Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to handle a craving - step 3: prepare by visualizing the outcome

Looking for a simple, low-risk method for handling a craving? I suggest you try visualization, a technique I learned and practiced as an athlete.

The Collins dictionary defines visualization as a technique involving focusing on positive mental images in order to achieve a particular goal. Athletes use visualization to mentally rehearse and maximize their performance in competition.

As I type this, I can't help but to visualize my competitive synchronized swimming days. Right now I'm walking on the deck, in sync with my duet partner. Instinctively, I raise my chin and roll my shoulders back as the images run through my mind....

The best thing about visualization is that you can prepare and practice a new behaviour before you need the new behaviour. By mentally rehearsing a new behaviour, your brain develops the "same mental instructions as actions, and impacts cognitive processes such as motor control, attention, perception, planning and memory."

That means that you practice handling a craving without the actual craving! On Monday I listened to Get-It-Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips podcast on "How to create good habits." It dawned on me that visualization is a great way to prepare for my next craving; specifically this slight habit of drinking hot chocolate and marshmallows in the evening (recent habit since the weather has cooled). Since listening to the podcast, I'm on my second night of a snack-free evening.

To prepare for the evening, I visualized a new nighttime routine, one that included hot water instead of hot chocolate and marshmallows. Details included the exact routine such as turning on the kettle, retrieving my klean kanteen travel mug from my bag, pouring the water into my mug and adding three ice cubes to cool the boiling water to the right temperature.

Most importantly, I visualized drinking and enjoying my drink, feeling the warmth spread through my body. Hot water is both comforting and refreshing!

When the familiar twinge of hunger hit that usually nudges my feet towards the kitchen, I pushed the thought from my mind as I knew what to do, and I had decided and practiced my actions already. Sure enough, the hot chocolate craving was easily cooled.

If you haven't used visualization before, here are a few tips:

  • Breakdown one specific behaviour at a time. Drinking water instead of hot chocolate is specific. Stop all mindless eating is not.
  • Incorporate all the steps leading up to the new behaviour. Not only did I picture myself drinking hot water, but I also visualized turning on the kettle,  getting my cup, pouring the water and finally drinking the drink.
  • Visualize specific details such as the environment, clothes, people, and senses. Make your images as realistic as possible.
  • Include your feelings including satisfaction, happiness, confidence and motivation.
If you are wary of your next craving, practice the outcome you want by visualizing it!

Next post: How to handle a craving - Step 3: Reflect and prepare for the next craving continued

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to handle a craving - part 2: Distract your thoughts and don't over think it

I've made a decision. I've decided to not eat the ten pack of French Crueller timbits that I'm craving.

Now, I just have to stop thinking about those mmmm soft, smothered in icing, melts-in-your-mouth timbits.

After all, what is the point of continuing to think about these damn timbits if I've already decided to not eat them? Am I a glutton for punishment?

Looking back, I'm baffled that I thought that the relentless, internal debate triggered by a food craving was normal:

"I want to eat this timbit. No, actually, I want to eat twenty of them."

"I can't. I shouldn't. I don't need it."

"But, it tastes so good!"

"Timbits are fattening."

"I don't care. I'll eat it anyways. Nothing else will satisfy me."

My original resolve to not eat, to not give into the craving was continuously tested until I gave into the craving. This could take an hour, or two or could last for a few days or more. It was inevitable that a craving eventually lead to giving in and eating. It was just a matter of time.

Continuing to think about the food that you are craving only serves to extend the life of a craving.  Therefore, if you want to stop a craving, you have to stop thinking about it!

Therefore, once you've made a decision to not eat, the next step is to physically move away from the food you are craving. Physically separating yourself from the food you are craving helps to mentally banish the thought of it too.

If you are unable to physically move away from the food, move the food so you can no longer see it. I place frozen food in the downstairs freezer, place cookies for the kids in the absolutely useless corner kitchen cabinet or behind the extra ziploc baggies in the hard-to-reach shelf of the pantry.

Once you've eliminated the visual reminder, turn your attention to something other than food. Anything to distract your thoughts will work. Prepare a list of ways to distract your thoughts so you aren't scrambling when a craving hits.

Here is a list of some of the ways I distract my thoughts:

  1. Refocus on the task at hand when the craving hit. If I'm in the mall running errands, I reconsider my list to determine if I missed any additional errands that need to be done.
  2. Google random questions. What happened to the actor who portrayed Jake from Sixteen Candles? What happened in the Lost finale?
  3. Go for a walk with a colleague to discuss non-food related topics. 

Step 2 is simple, distract your thoughts. But, in order for this to work you need to allow your brain to think about something else and forget about the food you are craving.

Don't over think it! Don't hold onto your craving – just let it go!

How do you distract your thoughts away from food?

Next post: How to handle a craving - Step 3: Reflect and prepare for the next craving