How to Fight Food Cravings Without Herculean Willpower
If craving sweets is a constant struggle and you need real tools for beating the urge - keep reading to learn how to breakthrough. (and what gets in your way).
Here's a quick metaphor to set the stage:
In the summer of 2018, the volcano Kilauea erupted in Hawaii, which covered a 7.7 mile radius and devastated a popular lake. The Green Lake was the largest freshwater lake on the island (roughly 200 feet deep). But when lava poured into it, it started boiling and releasing plumes of steam into the air. Then on the morning of June 2nd the steam disappeared because the lake was gone.
It had completely evaporated.
Sometimes your cravings resemble lava and burn so hot that they evaporate all of your willpower. And then you just become ravenous and eat everything in sight. Or just the thought of chocolate ice cream or pepperoni pizza kicks you over the edge.
It’s frustrating because maybe you are trying to eat healthy, but you feel like cravings just get the best of you. Turns out, when our cravings fire up like this, something interesting happens in the brain.
Psychologist Walter Mischell calls this activating the Hot System of the brain.
Food Cravings: 2 Systems in The Brain
Here’s where it gets interesting:
Researchers have found that your Cool System turns down the Hot System, and vice versa. Think of them like the air conditioner and heating in your house. When your heat is on, the air conditioner stays off. And vice versa. Same thing with the ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ system. As one activates, the other deactivates.
Here’s one way the Hot System gets flipped on:
You are standing in line at a cafeteria, and four types of carrots are in front of you. You read the label on each one:
Based on those descriptions, which would you choose? Which would probably taste the best? Smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots, right?
A 2017 Stanford study looked at the power of label descriptions.
They had a large university serve different types of vegetables but they would randomly change the label on them each day. Sometimes the label would be basic (Carrots), indulgent (Twisted citrus-glazed carrots), healthy restrictive (Carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing) or healthy positive (Smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots). And they did this for other vegetables as well including beets… sweet potatoes… corn… green beans… zucchini… and others.
Here’s one more example:
Indulgent: Dynamic Chili and Tangy Lime-Seasoned Beets
Healthy Restrictive: Lighter-choice beets with no added sugar
Healthy Positive: High-Antioxidant Beets
Now here’s the kicker:
The vegetable was prepared the same way no matter what! That means that High-Antioxidant Beets, Beets, and Dynamic Chili and Tangy Lime-Seasoned Beets would be prepared and taste the exact same. So shouldn’t the label not make a difference? After all, the vegetables were cooked and seasoned the same way. But it turns out, the label made a HUGE difference.
The indulgent label significantly increased consumption over all the other types of labels (once again, despite the food being prepared the exact same way). The basic label was the next highest consumption. Then the healthy positive. And the least selected was the healthy restrictive label.
This study demonstrated one way to fire up the Hot System: Sensory Qualities.
This is a potent way to increase or decrease cravings. Think about the sensory qualities of the food. It could be the melted cheese on a slice of pizza… the crunch of the potato chips… the gooey chocolate on homemade cookies…
(Okay that’s enough of that!)
Anyway, when you are presented with these qualities (like I did in the previous paragraph) this activates the Hot System. Now we can’t control what a food company puts on a label but we can control how we imagine particular foods. So if you want to intensify cravings for a food think about the texture… the taste… the sound… the smells… and anything else.
On the other hand, if you want to silence the cravings, stay away from imagining those qualities. Notice this is a double-edged sword. You can use this to boost cravings of healthy foods or unhealthy ones. Or decrease cravings of both.
But it’s up to you how you use it.
This is truly just the tip of the iceberg. If you need a nudge each month to keep yourself motivated... tips for lasting weight-loss... healthy, delicious recipes... and much more - grab a free issue of my Mind-Body Breakthroughs newsletter and prepare for a monthly "coaching session in print."