Gain Control by Letting Go of Control- An Approach for Cravings

2 Oct

It’s not a huge surprise to me when the individuals I am working with who initially come in with struggles related to emotional eating, stress binges, and feeling out of control around food report having far less cravings, urges, and impulsive reactions around food after just a week or two of more structured, balanced eating. Small tweaks to what they are consuming at each meal net them big dividends in blood sugar stability, even-keel energy levels, and satiety after meals. The drive to continue eating after a meal is dampened, and that “I have to have something sweet after a meal” thought often begins to feel incongruent with what their bodies are telling them. Relief!

Unconscious incompetence – I don’t know what I don’t know
Conscious incompetence – I know what I don’t know
Conscious competence – I know what I know
Unconscious competence – I don’t know what I know
Reflective or enlightened competence – I am aware that I don’t know what I know but I can shift back into conscious competence to teach someone else

“Kori, if I wasn’t working with you  on the consciousness aspect of all this, I’d still be doing what I was doing and just getting more and more frustrated.”  This is a quote from a client call I took just this morning from a woman who started with significant binge eating issues. Her food logs have gotten better and better each day– meals balanced with some protein and some carbs, moderate fat spread out through the day in foods that she really enjoys, 1-2 lbs of fat being lost each week. When asked what she felt was making the biggest difference she said “I’m learning.” Our first phone call as part of her Life Transformation program was all about her being educated about the physiology of nutrition– what actually happens in her body when she eats, how is her blood sugar influence, how come she would feel hungry so quickly after a certain meal. She was getting questions answered that would allow her to start making healthier choices, and she said, “I’ve never felt so empowered!”

There was a lot she didn’t know she didn’t know. There was also a lot she knew but didn’t know she knew! And she knew she needed to continue learning and asking questions and said to me, “I’m teaching others too, Kori!”

YUMMY! implies emotion. Contrast this with the objective response: “It’s just pink frosting with a spongy base made of sugar, butter, flour…”

For her birthday the colleagues in her office teamed together to bring in a batch of decadent, beautifully decorated cupcakes. Without hesitation she gathered them together to thank them profusely for their gesture and then explained that she wanted to share with them something very important to her. She proceeded to describe her goals of better health, fueling her body with whole, nutritious foods, and having better energy. Nowhere in her explanation would you find the words “can’t eat that” or “diet.” “Everyone enjoyed a cupcake for my birthday, and I didn’t have one because I just didn’t want to,” she said to me.
If it were another day, another time, and after assessing the situation she decided she would like to eat it, she would have.

My client is developing a new relationship with food….and with herself. She hit the nail on the head when she said she has never been more conscious. Think about what this means. Alive, awake, alert, paying attention. How many people do you know who really are that focused and attentive to what’s going on around them? Mindfulness is  what she is practicing– seeing her situations in full color, broad spectrum, and approaching them non-judgmentally. The word “seeing” is important here.  Consider seeing the words on a page. You view each letter, each word, and observe the sentences. If you look, you delve into the “meaning” of the words and the sentence they construct, and may be pulled into an emotion from reading the words. It’s the difference between being a copy editor and being the writer wrapped up in each character.  The difference is significant, and it can have a big influence on craving control.

Just today I received a tweet taking me to an article about the spiritual and physical meanings of cravings. A common myth is that cravings mean your body is lacking in some specific nutrients.  A craving implies a desire. Don’t confuse this with low blood sugar telling you that you need glucose for energy. You might have a craving for something sweet and you just ate a full meal. You are not requiring additional carbs at that point. In this case a craving would appear to be about a lack of satisfaction…a feeling of incompleteness. This is where mindfulness comes in handy.

You could get swept away by this craving, immediately begin searching for the chocolate on your co-workers’ desks and impulsively scrambling to find whatever is available to satisfy what feels like an uncomfortable restlessness OR you could recognize your craving (“Hmm…that’s an interesting sensation”); observe it and see it for what it is– “just a craving” with no emotion attached; and remind yourself that cravings are fleeting. They come and go. Just like emotion, the thought of wanting a certain food is transient– it changes. If you just watch it, rather than becoming attached to it and moving with it, you will notice it dissipates. I’ve had plenty of instances where I will think, “Mmm, I really want some frozen yogurt!” and if I get busy with something (distract myself) OR notice the thought and notice by body posture it becomes obvious that it’s not necessarily food that I need– it’s comfort or relaxation or a break from what I’m currently doing. When are the times I find myself most likely to crave something? When I’m anxious or frustrated or not wanting to be engaged in what ‘s right in front of me! When I’m attempting to push away what is here and now, I’m not being mindful. I’m not being present-focused. I’m not giving myself permission to be human and experience emotions and thoughts and realize at the same time, that they aren’t permanent. They’ll roll in like a wave and then roll right back out. Unless I decide to grab my surfboard and attach to one.

The next time you notice a craving, rather than telling yourself, “I can’t have that”, consider another approach. Say “Interesting. There’s that thought again. It’s not a part of me. I’m just going to watch it and see what happens. I don’t need to do or be anything right now but a fly on the wall of my mind.”


2 Responses to “Gain Control by Letting Go of Control- An Approach for Cravings”

  1. Kimberly October 2, 2012 at 7:51 PM #

    Great read Kori! Very insightful and helpful! Your blogs are so appreciated!

    • kpropst October 3, 2012 at 12:20 PM #

      Thanks, Kim. Always appreciate your comments!

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