Manage your cravings rather than let them manage you
How often have you been lead astray by your cravings? Or maybe set off with good intentions or resolutions to break a bad habit, but can’t seem to get past your own cravings for something on the bad habit list?
It’s been holiday time and everyone has candy on their desk, or goodies laid out. You’ve been working (fighting hard actually) on not snacking or grabbing a handful of M&Ms every time you walk by, but it is oh-so-damn-hard. You try so hard to talk yourself out of it; try to ignore it; not give in again. You cajole yourself; you demand; you plead don’t do it. Then you bargain. Just this once. One little bite won’t hurt; you can do this. You may have resentment toward the people who put those goodies out, or toward the people who seem to walk by so easily and not be affected by the treats calling their name.
But something happens that you can’t quite even recognize. A moment passes so quickly and un-noticed. Pretty soon you’ve grabbed another donut; a sliver of chocolate cake; handful of M&Ms; another See’s chocolate, and scarfed it down. You’ve quieted that vicious battle within you, at least for a moment.
You feel the immediate pleasure, the satisfaction, the enjoyment of this delicious sweet thing –
and then it passes REALLY REALLY quickly. In a moment it’s gone and all that’s left is the wish for more – or the punishment, shame, anger with yourself that you gave in to your cravings – or worse, that you have cravings at all. You turn on yourself and think ugly things about yourself. You loathe yourself (which incidentally is actually the fuel for the next craving to arise).
What to do with your cravings if not fight them or indulge them?
Try bringing awareness to your cravings.
Bring kind attention to your cravings.
Turn toward those craving feelings rather than toward the desired item.
Notice the feeling of craving. Pay attention to where you feel it in your body – chest, stomach, shoulders, heart? And what does that particular craving for chocolate cake (or insert whatever craving here) feel like inside of you? Where do you feel it? How much space does it take up? Is there pressure, hollowness, heaviness, warmth, rumbling associated with it? Is there a body sensation that goes with craving? How would you rate its intensity on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being low)? Does it have color, size, dimension, shape?
Breathe into that…and breathe again.
And what emotions are there, associated with it? (Comfort, loss, shame, hunger, loneliness, longing, etc.) and what do those feelings feel like inside of you? Where in your body do you locate them? What’s their intensity, breadth, range?
At this time, if not sooner, you might feel like running, or giving in to the craving. It might be very difficult to simply let the craving be. You might feel the urgency of needing to satisfy that craving – that you might not be able to bear these feelings a moment longer…Easier to go for what you crave and put up with the disappointment in yourself that always comes up, than to allow yourself to really feel the sadness and disappointment that you might be feeling from that slight you experienced earlier. Or the sense of inadequacy and being unlovable that you’ve been carrying for much longer. You might feel your anxiety heightened…
See if you can just hold these feelings a moment longer. Breathe into them. Experience yourself bearing them. Just a moment longer. Check in where and how intense are they in your body. How would you rate the intensity at this moment?… And then at this moment? Breathe again…
Notice if the intensity has decreased even just a little.
How do you feel noticing your craving and paying attention to what you’re doing in response to the craving, rather than just giving into it? Maybe the intensity has peaked again – you’re at three instead of the one you were just at. You might’ve gone back into your head and left your body – thinking all those terrible things you think when you have a craving, or mentally punishing yourself for having the craving and for being who you are.
Bring yourself gently again back to your body. Drop into this place of simply being aware of the craving and feeling it and the associated feelings in your body. Move away from the storyline or negative thoughts you have going on in your head, while you are experiencing that craving. Allow yourself to go just below that craving that’s on the surface and that seems to want to direct your behavior.
Maybe there’s a hint of loneliness or sadness or boredom or inadequacy there. Maybe you’re missing someone or something, or feeling not enough. Maybe you’re feeling hurt and angry about some injustice done to you. See if you can have kindness about these emotions being present and simply allow them to be for a moment longer… And another moment again.
Notice your caring breath that you’re bringing to these uncomfortable feelings. See if you can notice what you might really be craving – like a hug or reassurance from someone, or validation for your feelings, or being seen and heard, or a sense that what you think and feel matters.
See if you can practice awareness, allowance, forgiveness of these feelings. Appreciate your craving for having brought to your attention these deeper feelings, and appreciate your awareness and witnessing of these feelings without necessarily acting them out. Let your cravings know they are not the boss of you.
By this time, that intense craving may have passed or lessened in its intensity. You have successfully let it be, and then pass, and it no longer has a strangle on you. Feel the empowerment of that experience; the resilience you have just built, the positive sense of yourself for having agency with your cravings and not letting them control you. Savor your capacity to choose your own behavior even when you have cravings.
I’ve talked here about cravings as related specifically to something sweet or foods we crave. You can practice this kind of mindful attention to your cravings with food and especially sweets (it’s been said that sugar is actually the gateway drug to all of our other addictions in life), but know that this kind of being with your cravings is not limited to food.
It can be helpful to bring this kind of awareness to other areas of life where you experience cravings (a glass of wine to help you unwind; particular behaviors you want from a partner or your child to prove they’re listening to you; needing to check social media and email on your device from the moment you wake up until you go to bed; shopping or spending more money than you have on something that you don’t need, etc).
Cravings usually arise from some sense of dis-ease or discomfort within us. Not being connected to our own sense of ease in the world (security, connection, belonging, mattering); and we long for something outside of ourselves to fill up or fix that dis-ease or emptiness. We usually crave something that we think will take that uncomfortable feeling away. And it might, but usually only on a temporary basis. Very temporary.
Try instead to fill up your cravings with the meaningful. Be with your cravings in a kind and intimate way, and they’re more likely to pass without causing harm.
If you or someone you care about needs some help in dealing with cravings in a meaningful way, and would like to feel freer from the negative thoughts and feelings that come with them, please contact me for a therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.