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You don’t need willpower to manage cravings.

Cravings have a lot to answer for. They kept me awake many a night, forced me to do late-night dashes to the supermarket in my ugh boots to stock up on whatever my latest craving may have been. They have felt like my nemesis at times, making me feel like I had no willpower, no self-control and no self-respect.

For many years I hated the way I would start to crave something and not be able to get it out of my head until that craving was satisfied. I used to ask myself why I was doing this, why didn’t I have any willpower to ignore these cravings. But let me tell you, cravings have nothing to do with willpower and here’s something else I have learnt. Cravings aren’t a bad thing; they are an incredible built in feature that we need to pay attention to and everyone has them.

Cravings are a physiological response and are there for a reason. They are essentially the body’s internal messenger system that can message you to tell you that something is off and to help guide you back in body balance. You experience cravings when your body is trying to tell you something, so please don’t ignore them. These are to be listened to, it’s like the body is waving its hand at you to say hey, please pay attention here as I need to tell you something.

Often cravings result from one or more of the following:

1. Lack of primary food – by primary food I mean everything that nourishes you off your plate, for example relationships, career, finances, or perhaps spirituality. Any imbalance in these kinds of areas in your life can cause emotional eating and cravings. Foods can provide a relief or escape when under stress and in this way, food is used as a strategy to fulfil areas of primary food that aren’t being satisfied. In the moment, it feels like chocolate is your only friend and the only way to ease the pain, discomfort, fear or stress you are experiencing.

2. Dehydration – if you are not staying hydrated throughout the day this can lead to extreme cravings as well as deregulating the amount of food you are eating. This does not mean not drinking all day then sculling 2L of water when you get home. Aim for small regular sips throughout the day.

3. Lack of nutrients – if you are not eating a well-rounded whole foods approach to diet it can mean that you may lack some nutrients which can cause odd cravings.

4. Emotional triggers – if you are not feeling good in your body, you don’t like the way you look in certain clothes, you’re not happy with the shape of your body, or how you feel, it can lead to cravings which can in turn lead back to self-criticism and judgement.

5. Hormonal – Depending on the time of the month, you may see an increase of cravings at certain times of your cycle.

6. Food imbalances – if you eat too much salty food, it can lead you craving sweet foods and vice versa. The more balanced the diet, the less cravings.

7. Childhood triggers – what I mean by that is in certain situations you may be triggered to crave foods from your childhood, e.g. when you are sick, you may crave the chicken soup your mum used to make you as a child. We often crave certain foods when we are feeling unsafe, lonely, neglected or unwell.

8. Deprivation – if you are constantly depriving yourself of calories, food groups, or food in general, eventually you will start to crave foods that you have previously been denying yourself and no amount of “willpower” will stop you. This is why diets don’t work.

So now you have a broad view of what can trigger cravings, let’s look at a couple of ways we can navigate these with mindfulness rather than relying on sheer willpower as we all know this doesn’t work.

What this means is that we need to recognise cravings as they arise. We need to explore the origin of cravings with non-judgmental curiosity, proceeding from a place of empowerment. Let me reiterate that having cravings IS NOT A BAD THING, rather it is a message from your body that it is seeking a food to promote well-being. What you need to do is make empowered and educated decisions that work for you. Cravings are a symptom of an imbalance occurring elsewhere in your life or body, so it is important to treat the cause, not the symptom.

How can you manage cravings?

There are a number of ways to treat cravings, depending on what kind of cravings you have. Three points to consider are as follows:

1. Acknowledge the cravings – give them space. In order to manage cravings, you need to first acknowledge that you have them. So before running headfirst to the kitchen for the quickest sweet or salty hit you can find, take a moment to simply recognise that they are there. Acknowledge that they have arrived, sit with them for a moment and simply take note, because remember, this is your body’s messenger service trying to tell you something.

2. Explore the origin with non-judgmental curiosity:

- Is this craving occurring with a particular emotion or physical feeling?

- Are you craving a highly palatable food?

- Is it tied to a habit?

- Is it guiding you towards a food that would support your health?

3. Proceed from a place of Empowerment

Once you acknowledge your craving, and determine its origin, you have the power to dis-identify with it and decide how to proceed. Listen to what your body is saying, be curious and pay attention to determine if anything is out of balance. What is it telling you? Is this craving nourishing to your body, is it harmful to your body? Is it a reaction to something that has happened in your day, or triggered by something from your past? Are you truly hungry or just need a quick fix? Are you thirsty? Are you just bored and need something to fill your time? Are you lonely and want the craving to fill the silence?

When you are able to give yourself some space, stand back and look at the source of where the craving is coming from, more often than not you can let that craving go if it isn’t one which is nourishing to your body.

If you would like to talk about how best to implement strategies to manage cravings, or any other health concerns, please don’t hesitate to click the Free 15 min Consult button at the top of the page and we can connect. I would love to help you!

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