The Truth About Cravings

By Trevour Strudwick CH, MNLP

PendulumAs a Consulting Hypnotist with several years’ experience and having worked with hundreds of people on a number of different substance related issues such as smoking, weight loss and alcohol moderation, I think I’ve finally come to understand the cause of the problem and what the real enemy is. It’s not the chocolate cheese cake, the glass of wine or the smokes. It’s a little thing I like to call – The Craving.

It is much easier to blame something that we can touch, taste, feel and smell such as an external trigger. But in reality The Tempter is much more insidious. It lives within us and can strike anytime, seemingly from anywhere and compels us to act out old patterns and behaviours. It is an internal trigger which is much more difficult to detect because it is so subjective. All we know is that we feel how we feel and we want what we want.

So lately I’ve started to view different things like painful memories from the past, regrets, guilt and even cravings, not as actual things in and of themselves, but more like ghosts that have no power or substance – unless we choose to feed them, that is.

For instance, you can’t hold a craving in your hand, buy one in a store or watch one on TV. If I asked you to draw me a picture of one – the chances are that unless you were some kind of conceptual artist, you wouldn’t be able to do it. And this is important to consider as we begin to make a paradigm shift and collapse the craving in upon itself.

Most strategies for change, particularly when it comes to indulgences of any kind, tend to point the finger at the external trigger and provide you with strategies to resist. Even a lot of successful strategies and scripts in hypnosis seek to change your relationship and/or understanding of external triggers. But in this situation, we’ve been putting all the blame on the gun, and not the one who pulls the trigger.

So what I propose in this blog is that it is the actual craving itself that must be challenged, and this is easier than you think, because it’s not actually a thing. It’s more of a memory and a predictable one at that. Here are some things you might not know about cravings:

1.       Cravings have a definite cycle to them. They first start out as a whisper intended to remind you “It’s time to do that thing we like to do.” If you try to ignore it, it just calls back again, only this time much stronger – more demanding. Like a collection agency. “FEED ME!” It’s at this point that people usually cave. Resisting this louder call usually results in an even stronger impulse rising from within, and if you still refuse to feed it – it just stops. Poof! Like a balloon that popped. And the person is no longer nagged by the phantom voice, at least not until the next time.

The point being that a craving can only grow so large. Once it’s reached its peak, it short-circuits and goes away. As time progresses, cravings become less frequent and less intense until they stop completely.

2.       Most cravings die after 2 minutes. Years ago when I was first starting out I came across a paper that said extensive research had been done on cravings and that no craving lasts longer than 2 minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read that and I haven’t been able to find it again, but I will post the source if I come across it. Regardless, the relatively short-lived nature of a craving is the key behind the wisdom to ‘distract yourself’ or ‘do something else’. You’ll be back to normal in no time.

3.       We are genetically designed to have cravings. They let us know there’s something missing – such as water or specific nutrients and foods as part of a larger, overall survival instinct. When people become habituated to artificial stimulants such as sugar, alcohol, nicotine or other chemicals, the body learns to accept them as ‘normal’ and when reserves are running low, it sends strong urges and impulses as a way of reminding us to ‘fill up’. Of course this is a maladaptive use of an adaptive function and can get in the way of breaking free from unhealthy habits. Gently coaxing and retraining the body by giving it lots of what it really needs such as water, fresh air, fresh fruits and vegetables and plenty of exercise is usually the behavioural antidote to the craving.

This may all be very well and good, but the reality is that the anxiety, pressure and discomfort of The Craving is enough to bring even the strongest willed people to their knees as they give in to it again and again, hoping to appease its wrath.

So let’s do a bit of reframing, i.e. let’s change the context. I’ve already explained how a craving isn’t an actual thing. It is not a person standing there with a gun to your head, nor is it a street gang threatening your mortal safety nor a house on fire. It is an impulse. A memory if you will. A memory of something that used to happen. At first a whisper, but then, it starts to get bossy, not unlike a bratty, demanding child or an outright bully. If we use the bratty child as a metaphor, I could ask if you would put such a child (or any child) in charge of your decisions, your home, your relationships, your business, your bank accounts, etc.? Of course, the answer is no. No one in their right mind would do that. A child is to be gently, but firmly disciplined so that s/he will learn right from wrong. So should cravings that work on instant gratification. It is a creative way to develop impulse control.

If we go with the metaphor of the bully, we could ask how much longer you plan to surrender your lunch money…to something that doesn’t actually exist? With a bully, there are 2 conventional approaches:

1.       Stand up to them

2.       Avoid them altogether

Both are excellent strategies when it comes to beating The Craving.

When we start to give The Craving form and personality, we can separate it from ourselves and dissociate in a very useful way. Instead of identifying with it in the first person per “I could kill for an XYZ right about now” we can reframe the context to the idea that this is someone else’s bratty child kicking up a stink or a bully whose bad behaviour doesn’t deserve to be rewarded.

Here are a couple of tips to help you conquer the enemy within:

1.       Realize there is no gun being put to your head. A craving is not an actual thing. It may feel like you’re going to die, but you won’t. Give it a couple of minutes and it will pass.

2.       Depersonalize The Craving by separating it from yourself. Look at the urge or the impulse as if it was a separate being from yourself, such as an obnoxious child you don’t much care for or some other person trying to con and coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do. You can even assign a specific identity to it such as someone you really dislike and don’t want to have anything to do with. It can be helpful to imagine the emotional discomfort of the craving drifting out of yourself and into an imagined image of this person and telling it in whatever words come naturally to ‘Get the heck away!’. (F-words are my usual go to…)

3.       All the usual stuff. Deep breathing, drinking water, distractions, etc. until the urge passes. It will get better over time.

By addressing the internal trigger that we have come to call ‘The Craving’ we can more effectively resist the external trigger, whatever that may be. This is a powerful exercise that can assist you, not only in achieving your goal, but one which can lead to self-mastery in a number of areas in your life and the imaginary ghost that haunts our mental/emotional hallways will fade away into the past, never to bother you again.

Peace. Trevour.