A quick google search for the word “cravings” yields almost 250 million results. Scrolling through the feed, the overwhelming majority of links lead to website offering tips and tricks for avoiding, overcoming, and distracting oneself from cravings.
I used to search phrases like “how to kill cravings” all the time. I was afraid of hunger, fearing that if I indulged it, I’d never stop eating. My meals were carefully measured, counted, and accounted for, along with any snacks, beverages, or treats I might have had throughout the day. Particularly with the latter category, eating was a difficult, stressful, and scary experience for me.
What I came to realize in my adult life and clinical work is that those feelings of fear and frustration surrounding food that I once had (along with a fair share of guilt and shame) are not uncommon. My google search query is evidence of this, 250 million times over…
The thing is, trying to “kill cravings” is actually a huge waste of time and effort, and attempts almost always backfire. Why? Because cravings are normal, natural, and not nearly as evil as our culture has made them out to be. Most of the time, the individuals I work with share that when they try to avoid a craving, they usually end up going through a predictable cycle of preoccupation followed by indulgence, excessive eating, guilt/shame/frustration, and a resolution to never, ever eat that food again. Inevitably, the craving returns with a vengeance within a few days or weeks. I refer to this spiral as the Diet-Binge Cycle. (Yes, avoiding certain foods or food groups qualifies as diet behavior.)
What finally helped me stop trying to avoid my cravings was realizing that if I actually ate what I desired, the craving went away. It was an amazing paradox — by indulging my craving, I made it disappear. The more frequently I enjoyed the foods I was craving, the less frequently I craved them. (This is quite the opposite of what many fear-mongering advertisements tell us: if we eat sweets, treats, and other snacks, we will only want more of them.)
The best part of all of this was that once I enjoyed the food that was on my mind, my head was suddenly cleared and available to think about other things! On the flip side, in the times that I’d exerted a significant amount of time and energy trying to avoid the foods I was craving, I found myself preoccupied and distracted, without much mental space available for the important things in life. (Read: friends, family, fun, God, school, literally anything else…)
[If you can relate to this experience, I feel for you. The struggle with food is scary and isolating, and I’ve been there, too. But there’s hope — you don’t need to struggle alone. I encourage you to make an appointment with an intuitive-eating informed health practitioner you trust. If you don’t know one, I’d love to fill that role. You can schedule an appointment here.]
Last night was a perfect example of a time when I honored my craving, and I felt great because of it. Here’s what happened:
After my afternoon run, I thought to myself, “Hey, it’s warm outside, and I have ice cream in the fridge at home. That would make a perfect dessert tonight!” I was excited by the idea all evening, and after dinner my husband even suggested we have some mango popsicles for dessert. “That sounds awesome,” I said, “I’m really full now, but in an hour I think I’ll want some ice cream.”
Then, we got distracted by music and our pottend herbs, and just hanging out and talking. A few hours later, he ended up going out with some friends, and I had the evening to myself to read and veg out. I remembered the ice cream, opened the freezer and…I realized I didn’t actually want ice cream anymore. I wasn’t hot and sweaty anymore, the sun had set, and even though the carton of dark chocolate peanut butter goodness was right in front of me, it just didn’t sound good. I closed the freezer and opted for one of my favorite summer beers instead. I then flopped onto the couch to indulge a second craving…reruns of 19 Kids and Counting. A few episodes later, my husband came home and we cuddled until we fell asleep…yet another craving, fulfilled.
It was an absolutely perfect evening.
I’m so grateful for how the events of last night transpired. Ten years ago, I’d have either ignored my dessert craving (and become preoccupied) or binge ate the ice cream without tasting any of it. I also probably would’ve scoffed at something as sedentary as Netflix, and I certainly didn’t have a husband. (That wasn’t even within my foresight, as eating disorders don’t leave much room for relationships.)
God is good, and He is big enough and powerful enough to pull us out of the deepest of valleys if we surrender our ideals to the wisdom of his creation.