Cravings can feel like something we can’t tame.
Think, for example, what happens if someone tells you not to think about pink elephants. Your brain goes right into wondering, “Any pink elephants here?”
That instead amplifies the thought.
“Typically when people have a craving they do one of two things,” said Sandra Aamodt, author of “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss.” “They give into it, or they white-knuckle their way into resisting it.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“The second response tends eventually to lead to the first response. You only have so much willpower,” she said.
But we do have mental control over our cravings says the Northern Calif.-based neuroscientist.
Aamodt says urge surfing, a way to acknowledge sensations without judgment, helps.
First, recognize that you’re having a craving.
“For a lot of us, we’ve already grabbed the cookie before we even realized we were having the craving,” she said.
Settle into accepting that, “OK, I’m going to be having a craving here for a little while,” she said. “I don’t need to push it away; I don’t need to do anything but follow the urge surfing procedure.
“Investigate what it feels like in your body,” she said. Does it feel like a burning in your stomach? Tightness in your throat?
It’s really easy, she said, to let thoughts spin from “I’m having a craving” to, “I’m going to be fat forever.”
“You want to keep yourself in that first step,” she said, “instead of jumping into, ‘I’m a terrible person.’”
A really bad craving might last half an hour, she said, but they always pass.
“Cravings are like waves,” she said. “They rise up, and they fall back down. What you’re going to do is just ride through that wave.”
The more times you do this, she said, the more confidence you build.
“If you stay on top of it and let it carry you up and back down, what you'll find is that you get to the other side, and nothing bad has happened.”