Updated: Mar 2
Do you eat when you’re stressed, bored, upset, lonely, excited, happy and experiencing any emotion at all? If you feel out of control around food, think about it obsessively and cannot stop with one slice, it may be a challenge to figure out exactly what your triggers are.
Sometimes the triggers are easier to understand, but other times it feels like cravings come from nowhere and hijack your day, leaving you disappointed and puzzled?
If so, you’re in the right place. Let’s talk about different types of cravings and what you can do about each one of them. You can’t change it if you don’t know where it’s coming from!
You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to decode cravings when you learn to read the in-built mechanisms of your body, AKA your hunger, satiety and other signals your body is constantly sending you.
So here are the main types of cravings that may trigger bingeing and overeating:
Physical cravings mean that the signals you are getting are coming from genuine needs for fuel for your body.
Physical cravings will often come accompanied by a range of strong physical cues, that are easy to notice, even if you’re a little bit out of practice when it comes to listening to your body.
These include growling stomach, dip in energy and moods or even becoming ‘hangry’. The hunger grows slowly and is satisfied with by having a balanced meal. And often this will start after a significant time after a meal has passed.
However, if you deliberately have skipped meals, restricted calories or simply didn’t have enough nutrition, the binges will feel like you’re on an ‘autopilot’ and are unable to stop, especially with sweets and processed foods.
The shame and guilt that comes after may trick you into thinking that you have a ‘weak willpower’ or that you failed again, but chances are that you are simply out of balance physically.
If you’ve been surfing the waves of restriction and bingeing, this type of craving may not be so clear for you to read and recognise, as your body has been out of balance for so long. Not to worry, recognising that your body needs to get into physical balance first for you to read the cues accurately is step number one.
What do I do?
Focus on regular eating and avoid restriction at all costs. Your body needs to regain regularity, balance hormones and learn how to trust you again to listen to its signals.
Start with meal-planning, organizing your meals and snacks and avoid leaving it to chance. Preparation is key.
Focus on eating your meals mindfully, as your body will process and absorb food easier and will keep you more satiated for longer. Plus, when you eat mindfully you’ll have less of the stress hormone cortisol at the time and have smoother digestion.
These are the cravings that are easiest to understand as often they are tied to a strong emotion, be it anxiety, anger, sadness or boredom.
You will experience specific cravings like chocolate, crisps or just ‘something sweet’ and having an apple instead simple won’t satisfy the urge. The feelings can come on suddenly, even if you have just had a meal. There are no physical signals coming from your body and often it feels like you cannot focus on anything else, just the food you crave.
The truth is that these cravings are not ‘real’ food cravings, so it is possible to wait it out, distract and delay just for 20min to realise that they’re gone!
What do I do?
If you notice a trigger time/ situation in the day for these emotions and cravings, come up with a few distractions that can be helpful. Do those tasks of the day that require your full attention and focus, brush your teeth, do something physical like sun salutations or immerse yourself into crafts. The key here is to do an activity that truly takes up all of your attention.
These are very similar to emotional cravings, yet they do not need a particular emotional to trigger the behaviour.
In the past there may have been a trigger emotion or point that created a habit, but now it may just be ‘something you do’.
For example, perhaps one Friday you were sick and had to miss a friend’s party. Feeling lonely and socially deprived triggered you to order an extra-large pizza ‘to make yourself feel better’ and watch Netflix. Now it’s been months or even years, yet you find yourself habitually ordering a pizza every Friday as it feels like ‘part of how you are’.
Or perhaps you convinced yourself that whatever you eat, you always have to finish with a sweet, no matter how full you are?
What do I do?
Check in with yourself- are these behaviours coming from listening to your body or listening to your mind? Are they filling a void that the lack of that particular food at that particular time would cause?
The good news is that if you managed to create a habit, you will also be able to change it to a different habit.
Think of what could be equally as satisfying in those situations? Start playing with your cat for 5 minutes after dinner, go for a short walk or do crafts.
Create a new tradition and host a board game night or have a foot soak with essential oils every Friday night and watch the cravings become a distant memory.
If cravings have been part of your life for some time, chances are you tried various methods of distraction and delaying, but nothing worked. Perhaps you’ve been working on emotional and habitual triggers for a while, but nothing still seems to shift.
These tools and techniques are only effective and work well, if you are physically balanced. If your physical isn’t in place, distracting from any cravings will feel like climbing a mountain filled with disappointment and impatience.
So start with getting yourself nourished and balanced first.