For many people, it is a constant struggle to continually eat healthy, every day and all day. There are limitless temptations throughout the day, and all of us get food cravings from time to time. These cravings can sometimes become the doorway to eating a huge unhealthy meal. Late-night cravings in particular can be deadly for me – I can eat healthy food, salads, and lean meats throughout the day, but then nighttime comes, everyone is sleeping, and I’ll devour almost everything in the refrigerator.
I personally struggle with sugar cravings. However, most of the time if I eat just a single bite of something sweet, like ice cream, I can end up eating a huge bowl of it. What I’ve noticed is that the craving diminishes but I still don’t stop eating until all the ice cream is gone. Or as Louis CK, the comedian, once quipped, “The meal isn’t done when I’m full. The meal is done when I hate myself.” I’ve had moments in my life where I identify all too well with this sentiment.
Fast food restaurants can be especially insidious for me because they can literally be found on almost every corner. The Chick-fil-A menu is full of cheap and delicious food, and I can sometimes eat a full 2,000 calories of food there in a single day. While the food tastes wonderful, most of it is deep fried, and the bread they use is white bread with no fiber and no nutritional benefit. It’s high-calorie food that is mostly empty calories and unhealthy cooking oils.
However, over the past few months, I’ve figured out an amazing way to prevent myself from going overboard, without relying on my willpower to force myself to ignore my food cravings. The science is clear now that your willpower eventually runs out, so long term, counting on willpower is a losing strategy. One study in the National Library of Medicine (nlm.gov) had this to say about willpower:
“Much recent research suggests that willpower–the capacity to exert self-control–is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion…Past research indicates that peoples’ implicit theories about the nature of willpower moderate the ego-depletion effect.”
If I have a particularly strong craving now, I allow myself to indulge it. However, the way I indulge that craving has made all the difference. Many cravings can be your body telling you that you need a certain food or vitamin, so it’s okay to listen to your cravings, within reason. The problem is that in today’s society, it’s easy to overindulge in almost any food craving.
I use mindful eating practices before I make the purchase. That means that if I allow myself to eat unhealthy food, like fast food, I first make sure that I focus 100% on what I’m eating.
For me, that means that I do the following
- I put my phone away. If I can’t put it away, I’ll put it on Do Not Disturb mode or Airplane mode. The last thing I want is to be playing with my phone or scrolling through social media endless newsfeeds while eating a high calorie, unhealthy snack. That’s a guaranteed way for me to eat way too much and not even really enjoy what I’m eating. I also make sure to turn off the television and remove any other distractions. If I’m going to eat this unhealthy snack, that means I need to focus 100% on the snack I’m eating.
- I start slowly. I unwrap the wrapper slowly. Smell the food. Close my eyes.
- Then I take a bite. I enjoy the taste in my mouth, and really try to taste each separate bite. It also helps to drink a bit of water between bites, so that the palette is refreshed.
Doing this has allowed me to prevent overeating or mindlessly eating without enjoyment. It also helps me control my cravings and make sure I really want something before purchasing it. Most of all, mindful eating has really helped me eat healthy food throughout the day, with only an occasional unhealthy indulgence.