Updated: Jul 24
Do you find it challenging to differentiate between genuine hunger and emotional cravings? If so, you are not alone.
With the convenience of modern life, it is easy to mistake physical symptoms of hunger for emotional ones.
Perhaps you often tell yourself, "I'll just have a little bite," but it leads to overeating or unhealthy snacking.
Would you like to develop a deeper understanding of your food cravings?
Could you then use your body's natural cues and choose healthier alternatives? It is possible.
As a health coach, I've seen how powerful a mindful eating approach can be.
Read on if you're ready to connect deeper with yourself and your body to eat mindfully.
Table of Contents
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is focusing on the experience of your food.
You pay attention to what it looks, tastes, and feels like as you eat. It's a way of savoring each bite.
The benefits include:
You can recognize when you're full, so you don't overeat.
Enjoying your food more by savoring each bite instead of mindlessly eating.
Reducing your stress and anxiety by focusing on the present moment each day.
Being a gateway to meditation to develop a more mindful approach to life.
Learning to recognize unhealthy habits and making healthier choices.
What Are Food Cravings?
If you have intense desires for specific foods that may feel uncontrollable, that's food cravings.
Food cravings are a shared human experience, and if you have intense desires for specific foods, that often distracts you.
According to a study published in Appetite, up to 97% of women and 68% of men experience food cravings.
And why do these cravings happen?
It is triggered by various factors, including stress, hormonal changes, and even the sight or smell of certain foods.
To support your management of food cravings, I recommend starting by understanding what triggers them mindfully. Then you can make a more informed decision before reaching for something to fulfill the craving.
What Does a Mindful Eater Feel Like?
A mindful eater is someone who’s in tune with their body. They don’t just eat because it feels good, but because they know what they put into their body affects how they feel physically and mentally.
They aim to eat until satisfied instead of overeating or undereating.
A mindful eater also knows that food is fuel for our bodies. Some is like premium gas (nutrient dense) and others are closer to the bottom of the barrel.
How to Mindfully Manage Food Cravings?
You can ponder the questions below and consider how best to apply them.
Your target, "mindfully handle food cravings," is at the heart of each question: what's going on with your body and mind when you crave something?
Don't ignore the craving
When you feel a craving, acknowledge it. Try not to pretend it doesn’t exist.
The more you ignore your craving, the stronger it will get--which can lead to overeating later.
Instead, think I'll be okay if I don’t eat X food.
It may sound contradictory, but you are doing "cognitive reframing" work. Cognitive reframing is adjusting your mindset to view a situation from another angle.
You come at the problem from a fresh perspective.
These questions may help:
Will eating this make me feel better?
How will I feel afterward?
Will I feel guilty or regret eating it?
The idea is not to deprive yourself of certain foods but make healthier choices in the long run.
Notice the craving
When you sense a craving, realize that your body is telling you something. Instead of turning to food, figure out what your body is craving.
Is it protein?
A sugary treat?
A salty snack?
When you understand what feelings lead to overeating, give it a healthy alternative.
For instance, the next time you crave chocolate, eat some fruit. If craving something salty, try unsalted nuts or vegetable sticks with hummus.
Eating nutrient foods that support your body can improve your health and self-confidence.
Identify the craving's triggers
To deal with your cravings is to deal with your triggers.
When you recognize what emotions trigger your desire for certain foods.
For example, if you're craving chocolate, try to identify why you want chocolate.
Is it because you're bored? Or because of stress?
Or you're watching a movie? Is it a learned behavior to eat chocolate when you do XYZ or feel XYZ.
Once you figure out what triggers the craving, try an alternative approach to deal with that feeling.
If you're bored, try something that stimulates your mind, like reading a book.
If you're stressed, walk or find another way to release your stress.
If you're watching a movie, focus on the screen, what do you see or hear
Ask yourself why
After identifying your eating trigger, ask yourself: “Why am I feeling like this right now?”
If you answer, “I want to eat that food because it tastes delicious,” you are right!
But if you eat because of stress but you aren’t hunger, try other coping methods.
Always ask yourself until you get to the root of why.
For example, if you want chocolate, ask yourself: “Why do I want a piece of chocolate?” because you feel like eating something sweet.
OK, ask yourself: “Why do I want something sweet?” because you have a sugar craving.
Then ask: “Why do I have a sugar craving?” because your body needs more energy than you currently get from food.
Answering those questions will help you redirect to alternatives.
Eating whole grains, legumes, and beans can give you more energy.
If you can’t explain to yourself why a specific food appeals, pause and dig a little deeper.
You can savor every bite or sip
Mindful eating has you focus on every bite.
And savoring each bite or sip gives your body time to digest food properly for better health.
It gives you awareness, peace, and joy in every meal.
While eating, you can ask these questions:
Am I overeating?
How does my body feel?
Do I feel satisfied after eating this food?
The more you focus, the more mindful you'll be at mealtime.
It's a way of life. And it doesn't require you to eliminate anything.
Simply pay attention to every sip and bite.
FAQs About How Mindfully Manage Your Food Cravings?
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is about your eating experiences, body-related sensations, and thoughts and feelings about food, with heightened awareness and without judgment. Attention is paid to the foods being chosen, internal and external physical cues, and your responses to those cues.
How can mindfulness help with food cravings?
Mindfulness can allow you to notice cravings and develop strategies to help you deal with them.
What are some healthy alternatives for satisfying food cravings?
Eat healthy alternatives like vegetables, fruits, protein, and other whole foods. Drinking water or tea can also help reduce cravings and start to learn the difference between hunger and thirst—also, you can distract yourself by engaging in another activity.
Can I ever indulge in my cravings?
Yes. A healthy sustainable diet is all about moderation. That means indulging in your cravings now and then when it is worth it for you.
How can I identify the triggers that cause my food cravings?
Record it, share it. What is the best tool for you to record or remember? Food journal, app, share with a friend or partner. Recording it can help you identify the triggers that are associated with your cravings—stress, boredom, fatigue, certain foods, etc.
What to Do Next?
Documenting, sharing or communicating what, when, and why you eat are options to track your triggers and learn to eat only when hungry.
If you're craving something sweet, swap unhealthy snacks for healthier options. What is something that might satisfy your sweet tooth that is a whole food or less processed than your go to?
Also, sleeping and exercising can help you shift your attention from your craving or reduce your stress.
Lastly, drink enough water to keep your body functioning correctly. While obvious, it's always easy to forget to stay hydrated when busy 😀
About the Author
Alexa Hanshaw is a health and stress management coach who helps women be the CEO of their stress. She empowers her clients to push past the confusion of the health and wellness industry to create lifestyle habits that bring them energy and work with their bodies instead of against it.
Join her free Facebook group, Be the CEO of Your Stress, and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube for quick, easy & healthy tips on stress, health, fitness, nutrition, sleep, and how to stay mindful!