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Understanding food cravings – Listen to your body

food cravings

When we put on weight it is often because we are not heeding the signals our bodies give us. Our bodies know exactly what they need in order to have enough energy and be healthy. Those signals are there, sometimes we just have to tune in to them. Years of only listening to half of the signal i.e. “I am hungry” and overriding the “I am full” signal can lead to weight gain. We can lose the ability to tune into our bodies due to food cravings.

How can we tell when we are really hungry?

Hunger is an innate sense; we are born with this awareness. It’s a physiological cue to eat. When we feel that mild gnawing in your stomach that usually comes a few hours after eating a meal. It’s that slight decline in energy that signals you it’s time to refuel. True hunger is satiated with food when your body’s demand for more energy has been met.

Craving, on the other hand, is a learned response often to emotions. It’s the psychological drive to eat that we feel in our head, that feeling of wanting more regardless of how much we’ve had to eat. It doesn’t always go away after eating and isn’t necessarily influenced by the time you last ate. Have you ever treated yourself to a sweet treat as a reward, or compensation for a hurt or disappointment? After a meal when you are full, do you ever have “pudding room?”

Hunger is the physical drive to eat while craving is the mental drive to eat.

“What does this all mean for me and what can I do about it?” you may ask.

It should be easy to tell whether you’re hungry, but that often just isn’t the case. There can be so many circumstances that can present as hunger and have you reaching for a snack before you realise you don’t physically need one. We can use food to reward, entertain, comfort, distract, punish and calm us.

Ask Yourself Is this Hunger or food cravings?

Hunger is a physical sensation. It’s not a thought, a craving, or “it’s one o’clock, it must be lunchtime”. When you think you feel hungry, stop and ask yourself, “What is this feeling?” It’s not about “should I eat”, or “am I allowed to eat now”, but rather discovering why you have this urge. With your car, you don’t pull into every garage you pass, you check your fuel gauge first.

So how do you know when you are really hungry or whether it is just a craving for food that is driven by how you are feeling and your emotions? Stop and take 3 deep breaths, really notice your body. Scan for growling, grumbling, an empty, hollow or slightly queasy feeling, weakness or loss of energy, trouble concentrating, difficulty making decisions, light-headedness, a slight headache, shakiness and irritability or feeling “hangry”. Running through this list will really tune you into whether the physical evidence for your hunger is there. Literally place your hand upon your stomach when you do this to focus your attention there, rather than in your head.

Eat Mindfully

“Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention,” rather than eating distractedly or unconsciously. Eat with the intention to fuel your body with care and with enough attention to recognise how foods affect your body. Mindfulness helps you reconnect with your innate signals of hunger and fullness so you can manage your eating naturally without restrictive “dieting” or obsession.

Identify Your Triggers

Think how society has changed in the last decade; we are obsessed with TV chefs and cookery programmes, the number of restaurants, fast food and others, has rocketed. We all associate certain events with hunger: seeing food or others eating, mealtimes, even certain people (family) or places (cinema) and activities like watching the match, film or TV shows. Then there are emotions. Ever found yourself comforting yourself or rewarding yourself for a highly stressful day with a large glass of wine or piece of cake? Cravings, because they aren’t really hunger, are not satisfied by food. That’s why we could just carry on eating even when we are not physically hungry.

Keeping a mood and food diary can help you see what times or situations are likely to make you overeat and using a few tips to help you feel better without eating. These tips are different for everyone as we are all different, but increasing the times you truly relax – even for a few moments can make all the difference.

If you would like to find out more about food cravings and how hypnotherapy can help, why not get in touch with me, Samantha Culshaw-Robinson. I’m a clinical hypnotherapist and I have been helping people lose weight since 1988. For a full range of programmes please visit my Weight Loss page.

If you would like to book in for a session, please fill in your contact details on my consultation page.


Disclaimer: As with most practices, mindfulness may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any existing mental health conditions or past trauma, you should discuss these with your GP or mental health professional and these should also be disclosed prior to enrolling in a class.

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