Are old beliefs the cause of your cravings?

By Michelle May, M.D.

Do you ever have cravings that seem to come out of nowhere? Or powerful craving that don’t make sense to you? We all sometimes experience cravings that leave us wondering what happened and why. By tapping into your awareness and curiosity, you may uncover the cause of your cravings.

Getting curious about the cause of your cravings

I’d like to share a short story with you to illustrate how these inexplicable cravings can occur, and how I figured out what was going on during one episode.

We were staying at my parents’ cabin, and on the last night, my daughter pulled an almost empty bag of Fritos® out of their cabinet for a snack. I immediately noticed I was craving Fritos even though I recognized I wasn’t hungry.

I said, “Oh, they’re almost gone! Can I have a few?” As she handed them to me, she said, “You know, we can buy more.”

cause-of-your-cravingsIt hit me at that moment that I was operating from a place of scarcity. My brain had reacted to an old belief about not getting enough of a food that I loved. It was as though they were the last chips on earth, because for a moment, I forgot that there is an almost endless supply where those came from when I really wanted them.

It was an odd moment and I felt a bit silly, but it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what just happened and get curious about why it happened.

Scarcity caused cravings for me

I love Fritos but we don’t keep them around very often. I don’t restrict myself from eating them and I am not afraid of bingeing on them anymore; it’s simply a conscious personal decision to have them with a deli sandwich or at a social event when I want them, rather than having them available all the time. After all, they show up randomly often enough to keep me happy!

Interestingly, although I never feel deprived of Fritos, seeing them was still an environmental trigger that caused a sudden craving. (Like it sounds, an environmental trigger is something in the environment that causes a craving or the desire to eat. Examples: the sight of food or someone eating; a certain activity such as a baseball game or a movie; other associations with food like the time of day, time or year, or a holiday.)

But the sudden craving felt even more powerful than that. Why?

I realized that knowing the Fritos were almost gone was an emotional trigger too. As is often the case, environmental triggers overlap with cravings caused by emotional triggers. The holidays are a great example of how intertwined cravings can become!

In this situation, I remembered that when I was a kid, my active younger brother would sometimes finish off our favorite snack foods before I had a chance to have any. As a result, I developed the habit of overeating those foods out of fear that I wouldn’t get my share.

Later, when I began dieting, Fritos weren’t allowed. That deprivation further reinforced my scarcity fears.

I share this story with you as an example of the power of mindfulness.

Mindfulness can reveal the source of your cravings

Awareness of my physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings in that moment allowed me to recognize that old beliefs were influencing my current state and behaviors.

Once I recognized what was happening, I simply needed to remind myself that food is not scarce. I can buy—and eat—Fritos whenever I want, so there is no need to eat them competitively just because my daughter wanted them!

Is it possible that old beliefs about eating or emotional connections to food are driving your cravings and the resulting eating cycles? What are you doing to recognize and heal the root causes of your cravings?

Until you become curious about the causes of your cravings, you will continue to be under the spell of these invisible drivers!

If you need some help in this area, Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Retreats teach you how to recognize and address eating patterns that aren’t working for you!

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more that you might find helpful:

Is fear keeping you stuck on the diet treadmill?

Mindful eating when going out for dinner.

How to deconstruct overeating.

This article has been updated from a previous version.

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