Do You Eat Mindlessly? 15 Ways To Mindfully Manage Food Cravings

Food cravings can arise from mental or emotional triggers or a nutritional need within your body. 

But the food cravings people really struggle with often relate to mental or emotional reasons. 

Denying yourself the food you crave or indulging the food craving can leave you unhappy or uncomfortable – or both.

The best solution is to learn how to mindfully control food cravings so you feel in control and good about yourself.

You can achieve both goals through the power of mindfulness.

How Can Mindfulness Help You Focus on Your Eating?

Mindfulness, as derived from Zen Buddhist traditions, draws upon the principles of:

  • Nonjudgmental reflection
  • Patience
  • Trust in your own experiences
  • Acceptance

People have used these principles to deal with chronic pain or trauma successfully.

They also translate brilliantly into techniques that help you mindfully manage food.

The practice of mindfulness lets you examine the craving and eventually develop a response to it that leaves you at peace. 

Information from the American Diabetes Association describes mindfulness as process-oriented, which differs profoundly from the outcome-oriented nature of dieting.

With a mindful approach to food cravings, you will:

  • Discover the feelings that you associate with the food
  • Identify the situations that trigger food cravings
  • Take more pleasure in eating
  • Learn how to respond to a craving instead of reacting to it

How to Mindfully Manage Your Food Cravings: 15 Strategies to Help You

Your frustration with food cravings or addictions leads you to ask, “How do I train my mind to stop craving food?” 

The answer lies beyond just stopping the behavior. To mindfully manage cravings, you must recognize and understand them.

1. Identify All of Your Food Cravings

This process starts by keeping track of your food habits, like what you eat and when you eat. As you do this, note when you feel a craving and what the food is. 

It’s normal to have more than one food craving, but you’ll probably uncover one or two specific ones that make up the bulk of the dietary habits that bother you. 

man eating salad how to mindfully manage your food craving

Writing in a small journal is the most efficient way to track your eating behaviors. Short notes will suffice; you can easily look back over the days and weeks and spot trends.

2. Think About the Different Forms of Hunger

We all know the hunger that comes from the physiological need to eat. But other stimuli inspire food cravings as well, even if you don’t exactly need nutrition at that moment.

Hunger can come from:

  • The aroma of a favorite food
  • Seeing yummy food
  • Desire to mask difficult feelings with pleasurable food
  • Need for stimulation

Food is very stimulating as it hits the senses of taste and smell while delivering psychological or physical satisfaction. 

People often turn to food when they need some stimulation, such as a break from a tedious task. Think of the meme that circulated during the pandemic stay-at-home orders that said, “You’re Not Hungary. You’re Bored.”

3. Try to Stick to a Meal Time Schedule

If tracking your food reveals that you frequently snack between meals, you could shift all food consumption into meal times. 

This improves mindfulness because you are choosing to set aside specific periods for eating instead of making impulsive snack choices. Your response to a craving will be to wait instead of immediate action. 

Meal times allow you to focus on your food instead of thoughtlessly munching on a bag of chips while you work just because you saw food in a vending machine.

4. Examine Your Feelings Connected to Eating

Mindfulness asks you to pay attention to the reasons behind your food craving. Why you want the food could be linked to one or more emotions. 

You’re likely familiar with the term stress eating, which means that you want to cover uncomfortable feelings related to performance pressure or other worries with a yummy snack. 

The pleasant taste of the food distracts you from the feeling you dislike. Knowledge of your emotional motivations could guide you toward dealing with the emotion instead of soothing yourself with food.

5. Experience Your Craving for What It Is

The nonjudgmental and acceptance aspects of mindfulness are your friends when dealing with a food craving. 

When one hits, don’t let yourself become upset about it. Just let it happen and think about what’s causing it. 

The desire for sugar causes many cravings because you want the dopamine hit that comes from the sugar high. When it fades, you’ll feel depleted and want more. 

woman recording her meals how to mindfully manage your food craving

With other foods, your craving could come from positive associations with places or people you like. Whatever the reason, don’t judge yourself for the feeling and move toward acceptance. The time spent on this mental exercise gives the craving time to ease back.

