Day 11 of the 12 Days of Healthy Eating Gifts
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Treating food addiction and compulsive eating

We will break the types of craving down into 4 groupings and discuss the sources and solutions for them.

1. Supportive - your body really is telling you things that it thinks will help. Like high fat foods when you are feeling raw and raunchy, highly personal and specific things when you need to heal or balance a deficit or excess in your system. You can actually create cravings for healthier foods as you eat healthier foods and of course the reverse is true as well. These generally arise from real biochemical information in your body, but our limited perception of things can take us off track, particularly if we are not well acquainted with your body's communications.

2. Subversive - these are cravings for things that are not good for your body. Sometimes these are biochemical messages from systems gone awry. When people experience an addiction, they crave the substance that is harming them. With sufficient exposure to a substance, we can develop a craving and of course low levels of serotonin can cause cravings for sugar and highly refined carbs. Many fast foods and snack foods are designed to create this craving in the body and override the body's natural satiety and safety systems.

3. Soothing - your body cravings soothing all the time and chances are good there is a pattern in your brain that has oriented towards food as that source of soothing. . When brain chemistry is out it craves more. When you are tired or stressed it craves more. When you ignore it's messages it craves more. When you are not taking steps towards the things you really want and are tolerating things you really "well food did it last time" so you lean towards food for ongoing soothing!

4. Situational - old associations like mom's cooking, special Eating foods, tense family dinners, new unpredictable experiences, old binge haunts, particular foods or circumstances like going to the movies; often create situational craving triggers for people. Any situation that becomes associated with overeating or eating particualr foods can cause a situational craving.

So how to navigate these situations usefully. First notice we said usefully not "successfully". That's because success usually means not eating the craven for food, but making use of the moment to dig in deeper to our inner experience can be a more useful experience. Most people think of dealing with cravings in the context of struggle like the kung fu picture above. Not your best move! The best way to open up the gift of craving and find out what is waiting there for you is very similar to moving through an episode of obsessive compulsive experience.

1. RELAX - really, we've been talking about calming your body and the first thing you should do when you have a craving is relax your body. Lie down if you can, sit still if your willing or just breathe deeply if you can do nothing else.

2. Open up to and accept the discomfort of it. This is so important to be able to understand that craving is discomfort and you won't die from it and you don't need to make it go away you just have to find another way to relate to it. Opening up to it will actually help craving move through, on it's own, in a way that you can learn and grow from. Learning to live with discomfort is essential to decoding cravings and everything else in life.

3. Compassionately challenge your assumptions and ideas about the current craving experience. We try often to explain cravings when we just need to experience them. When you hear your inner conversation move into justification, explanation or anger; you know that there is a strong craving at hand.

I encourage people to have a clear plan including a script and alternative behaviors written down to practice during a craving. You will lose the capacity of your reasonable brain at some point in the craving experience and pre-planned pitches are imperative.

As you compassionately challenge your justifying brain, say something like, yes I know ...... it's late, you didn't get to eat earlier, it's Tuesday, it's Christmas, there is only a little bit left, you have had a hard day, you have been eating well, etc and then say; "but I am not sure you really want to make a decision like this on the spur of the moment. You can have that later, tomorrow, sometime if it still feels like the right thing".

Then remind yourself about your fall back plan. It should be specific, eventually enjoyable and easy to execute. "Remember, when we sit with these some distress usually comes up, but it moves through and then we feel so much freer and calmer. Let's lay on the bed with the cat and see what comes up, then we will make some Candy Cane Tea.

If all else fails, see if you can just get a little time sitting with the craving to explore further. I feel the need to give you fair warning that the feelings that come up when you put the food down can be strong, confusing and difficult to accept. But each time you can even wait a little moment you create a space for something new to happen.

Don't try to beat them down, befriend them and the discharge of this energy progresses much more gently and effectively. Following the intensity you may find; issues that you ahve been ignoring or dismissing as "not important", body needs you were not aware of, changes that need to be made to what and how you are currently eating to create less craving and many other exciting things.

If your craving turns out to be supportive and you feel like you should eat a particular way or food, I would encourage you to not try this out alone, share your explorations with someone or write down the experiment and outcome. It is easy to get sidetracked by the current cultural craze, like intuitive eating or the new berry diet and so consult with others and ask for their support in finding out.

I once got a message to only blueberries and ice cream for a period of 2 weeks. I wasn't sure if it was guidance or just wishful thinking, but when I followed it, it became apparent that it was setting right a very aversive reaction I had, had to some medication. And that instruction changed as I felt better. If you are not getting "better" from the guidance - go back to seeking more direction.
The other 3 types of craving are better served by sitting with them or soothing your body in ways that allows the anxious energy of craving to move on through your body, including movement. We have included variations of a Yoga pose called Downward Dog, below that many yoga practitioners and teachers have found helpful with dispersing the energy of craving.
We recommend a great yoga website,

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One more day! WiseHeart Wellness wishes you Happy Healthy Eating in everything you do!

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Anderson Dolan of WiseHeart Wellness Services provides treatment, public education and media information on food addiction and compulsive eating. She speaks and facilitates programs internationally and has been a counselor for over 30 years and a recovering person maintaining a 150 lb weight loss, for over 2 decades. Current research is with people maintaining 100lb+ weight loss and how they continue to do that. WiseHeart Wellness now provides assessment and treatment online including brain chemistry optimization to end addictive eating. More information can be found at