. You may be asking, what is the important message? How do I eliminate cravings? If you stop and think about a craving, it usually involves an image of a particular food, a sensation in the stomach or chest, and an expectation of some kind of sensory enjoyment of the food (good flavor, crunchy consistency, satisfaction). Usually our impulse to act on these experiences is quite fast and we move from the thoughts, images and feelings to the behavior of acting on the craving impulse. Clearly this can sabotage any weight loss program leaving a person feeling powerless and hopeless.
First, if you have tried eliminating cravings you already know that it does not work, right? To feel most empowered when it comes to cravings you must first acknowledge that they will occur and trying to eliminate them is not the answer. If I asked you not to think about a brownie for the next minute, most likely all you would be able to think about is the brownie. Trying not to think about something only makes it worse.
Imagine for a minute, if you made a decision to adopt an attitude of curiosity when cravings strike verses feeling panic and self-critical. When we are curious about our experience (craving) we can observe our thoughts and feelings verses reflexively acting in response to them. Most cravings come on fast and most people tend to move from craving to action quickly, as well. Curiosity slows down the entire sequence of events thus, giving you a greater probability of choosing a different outcome. Most of the time we don't know how to listen but instead act in response to what we are experiencing inside. When we act in response to our thoughts and feelings verses observe, we miss out on an opportunity to learn about what we might be really going on.
So what does this all mean? In order to understand your cravings and thus yourself it will require you to tune in rather than act on what you are feeling.
How do I do this?
Experiment this week: I invite you to experiment with your cravings this week. Stop. Acknowledge the craving. Set a clock for 1 minute (as you practice this exercise you can increase the time by one minute every week) to allow yourself to be curious about the craving. Did something trigger it (stress, anxiety disappointment, loneliness, anger)? Can you notice where you feel the craving in your body? Does it become more or less intense when you notice how it feels in your body? If it becomes less intense then continue to pay attention to the feeling, if it becomes more intense then move your attention to something else that feels better. Notice if there is anything else that your body might want or need. This is an opportunity to allow yourself to be creative and think about anything in the entire world (other than food) that your body might want or need. When trying anything new give yourself permission to experiment with this. Even if you stop yourself and give in to the craving maybe you were still able to learn something about yourself.
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