Ask the Dietitian: Craving Candy

March 15, 2017

Q: I eat way too much candy, especially during exams. What should I do when I have cravings?

A: Become a surfer.

Dude - let me explain. The first step to becoming a surfer is to cut yourself some slack. Recognize that cravings are common, especially in stressful situations. For a complex set of reasons we don’t fully understand, physical or emotional distress usually increases our desire for foods high in fat and/or sugar - foods deemed “hyperpalatable” in the literature on the subject.

Next, make sure you’ve had a balanced meal and enough water to drink. Hunger and dehydration are important signals that your body needs some nourishment. The more you ignore these signals, the more likely you are to go overboard when you finally do attend to your needs. Take regular study breaks to move around, check in with your body, and have a healthy snack.

Now, for the surfing. If you’ve attended to your physical need for food and water, yet the strong desire for food, or a certain type of food, persists, you probably have a craving on your hands. This is your wave! It might be small and gentle, or as powerful as a big wave at Mavericks.

Jan Chozen Bays, in her book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, writes about the seven types of hunger: hunger of the eye, nose, mouth, stomach, cells, mind, and heart. If our automatic response to all these different types of hunger is to eat, our body begins to suffer consequences like weight gain, indigestion, or other health problems, while our true underlying need goes unmet. We may begin to feel frustrated or out of control, perhaps developing a love/hate relationship with food.

When the desire for food arises, take a moment to locate the desire in your body. If it’s in your stomach - an empty, grumbling, hungry stomach - then it’s time to eat! If it’s NOT in your stomach, but perhaps in your mouth or your mind - then pause for a moment. It’s time to surf.

Take deep relaxing breaths while you notice your craving intensify. It might feel uncomfortable or scary. But remember that, unlike big ocean waves, this type of wave will not kill you. Watch the craving build to a peak, and then feel it fall away. It might take a while for it to go away completely, but usually the most intense part the of the craving doesn’t last long.

Practice surfing your cravings often. You’ll get better and stronger, more confident in your ability to navigate the waves. Eventually, you might get stoked on surfing in other areas of your life too. Let me know what you discover, email me: tmorris@berkeley.edu.

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