Manage Cravings and Anxiety

From Nicholas Frye, the Behavioral Specialist at Take Shape for Life about cravings, anxiety and how to manage it.

So, it does appear that you are probably experiencing what would be more closely related to overwhelming cravings since they tend to be “satisfied” once you give in and indulge. Although, that feeling probably doesn’t last very long as we usually feel guilty or beat ourselves up pretty good after we indulge, right? Again, these cravings can make us feel out of control, almost like a drug addict or something, but we can regain control as we are definitely responsible for our own thoughts, emotions and actions. Also, it appears as though your triggers are more emotional and environmental, i.e. eating to manage your emotions or to satisfy a cravings after experiencing an environmental trigger.

You had mentioned experiencing anxiety even though there was nothing really stressful going on in your life at the moment. First, let me congratulate you on your effective handling of your anxiety! Taking a moment to yourself and breathing deeply is an excellent behavioral strategy! Now, let’s try and understand anxiety a little better as that will help us to deal with cravings as well! You see, anxiety is not sparked by events or situations but rather by our thoughts. It is how we think, that tells us how to feel, that leads to how we behave (Thoughts => Feelings => Behaviors). Some thoughts that can lead to feelings of anxiety include things like: “I can’t do this anymore” or “There is no way I can get through this” or “I know I’ll just screw it up”. Thoughts that are All-or-Nothing, Catastrophic, Assumptions, etc. can lead to anxiety. The next time you’re experiencing anxiety, identify your thoughts/beliefs and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is my thinking here based on obvious fact?
  2. Will my thinking here best help me protect my life and health?
  3. Will my thinking here best help me achieve my short-term and long-term goals?
  4. Will my thinking here best help me avoid my most unwanted conflicts with others?
  5. Will my thinking here best help me habitually feel the emotions I want to feel?

These questions are designed to help you construct rational debates for the thoughts/belief. This helps you to develop more positive emotional and behavioral responses. Therefore, if we have challenge our irrational thoughts that lead to anxiety and are now experiencing more positive emotions and behavioral responses we will have less desire to manage our emotions by turning to food. We have managed our emotions by our thoughts and behaviors. A much more effective strategy!

This works the same when we are experiencing cravings. Typically, cravings are experienced as a “MUST” or a “NEED” or a “HAVE TO” statement. These statements are irrational and lead to anxiety and internal conflict which only goes away when we give in to the craving. It is these thoughts that must be challenged and changed. You can do this in four (4) easy steps:

  1. Take responsibility for your emotional upset. Believing that others or some unknown cause are responsible for our emotions creates feelings of helplessness. Realizing that our own self-defeating behaviors are actually a result of our own thinking can be really empowering! You are not to blame for these thoughts, as every human being on the planet have these same thoughts, but they are your responsibility to manage… and you can!
  2. Identify your MUST’s, NEED’s or HAVE TO’s. What are those thoughts you are thinking? Do you say to yourself, “Ugh, I NEED some chocolate” or “I HAVE TO have some French fries” or “I MUST satisfy this craving or it’ll never go away!” It is these thoughts that lead to negative emotions like anxiety, stress, worry, frustration, boredom, etc. Which then lead to eating behaviors to manage these emotions.
  3. Dispute you MUST’s, NEED’s or HAVE TO’s. Use those questions I already provided you with. Ask yourself if these thoughts are rational, reasonable and true. Also, what evidence is there that this thought is true? Challenge and dispute these thoughts in order to gain control of your emotions.
  4. Change your MUST’s, NEED’s or HAVE TO’s to WANT TO’s. Say to yourself, “It is not rational to say I NEED some chocolate when in fact I WANT some chocolate and that’s okay. I can handle that” or “It is not reasonable to say that I HAVE TO have some French fries when in fact I WANT some French fries and that’s okay. I can handle that” or “It is not true to say “I MUST satisfy this craving or it’ll never go away when in fact I WANT to satisfy this craving but the truth is it will go away on its own.” These, more rational thoughts, bring down the level of urgency and anxiety to a manageable level which allows us to make healthier choices.
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