Let’s look at cravings today. To be clear, we’re talking way beyond the “it would be nice to have” stage.
Whether you’re giving in to your cravings or struggling to resist them, they have a profound effect upon both your mind and body. Understanding where you might be sabotaging your efforts can help you develop a true solution that will not be undone.
Given that many cravings are food-related, I’m going to use that as our focus today.
While there is ample evidence of how the food industry has upped the ante on the addictive qualities of food (that’s a topic for another day),there is now strong evidence that suggests our own methods to handle food cravings can play a deciding role.
Consider this scenario which I’ve seen play out many times with many different foods – Monday: “I really want donuts, but I have to cut back”. Good start – awareness. Tuesday: “OK, so that donut would REALLY be nice right now but I’m cutting back so no donut for me today”. Sounds good – finding some balance. Wednesday:”If I can get to Friday without eating any donuts that will be great” Hmmm, commitment, not bad, huh? Thursday: “Oh yeah! One more day and I get to have a donut” Anticipation – nothing wrong with that, is there? I mean, why not? Friday: “All right I’ll eat that one donut”; “and maybe another one”; “oh hell, why not one more? I’ve been so good all week.”
What the hell just happened here? You’ve just seen a great intention morph into a self-defeating mechanism! But let’s break it down and see how that works…
First, we have created a state of deprivation, which in turn leads to resentment. At best, the thought that “I’m being good by not giving in” is equating “being good” with deprivation – Strike One. Then, each time we think about that donut we’re “depriving” ourselves of, the pleasure center of our brain actually becomes stimulated, in fact, more strongly stimulated than the actual acquisition of the donut! Check out Dr Pam Peeke’s book “The Hunger Fix” for the whole process – it’s amazing and awful. So now we’ve created an intense mind-body link that actually stimulates appetite AND excites the brain each time we think of the donut – Strike Two. By taking the thing we need to avoid and making it a reward, we complete this unrelenting circle bringing us right back to the craving mechanism again – Strike Three! I suppose that since desiring the donut actually gives us more pleasure than eating the donut (hence the second or third donut) that we had struck out already.
If you’re dealing with severe food cravings, I heartily recommend looking at Dr. Peeke’s book for far more information.
Remember, virtually any craving you attempt to handle with that cycle of perceived deprivation, “craved object as reward”, and negative re-enforcement will likely yield the same self-defeating result, so beware or, more aptly, be aware.