How Giving Into Your Craving Could Help Heal Your Relationship With Food

A food craving can come on when you least expect it. You could be humming along on a diet, loving the way you look and feel when a craving for something "forbidden" strikes you. The urge for this food could be uncontrollable, and, if you give in to your craving, you may go overboard with your indulgence.

When you deprive yourself of food or certain foods on a diet, you could also increase the likelihood of cravings, according to a 2020 article in Current Nutrition Reports. If you deprive yourself of ice cream on your diet, giving into your cravings will cause you to eat more ice cream than if you didn't have ice cream on your forbidden list.

What if no food was on your forbidden list? What if no food was considered "bad"? Practicing intuitive eating or mindful eating rejects the diet mentality and the "food police" that dictate what you should or shouldn't eat. You can allow yourself to enjoy the food that you crave while also honoring your body and dealing with any emotions that trigger you to eat (per Intuitive Eating).

What is mindful eating?

Mindfulness practices have become popular as a means of reducing stress, and mindful eating adopts similar principles. In other words, it's about paying attention to what you're eating and refraining from judgment. Diets often are associated with specific rules and intended outcomes of losing weight. These can be stressful because people base their successes or failures on these outcomes. Changes in eating behavior are often difficult to sustain and don't last beyond the scope of the diet, according to a 2017 article in Diabetes Spectrum.

Rather than becoming focused on diet outcomes, mindful eating is about the experience of eating. You empower yourself to choose what you're eating at the given moment. People practicing mindful eating often begin choosing foods that are healthier while also eating less.

A 2017 article in Nutrition Research Reviews found that mindful eating can address issues associated with cravings such as binge eating and emotional eating. Although there isn't much evidence for mindful eating and managing your weight, it can help prevent you from gaining weight by making you more aware of what causes you to eat.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating adopts similar principles in that it focuses on paying attention to what you're eating. It also takes a wider approach. Intuitive eating teaches you to have realistic expectations of your body size and to work on having a healthier respect for your body. Rather than wear yourself out through extreme exercise, you move your body to enjoy the energizing effects of exercise. While you can give into your cravings with intuitive eating, it also encourages you to use food to nourish your body. Food might be comforting, but an intuitive eating approach teaches you to distinguish eating for hunger from eating to soothe or distract you from what you're feeling (per Intuitive Eating).

Intuitive eating is linked to healthier eating habits and mental well-being, according to a 2021 article in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. People who practice intuitive eating tend to have lower levels of eating disorders, body image issues, and overall psychological problems. Additionally, those who embrace intuitive eating often experience positive outcomes, such as better body image, higher self-esteem, and greater overall well-being.

Practicing mindful and intuitive eating

Before you reach for that cheesecake, it's important to be curious about what might be underlying your craving. According to Healthline, food cravings can sometimes point to perfectionism or a need for control over your life. Sit with the food craving and investigate it, practicing mindfulness techniques and inquiring what other images or memories come up. Then ask yourself if an activity such as a walk can appease the craving. If you still experience the craving after that activity, see if your craving is as intense as before.

If desired, give in to the craving, but enjoy the experience of the food. This means engaging all of your senses rather than taste, such as noticing the texture or smell of the food. Put away any distractions such as your phone so you can focus your attention solely on your food. If possible, consider the source of your food, such as its country of origin or who prepared it. Take small bites of your food, savoring the different layers of taste. Eating slowly will also help you enjoy the food for longer. It will help tune your mind to your body's cues when you've had enough, as well (per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health).