6. Calm Yourself Before Eating

Mindfulness grants you the mental space to address the emotion driving your food craving. You don’t necessarily have to deny yourself the food, but you can pause before eating to calm down the emotional trigger. 

Take some deep breaths to release some tension from your body. You may find that you don’t want the food so much anymore or that you can enjoy the food for its own sake instead of needing it to fix your feelings.

7. Reflect on How Eating the Food Made You Feel

This mindfulness food exercise goes beyond the moment of tasting the food. Take time to assess your body’s reaction to the food after eating. 

Indulging cravings for foods you react badly to will probably not be rewarding. For example, sugar highs are notorious for being short-lived and leaving you tired and moody. 

Ask yourself before you give in to the craving if you really want to pay this price for the limited satisfaction of the snack.

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8. Pay Attention to How Full You Feel

If your food cravings cause you to overeat, mindfulness can help you detect that moment when your stomach fills up. 

Without mindfulness, you usually feel the discomfort and bloat of overeating after it’s too late to stop. You’re too caught up in the pleasure of the food to notice when you’ve gone too far. 

With practice, you’ll teach yourself to temper the desire to overeat with the knowledge of the consequences.

9. Accept That the Food Industry Wants You to Have Cravings

You do not have to restrict mindfulness to your thoughts and behaviors. It helps to know that your environment contributes to food cravings. 

Advertising from food marketers is everywhere on billboards, television, radio, and the internet. The ads make you think of food when you might not have had a craving. 

The ability to notice the impact that external food messages have on you empowers you to forgive yourself for having cravings.

10. Appreciate Your Food

Stopping to think about the flavor and texture of your food teaches you to appreciate the act of eating. You want to engage with the experience fully. 

This practice gradually makes you a fussier eater because you will develop higher standards. You want to eat food that delivers an excellent experience and will not want to waste your time on a mediocre experience.

11. Think About Where Your Food Came From

An enormous amount of economic activity is dedicated to agriculture, food processing, and retail sales to the consumer. 

choosing to eat healthy how to mindfully manage your food craving

When you think about it, civilization is mostly a complicated food production and distribution system. 

Imagining who grew the food and even what country it came from expands the experience from the mere indulgence of a craving. Food takes on new value in your eyes after you ponder its origins.

12. Avoid Distractions While Eating

Multitasking is the opposite of mindfulness. With mindfulness, you strive to focus on one thing at a time. 

At the heart of mindful eating is dedicating your attention to the activity. You don’t want to drive a car while shoving a taco in your mouth. Besides being messy, you can’t possibly appreciate the food the same way as if you sat down and paid attention to eating it. 

Each meal should be a tiny event in your day with food at center stage.

13. Think of Healthier Substitutes for the Foods You Crave

Your health is probably one of the reasons why you want to control your food cravings. Many people struggle with cravings for sweets, or they want to eat large portions. 

As you keep track of food cravings, think of less sweet foods that might satisfy you. Fruit is often a delicious way to neutralize a sugar craving. If you need to binge, choose something that might fill you up quickly.

14. Feel Proud When You Overcome a Food Craving

Meeting a goal, even a small one, is a psychologically rewarding experience. 

When you calm your mind and work past an issue prompting a food craving, take a moment to feel good about yourself. 

Remember this good feeling the next time a craving strikes. This tactic gives you a positive mental alternative to eating. Past success will lead to more success.

15. Take Your Time

Mindfulness does not happen in a day. It is a long journey that informs you about how your interactions with the world make you feel. 

Some food cravings come from bad habits, like stress eating or always putting food at the center of every social outing. 

Forging new habits and conquering food cravings require patience. Each moment of mindful eating reveals a new insight that strengthens your ability to eat with a clear purpose.

Are you having a hard time managing your food cravings? Read more of this infographic to learn how.

Final Thoughts

As a final note, food cravings are a part of life. Foods that you love will always entice you with their siren call. 

Management of food cravings is not about absolute denial. It’s okay to eat those treats sometimes. What matters is doing it with understanding and intention.       

Food cravings should have a limit. In this post, learn how to mindfully manage your food craving and start eating healthier food choices.

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