Author: Duncan Price, Hypnotherapist & Sleep Specialist
The New Diet Begins
You’ve just started your new diet. It seemed like a great idea at the time and you went into it feeling excited and determined. THIS time, you’re going to make it work. THIS time, you’ll stick to it. THIS time, it will be a change of lifestyle, not just a restrictive diet. You’re doing well so far; you’ve kept to your commitments and started right. Maybe you’ve meal planned and you have your lunches prepared. Maybe you’ve done your morning workout and you’re feeling better already from the changes you’ve made. Well done, you’re doing great.
The Craving Strikes
That familiar feeling hits you. The image of chocolate drifts through your mind, wouldn’t it be great to enjoy that creamy sensation as the chocolate melts in your mouth and the sweetness excites your taste buds, igniting that built-in evolutionary desire for high energy foods that doesn’t really serve us in the same way in modern life. And so, the cravings begin…
You shake your head, get back to work and try to ignore the thought completely. It’s still there though, in the back of your mind. You try nibbling on a carrot stick but all the while you feel like you’re denying yourself what you really want and you even get annoyed with yourself for wanting it in the first place.
Maybe you make excuses and justify it. Maybe you promise yourself that it’s okay, so long as it’s as a reward for doing well. If you go without now, you can enjoy it tomorrow or the next day. Maybe you do well and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. You’re determined and you manage to shake the thought entirely… for now, this time.
Part of the challenge here is the change in habit when you’re so used to doing things in a certain way. Another challenge is that we are designed to crave high-energy or “high-reward” foods. This comes from when we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from rather than from the day and age where there are shops, vending machines and app-based delivery services.
Sometimes, when improving your eating habits, it can feel that the whole world is against you but that’s not half as bad as the battles you keep having with yourself.
When The Craving Takes Over
All that is then compounded by the language that surrounds how we think about healthy eating. For example, we talk about ‘losing weight’ but we see losing something as a bad thing. We talk about “rewarding” ourselves with something that goes against the very thing we are working towards. We talk about “naughty” foods in exciting ways and we focus on denying ourselves momentary joy, as opposed to denying ourselves greater health and wellbeing.
It’s no surprise that people end up giving in to these cravings.
So, you give in and have a little bit of chocolate but just a small bite will do. Then that small bite turns into just one more little bit. Before you know it, you’ve finished the whole bar and still don’t really feel satisfied. Now you’ve ‘failed’ anyway, you may as well have a bag of crisps too. Only you find that you’re not even enjoying the food you are eating because even when eating it, you’re still battling with yourself about it. You end up eating it more and more quickly, partly because you don’t want anyone to see you (even if there’s no one around that would see) and partly because you’re actually trying to get it over with. It’s almost as if you’re trying to hide it from yourself too, so you can’t really enjoy it. No wonder you don’t feel satisfied by it. So, you go back for more.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t need to keep repeating the pattern of feeling guilty, beating yourself up, looking for comfort etc. If this sounds like something you have experienced to some extent, then you’re in the right place. As a hypnotherapist, I have helped many people adjust their relationship with food (and ultimately with themselves). We find a way that focuses on being honest with yourself, on working toward what you DO want and on achieving positive change in more enjoyable ways. It’s absolutely something you can do too and I’m going to share with you a useful part of the puzzle that can help.
The following is a technique designed to ‘release’ a craving, not to ignore a craving and hope it goes away. Not to bury a craving deep down inside and feel like a failure and beat yourself up. There’s a lot more to changing that relationship but the cravings are, for many people, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Here’s how you can do just that:
Releasing Cravings In Just FIVE Steps
The first time you use this technique it will take some time to go through each step. There really is no need to rush this, take your time and explore it fully. Over time, with practice and repetition, this approach will get more powerful and can be completed faster. With enough repetition, you’ll be surprised how quickly it can become normal. There are five simple steps and many people find that they can reduce it to just counting to five once the subconscious has absorbed the process.
It re-wires how the brain responds to cravings, creating new pathways in the brain, making it easier and easier each time. You can almost be grateful for the craving as a chance to practice this technique and get even better at releasing cravings.
So, what are the five steps?
Before you begin – you may like to rate, on a scale of one to ten, how strong the craving is right now before you start.
“What do I really want?”
Step 1 is to question the craving and to ask yourself “What do I really want?”. There are two parts to that question. One is a sensible question we often forget to consider. Where is this craving coming from? Have you had much water recently or could you be dehydrated, which our bodies often confuse with hunger? Have a glass of water and see how you feel in 20 mins. Maybe you are hungry, in which case, consider eating something healthy. Are you tired and thus craving energy; could you take a brief, brisk walk to wake you up instead?
The other part of this question is to remind yourself of what REALLY matters to you. Do you want the junk food or do you REALLY want to feel better, look better and be healthier? Remember what you’re aspiring to and what really matters to you in the long run.
“I enjoy recognising this craving for what it is and relish the opportunity to react in a positive way.”
Step 2 is to accept the craving. It’s easy to deny and ignore the craving but that doesn’t generally work out well in the long run. Cravings are normal, natural and perfectly acceptable. Don’t fight it, allow yourself to recognise and accept it. There are a whole load of different reasons that we experience cravings, It’s okay to have a craving, it’s how you respond to it that matters.
Remember, each time you experience a craving, you have another new opportunity to practise chasing a different response. As a result of making the choice to complete this process, you are already retraining your brain to think differently about cravings.
“I can help ‘Monkey Mind’ to understand what is good for me”
Step 3 is to take a step back from it. Recognise and remind yourself that YOU don’t have a craving, PART of you is experiencing one. I talk about Monkey Mind – the part of your brain that deals with gratification. It’s not a logical, rational thought and it doesn’t come from the more ‘human’, conscious part of your mind, it is purely an impulse. Taking a step back from it allows you to be more objective and to see it for what it is – just a thought, nothing more.
This moment also helps you to remember that you are training your own mind to work in a way that suits you and your goals better. You can use this to teach your ‘monkey’ what behaviour you would prefer to see in the future.
4) Welcome & Release
Breathe – “WELL DONE!”
Having got this far, you’re now ready to let go of the craving. You understand it better, have accepted it and have stepped back from it. Now let it go…
Take a deep breath in and then breathe out, imagining that you are breathing the craving out as you do so.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself and say (bonus points if you say it out loud), “Well done!” It’s important to recognise that you made the choice to do this and to appreciate the decision you have made. This will help you to feel even better than you did before.
“How am I feeling now?”
Now reflect on how you are feeling. How weak is that craving now and how does that compare to before this exercise (use the same scale of 1-10 to compare)? Of course, if it has improved but you’d still like to feel even better still, you can just repeat the process again to reduce it even more.
Now you have all you need to acknowledge, accept and release a craving. Enjoy!
Enjoy working toward the new, fitter, healthier you!