The Nature and Power of Cravings

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Cravings. The perennial challenge faced by those endeavoring to adhere to a diet. This seemingly uncontrollable impulse propels us towards indulgence in the most pleasurable, yet often deleterious, foods.

Craving defined: an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing.

Ask an individual about the foods they crave, and they will likely list a few without hesitation. During dieting, our natural preoccupation with food and heightened anxiety render these cravings even more conspicuous.

As Drewnowski, a distinguished researcher on taste and food preferences, asserts, “Food cravings arise to satisfy emotional needs, such as calming stress and reducing anxiety.”

To deconstruct this: our perceptions and interpretations of these “cravings” shape our emotions, culminating in our reactions. A craving is a simple desire, but we often misinterpret it as a necessity for our well-being and happiness.

The crux of the problem lies in perceiving cravings as omnipotent forces, thus abdicating our responsibility. Humans have an innate tendency to externalize blame, which perpetuates unnecessary difficulties. Many prefer to view themselves as victims of external circumstances rather than as the architects of their own realities. It is more convenient to believe we lack control, as this absolves us from taking action.

Example: Consider the craving for a donut. Despite resolute efforts to adhere to a diet and shed the last 15 pounds, one feels overwhelmed by the craving and capitulates.

This terminology—“craving”—is misleading and fails to accurately depict the phenomenon of desire. It fosters a victim mentality, suggesting that cravings are external forces exerting influence over us. This mythical craving then becomes an adversary to be vanquished, avoided, or evaded.

Epiphany: A craving is not an external force. It is an activity and a set of beliefs in which one actively engages.

You consciously entertain the notion that the donut offers value and would provide immediate gratification. Cravings intensify when thoughts are translated into “I need that donut right now,” rather than “I want that donut right now.” The intensity of cravings varies among individuals based on the perceived value of the desired food or substance.

To crave is to actively believe that the donut is the optimal choice for attaining happiness. If weight loss is framed negatively, the brain will invariably focus on the perceived positive— the donut.

Solution: To mitigate cravings, one must clearly delineate their ultimate objectives and identify preferable alternatives to achieve those goals. If weight loss is perceived as a source of discomfort, one will inevitably succumb to high-calorie foods. Concentrate on the anticipated happiness that weight loss will bring, rather than the perceived negatives and restrictions of dieting.

Until you reframe your perception of the donut, you will perpetually battle the desire. You possess the agency to challenge any thought or desire. Not every intrusive thought must be accepted as fact. Thoughts originate from the mind and can be altered instantaneously with a shift in beliefs.

Contemplate: “Do I genuinely want a donut right now? Is this the choice that will yield the most favorable outcome?”

A technique I frequently employ with my clients involves imagery. Associate a desired food with adverse consequences such as weight gain, illness, and revulsion. This method effectively diminishes the underlying desire.

Consider this: Have you ever witnessed a craving dissipate with the introduction of new information?

Understanding the intricate nature of cravings and their psychological foundations empowers individuals to regain control over their desires. This empowerment is not rooted in the harsh practice of self-denial, but rather in the strategic alignment of desires with long-term goals and overall well-being. By engaging in deliberate reflection and cognitive reframing, one can fundamentally transform their relationship with food, fostering a balanced and fulfilling life. Embrace the power of your mind to reshape your perceptions, and in doing so, unlock a path to sustained health and happiness. The journey to mastering cravings is not merely about resisting temptation, but about cultivating a mindset that prioritizes lasting satisfaction over fleeting pleasure.

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