Food Cravings? Mindfulness Can Help

By: Traci Pedersen

Do you struggle with intense food cravings? If so, you understand that powerless feeling—when the craving takes control and you begin to feel like a passenger in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. But take heart, many people are finding new hope through the practice of mindfulness.

New research published in the journal Appetite shows that mindfulness can drastically lower a person’s cravings for sweets. For the study, participants with a sweet tooth were trained in mindfulness techniques—to observe their thoughts and cravings from a distance and to not pass any judgment on those desires. 

The results were significant. Participants who were able to view the craving-related thoughts as separate from themselves experienced a far weaker desire for sweets and a much stronger willpower to say no.  In other words, the cravings eventually lost their power.

The current findings build on previous research on mindfulness and cravings. For the new study, however, researchers (from McGill University in Quebec) wanted to know which specific mindfulness techniques were most effective for cravings and why. 

To begin, they recruited 196 participants with a self-reported sweet tooth. The participants were divided into five groups—four groups were taught various mindfulness techniques, and the rest were placed in a control group (the controls were asked to ‘distract’ themselves from their cravings).

Participants in the four mindfulness groups were taught one or a combination of the following three techniques:

  • Awareness: Observing and being aware of one’s thoughts.
  • Acceptance:  Not passing judgment on their thoughts and feelings.
  • Disidentification: Viewing the craving-related thoughts as separate from themselves.

Two weeks later, participants were given a piece of chocolate to unwrap and hold for one minute. When the chocolate was taken away, they were asked to rate the intensity of their cravings.  Participants who had become skillful at disidentification—viewing the cravings as separate from themselves—reported craving the chocolate far less than participants who had not mastered this skill. 

When a person truly believes that “we are not our thoughts,” there is a strong, positive impact on how he or she is able to deal with unwanted thoughts, feelings, and desires. Mindfulness techniques are now being used successfully by psychotherapists in a variety of cases: substance abuse, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.

When it comes to overcoming food addictions and cravings, if we learn to observe and view our craving-related thoughts and feelings as something separate from ourselves, they lose their power over us.  And we can begin to take back our rightful place in the driver’s seat.

 

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