There are times when we all get cravings that may lead to overeating, but for some of us, these cravings can lead us to bingeing on unhealthy, caloric-rich foods that result in feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and frustration and possibly even weight gain. Before I offer suggestions for how to curb cravings, I do want to encourage those reading this article to talk with a mental health professional if they feel your eating is out of control. Sometimes we need the help, support and guidance of a professional, and it is better to seek out these services than to continue suffering in silence. If you feel that you can no longer control your cravings or you find yourself bingeing on foods in an unhealthy manner, it is time to seek counseling.
Cravings may come about for different reasons, and those reasons may be due to your genetics, the environment in which you were raised, emotions you experienced at the time of the craving, and/or the habits that you have unknowingly created over the years. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has done extensive research on binge eating. She has found through her research studies that eating disorders tend to run in families. However, there are environmental influences as well. For example, if you saw your mother restrict her calories at dinner but then binge on a package of cookies late in the evening before bed or after she had an argument with your father, this may have some influence on how you view food and how you use it to deal with emotions. Or, you may seek out food for reasons other than hunger. You may have “comfort foods” when you are feeling down. Feeling anxious, bored, tired, frustrated, or overwhelmed may lead you to eating foods that, in the short-term, make you feel better. Food may be used as a reward for working hard, accomplishing a goal, celebrating a victory, or taking care of everyone else. Another reason for giving in to a craving may be because you have deprived yourself of food by skipping meals or restricting calories. Once food is finally in sight, eating can get out of control due to feelings of starvation and deprivation. Also, the reasoning such as, “I have not eaten in the past twelve hours; it will be okay for me to eat some of these M&M’s from the bag on the way home before I eat dinner” may occur and, suddenly, the entire bag is gone.
Cravings involve feelings and behaviors. Therefore, focused efforts on curbing these cravings and eliminating binge eating are important to take. Following are five (5) suggestions for how to curb those cravings, control binges and develop a healthier relationship with food.
S = STOP and bring attention to the present moment
T = TAKE a breath
O = OBSERVE what is going on
M = MAKE a decision about your behavior
P = Proceed once you make a choice about your behavior
For more information about cravings and suggestions for how to deal with binge eating, I encourage you to read Dr. Cynthia Bulik’s book, “Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop.” Dr. Bulik offers practical, evidence-based guidelines on how to “curb the cravings” so that you are in control of your food intake. Remember: you are in control of your cravings – they do not control you. You can change your behavior and with some focus, effort and skill-building, you can develop a healthy relationship with food that is good for your body and mind.