Sunday, February 15, 2009

Four Strategies To Control Cravings

This is the exercise the nutritionist gave me to do when I saw her last. I'm completely flunking this entire assignment. Turns out I'm rather strong-willed! Who knew? :o) Everything in parentheses is me being snarky about what the assignment says; it's my blog and I'll snark if I want to.

1. Self-talk--use motivational statements that reiterate the benefits of sticking to a plan and remind you of health goals.

2. Distraction--trying not to think about a craving, doing or thinking something besides about the craving

3. Breath-based relaxation--breathing that allows the mind to return to its rational base

4. Mindfulness--noticing and witnessing craving thoughts as they pass, without an attachment or identification to them.

Psychologist Pavel Somov, author of the book Eating the Moment (note: the bulk of the nutritionist assignments come from this book), recommends testing each strategy to determine which is most effective for you in treating your cravings. Then you can use which one works for you best when you need it. This will help take the guesswork out of it when you are in an unpredictable situation. Use the following exercises from Somov's Eating the Moment, keeping a log to determine which craving control method worked best for you. You might want to log how long the craving took to subside. You can even try combining some of the strategies. Mindfulness and breath-based relaxation work particularly well together.

Exercise 1--Mindfulness

With mindfulness, you are letting go of any attempt of your mind to block the craving. Instead, you let cravings into your mind and just notice them as thoughts and sensations. Mindfulness is a form of control by letting go of control.

Create a craving control routine. Choose a location in your home for your craving control area. Make it a place where you can sit. Then allow yourself to notice your thoughts and witness cravings. Avoid eating in the craving control chair at all costs.

Think, "This is just a craving. I am not a craving. A craving is just a part of me, a fleeting, transient, insignificant part of me, not even worth my attention." Then add a touch of bravado, notice the craving with scorn, and give it some attitude. "A craving, whoopdedoo. This shall pass. Craving, my ass!"

(OK, first it said mindfulness was just noticing and witnessing the cravings. Then it wants me to define the whole thing and get all metaphysical and, dare I say it, control the craving with my newfound bravado. I wasn't identifying with it in the first place, because they told me not to, so why do I have to tell it off? I am not threatened. Is this not contradictory as all get-out?)

2. Exercise 2--Breath-based relaxation

Find a place to sit down. Close your eyes. Self-induce a craving.

(This made me snort; no self-induction of a craving is necessary in my world. Wait a a little while, one will happen on its own, just like the sun, moon, tides, etc. Trust me.)

Pay attention to your breath. Notice the up and down movement of your chest, air in and out of your nose, and the in and out of your stomach. You can practice pausing after you exhale. Don't hold your breath, just pause. Do this for a few minutes or until the craving passes. Imagine inhaling relaxation and exhaling the craving.

(So I breathe in and out a couple of times and suddenly I don't want the chocolate anymore? I'm not seeing the connection. I just want it slightly more calmly than I did before.)

3. Exercise 3--Self-Talk

Self-talk is what you tell yourself. It is an internal dialogue of the pros and cons of a behavior. (italics mine) (Really? I just thought it was that voice that told me, more often than not, what a worthless piece of shit I am, and then there's an argument...oh brother.) The first way to test self-talk is during a craving to make a list of pros and cons, either in writing or mentally. (The pros and cons of eating the chocolate? Or not eating the chocolate? It isn't rocket science, people.) The other test for self-talk is to determine a mantra or repeating phrase to yourself. These can be self-affirmations, motivational statements, or catchphrases. One example might be, "I eat to live, not live to eat." (This may be true, but (a) platitudes annoy me and (b) chocolate tastes really, really, REALLY good, it makes my deep breaths better and more productive, it gets me closer to my happy place, and I'm *extremely* sick of the raw vegetables, the endless water, and the blankety-blank-blank !@#$%^&* food diary. I want some damn chocolate. I want some damn chocolate. I WANT SOME DAMN CHOCOLATE. NOW!!!!)

Exercise 4--Distractions

Distractions are a way to purposely divert your attention from the craving onto something else. (I thought that only worked for dogs, cats and sometimes toddlers.) The more involved or intense the distraction, the more likely it will succeed. One test is to take a cold shower during a craving. (My skin would fall off if I took cold showers every time I had a craving, and I'd keep my husband awake.) It is likely you will crave a warm towel rather than food by the end. (Yeah, but I know me. I'll crave both, as they are not mutually exclusive. I'm no fool.) You can try your own distraction as well if this sounds too radical. If you choose a different distraction, stick with it for a minimum of fifteen minutes and don't reenter yourself into your trigger environment. (My brain *is* my trigger environment. If I knew how to turn it off, I would sleep well and be ever so much more perky, now wouldn't I? Hell, I'd leave it in a locker for a few days every once in a while.) Some examples are 1) if you listen to music, crank it up and dance for at least 3 songs or 2) if you do a crossword puzzle, yell out the words as loud as you can.

(Sigh. I'm all out of words.)

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