A common solution to breaking food cravings is to do a food cleanse. We’re told toxins or poor gut health are the reasons we’re cranky and craving sugar and to remedy it we simply need to follow a special cleanse diet and often a range of supplements too. So should you follow a cleanse for food cravings?
Cleanses sound so appealing. You feel yourself nodding as you look through the list of symptoms they promise to cure. I know in the past I did. It’s to believe that it will help you beat those cravings and get you in control of your food again.
Often the first few days are pretty easy. You feel in control and empowered. But before long, all you feel is deprived! You look longingly at those foods you love you’re no longer allowed and we can think about is ALL those things we couldn’t eat and what we’re going to eat as soon as we can. And before you know it, when it’s over (IF you make it!) you’re back to square one with cravings just as bad if not worse than before.
So why don’t cleanses work to help us with food cravings?
Restriction rarely solves cravings
If you don’t have something for long enough, surely you’ll just stop wanting it right? Here’s a little challenge for you. Don’t think about chocolate for the next 5 minutes. I bet you’re thinking about chocolate. Ironically, trying NOT to think about something only leads us to thinking about it more. It even has a proper name – ‘ironic processing theory’. One study found that instructing people not to think about chocolate led to increased chocolate consumption. Restriction might work for a while, but it’s likely your willpower won’t last – it’s a finite resource.
They don’t actually address the real reason you’re having cravings
Food cravings occur for a number of different reasons and they’re not necessarily a bad thing! Trying to suppress cravings only intensifies them so instead we need to think about what they’re telling us. First of all, it’s good to check if your overall diet is balanced as sometimes not eating enough or not following a balanced diet can cause cravings.
Secondly, instead of suppressing your cravings, listen to your cravings with curiosity. Are you actually wanting something because you are hungry or are you really craving pleasure, comfort or distraction from your feelings. Are we actually hungry – or is it because you are stressed, annoyed at your partner, bored at work or just lonely. Sometimes something other than food will meet our needs better. We might need to ring a friend, watch a funny TV show or just get outside for some fresh air. Have a think about what you could do to meet your actual craving more effectively. Sometimes we don’t need to do anything. We just need to sit, acknowledge how we’re feeling and let the craving pass in it’s own time.
When you pause to decide what it is you really need, you can then make a decision if you do want to eat or if you’d prefer to do something else.
It’s not you, it’s your food mindset
Sometimes cravings are simply related to your food mindset. If you eat some chocolate, then think you shouldn’t eat more or have it again, we start to think about it more and want it more until we give in. It’s classic restriction behaviour.
Instead of trying to use rules and restriction to control your food intake, learn to eat the foods you love mindfully and tune into your bodies hunger, fullness and satisfaction signals. This will help you decide when you’ve had enough.
Sometimes it might be one row of chocolate, other times it might be more. But when you improve your overall food mindset and want to nourish your body as well, you will find the balance between eating those pleasurable foods you love and as well as eating plenty of high nutrient foods. If that sounds impossible, working with a non diet nutritionist can help and it’s something I specialise in. It does take time to change your food mindset, but it is definitely worth it.