In Session with Deborah: Do Cravings Really Go Away?

Earlier in the week I had a session with my dieter, Jeremy, during which we talked mostly about cravings. In previous sessions, Jeremy and I had spent time discussing cravings and the fact that they go away one of two ways: either when he decides to give in to them, or when he decides to definitely NOT give in.  Through effort and practice, Jeremy had been able to prove to himself:

  • He is capable of not giving into cravings
  • Cravings go away, and they go away much more quickly when he gets distracted
  • He feels so much better and he is so proud of himself after the fact when he has stood firm

However, when Jeremy came in to see me this week, he told me that he has been struggling more with cravings lately and has been having a hard time making them go away completely.  I asked Jeremy to describe a situation in which this happened, and he told me that over the weekend, he and his wife held a birthday party for their daughter in which they served chocolate cake – Jeremy’s favorite.  Jeremy had planned in advance to have a slice of cake after dinner that night, knowing that he would enjoy it so much more if he ate it then, as opposed to at the party when he was responsible for supervising 18 six-year-olds. 

However, once dinner was over that night and he had had his planned cake and stowed the leftovers in the refrigerator, Jeremy started having a craving for more.  Jeremy was able to accurately label what he was experiencing as a craving (as opposed to hunger) because he knew he was feeling it in his mouth and not his stomach.  In order to combat the craving and distract himself, Jeremy got busy doing things like reading to his daughter, doing household chores, and catching up on one of his favorite television shows. Despite these distractions, Jeremy kept picturing the cake in his mind, beckoning to him from the refrigerator.  Jeremy felt frustrated because although the craving for cake would temporarily go away when he was distracted, it kept coming back throughout the rest of the night.  While he was ultimately able to stand firm (and asked his wife to bring the cake in to share with her colleagues the next day) he felt unsteady because his cravings never really went away that night.

Jeremy and I discussed this situation in session and I reminded him of times in the past when he has had a craving and has definitively said to himself, “No choice, I’m absolutely not giving in,” and the craving went away completely.  Jeremy confirmed that this was true and said he couldn’t figure out why that night with the cake was different.  I asked Jeremy to reflect back on what he said to himself each time he had a craving for the cake.  Did he definitely say to himself, “No way, I’m not having any,” or was it possible that each time he had a craving, he took a moment to consider the possibility of actually having the cake, and then was able to ultimately make the decision to not give in at that time.  Jeremy thought about it and recognized that because the cake was so good, and because it was his favorite, each time he thought about it he probably had a dialogue in his head that went something like, “Maybe I should have a little more cake. Just a little bit won’t hurt, and besides, it’s my daughter’s birthday.  No, you’re not supposed to have any more tonight.  But it was so good and it’s my favorite so maybe just this one time it’s okay.  No, you know that ‘just this one time’ doesn’t work and so you shouldn’t any more tonight.  But maybe it really would be okay, and besides, it would taste so good,” etc.  

Jeremy and I discussed this further and I pointed out to him how different and how much more indecisive that was from how he used to answer to cravings not that long ago.  He realized that the reason the craving probably never went away for good that night was because each time he had it, he gave himself the option of giving in, thus psychologically opening the door to more cravings.  Likely if Jeremy had been able to conclusively say NO to himself (like he has in the past), the craving wouldn’t have kept reoccurring because he would have sent himself the message, “no matter what, I’m not having any more.”   Jeremy left session armed with the knowledge that he can and does have the power to make cravings go away completely, but that one surefire way of making them continue is to think about giving in each time he has one.

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