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Take control of food cravings by understanding them

Take control of food cravings by understanding them

A yen for a favourite dish or cuisine could be based on a nutritional need, but there’s a variety of factors at play.

By Carrie Dennett The Washington Post

Food cravings are a funny thing. Some people think that cravings mean their bodies need nutrients found in the food they’re fixating on. (“I’m craving chocolate. I must be low in . . . zinc.”) Other people see cravings as a sign of weakness and either try to white-knuckle it through or throw up their hands and declare themselves powerless. Although cravings could be based on a nutritional need, most stem from other factors. So should you indulge cravings or ignore them? The answer depends on what your craving is really telling you.

Cravings vs. impulses

Some cravings would be better described as an urge or impulse. A true craving is more of a slow burn — like when you have a yen for a favourite dish or cuisine that you haven’t enjoyed for a while — that will smoulder until you eventually satisfy it. An impulse is more of a flash in the pan — it comes on suddenly and will burn out on its own if you let it.

Unfortunately, our brains seem to be more wired to respond to impulses than to think beyond them. One technique for dealing with impulse-type cravings is to “surf the urge.” To do this, imagine your craving as an ocean wave. Watch it as it builds gradually, getting stronger and stronger until it peaks and then gradually dissipates. Rather than deny the urge, actively surf it. Having the experience of watching the urge fade can make it easier to handle impulsive cravings when they next arise.

If your craving for, say, a cookie just won’t go away, get the best cookie you can find, and sit and savour it. What doesn’t work is chasing the craving with foods you consider more “acceptable.” If what you truly want is a cookie, all the apples or cinnamon rice cakes in the world won’t satisfy it.

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