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Next time you find yourself craving dark chocolate, a vanilla latte or a bag of salty chips, indulge yourself! Give yourself permission to not only indulge, but really enjoy and savor each taste. These indulgences are called “comfort foods,” so get comfy, sit down, relax and experience the comfort fully.
Now that you have savored the flavor and are thoroughly satisfied, let’s take the next step. We all know if you overdose on comfort foods, you may gain weight and feel heavy, sluggish and dull. Practicing moderation, along with some level of understanding of what is causing your craving, can make a world of difference. Interestingly, whenever you crave something, there is a reason. In my practice, as many come to me with “out-of-control cravings,” my job is to find out what the reason is for these cravings and fix it. Sounds simple, and surprisingly, it is!
When you crave something, the body is sending a strong message that you need it. When you need a cup of coffee for energy in the morning, you may be loving the energizing jolt, but tied to the jolt is the notion that you are stimulating yourself to get energy that you don’t already have. In the back of your mind (on a more contemplative day, perhaps), you may be wondering: “How good could this stimulant be for me when I feel like I need it every single day?”
An Exercise in Guilt- and Craving-Free Indulgences
Try this: Go out for a nice, relaxing, sit-down lunch. Enjoy a meal of your choice and after that meal, order a cup of coffee or a dessert of your choice. Relax, eat your dessert and enjoy a nice, hot cup of coffee. Ask yourself how you enjoyed this cup of coffee compared to the coffee you downed in the morning to kick-start your day.
Chances are, you will find the coffee that you drank after a large meal was much more enjoyable, yet at the same time there was no real craving for it. This is a guilt- and craving-free indulgence.
To really enjoy an indulgence, the secret is to take away the need.
Often, in the morning or in the afternoon, we find ourselves craving a caffeinated or sugar-laced drink. According to Ayurveda, the morning is a heavy time of day in which exercise is recommended to reboot the body’s morning energy. No wonder we crave stimulants at this time.
Remedy: Try starting your day with 12 minutes of vigorous exercise, breathing in and out through your nose – perhaps by running up and down the stairs a few times. Drink a couple glasses of water in the morning before breakfast and see if your “need for speed” has diminished.
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If the afternoon, which is our second favorite indulgence time, the nervous system becomes active and the brain starts craving sugar. If you only have a small lunch on the run or a salad in front of your computer, your brain will not get the fuel it needs. Then, on cue, you will begin to crave sugar in the form of afternoon comfort foods. At this time, when we eat them, we are self-medicating because our blood sugar is dipping. In such an emergency state, it is hard to really enjoy your indulgence.
Remedy: Have a large, relaxing lunch, as lunchtime is when the body digests food the best. If you like, have your coffee and dessert then, after your bigger lunch, but be sure to eat your treats in a slow, leisurely fashion. Watch how you feel that afternoon. Most likely, you will feel calm and stable, with lots of energy. Your afternoon craving will disappear, and you will finish your day with the same vitality you started with. Soon, within a couple weeks, you will build on this new found stability and find yourself enjoying your comfort foods as a part of your meal rather than craving them and not really enjoying them.
Afraid You Will Fall Asleep After a Big Lunch?
Try eating the midday meal in a relaxed, calm and casual way. Don’t race through the meal and take time after the meal to sip a tea or coffee if you are craving it. Take 10-15 minutes after the meal to digest before you head back to work, or take a leisurely walk on your way back to the office. You may notice that your afternoon sleepiness has been replaced by a surprising amount of afternoon clarity.
The best time to enjoy a dinner is before the sun sets – which I realize is not always possible. To help you eat less when having a later-in-the-evening meal:
- Drink 12 ounces of water 30 minutes before the meal
- Take a 15-20 minute walk after the meal.
Both of these techniques have been shown to support weight loss and blood sugar stability. (9-12)
The Science of Cravings
Interestingly, science has shown a direct link between food cravings, increased food intake, and increased body mass index (BMI). (2,3) Further, if there is a specific food that you have restricted yourself from eating, research shows that not only will there be an increase in craving for the off-limits food, but you will statistically end up eating more of it in the end anyway! (Food cravings have scientifically been linked to foods with higher fat content as opposed to higher sugar content.) (3-5)
Food cravings are often associated with your mood – specifically including boredom, anxiety, worry, and impulsivity. (6-8) However, if you allow yourself to enjoy your culinary indulgence in a time when you are not craving, at a time and place you can really enjoy and savor it, then your cravings can eventually stabilize and vanish! This is a healthful and enjoyable way to gently balance and eventually eliminate your cravings.
For more on cravings, we recommend:
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This article was originally published in Nirvana Magazine in November 2007. It was updated with the newest info/research and republished September 29, 2015.