disordered eating help » when the craving hits

Tools for when the craving hits …
when the obsession won’t stop …
and the urge to overeat or binge is strong …

These tools can work before, during or even after the moment of temptation.

It’s better to use the tools to prevent a binge. But if you’ve already started, these tools can help you minimize the damage.

All of these tools involve becoming more aware of what you are doing, thinking and feeling – and being able to intervene at any point.

Find the ones that work for you.

1. PAUSE before grabbing

2. LEAVE the situation

3. DISTRACT yourself

4. TUNE IN to your feelings


1.  PAUSE before grabbing

The pause – however brief – gives you a chance to change direction


          • head for the kitchen
          • go into the store
          • open the fridge or cupboard
          • put that item in your grocery cart

This all sounds so easy. If you could do any of the above, you wouldn’t have a problem! Here are some simple ways to pause:

Breathe – become aware of just one deep breath in, and then out again. If you want to do another – great.

Count from 1 to 10. Or count backwards. Or try it in another language.

Rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. Rate your desire to eat. Your hunger may be a 3, and your desire to eat may be a 7. Make a note of that at some point. The findings could be useful.

Pray – if you are so inclined, ask for spiritual help, and the strength and/or courage to resist.

Regardless of what you do after the pause, remember to give yourself lots of credit just for pausing. You are training your brain, and it will eventually pay off.

Note that the PAUSE tool is about pausing, not stopping. This is important.

While you may need to pause many times before you are able to not binge, note that your brain is gradually building and strengthening a connection to the idea of pausing.

But then a time will come when you are able to use the pause to make a different choice. And that is a moment to honor and celebrate. It is no small thing!


 2.  LEAVE the situation

If you are tempted to indulge when you aren’t even hungry, one of the most effective methods
is to remove yourself from the temptation.  Walk away!

Close the fridge, cupboard, door or drawer

Walk out of the kitchen, room, store,restaurant

If you think you might be hungry, but aren’t sure, LEAVE THE SITUATION for a few minutes so you can figure it out.  Ask yourself

          • When was the last time you ate?
          • If you are hungry, is the food you were contemplating the wisest choice?
          • If you are not hungry, then what is really going on?
          • Does HALT apply (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)?

3.  DISTRACT yourself

distract yourselfDistraction is probably the best-known tool in the emotional eating toolbox, because it is so effective.

Here are the top 5 ways to DISTRACT YOURSELF from a food craving or desire to eat emotionally. Note that all of them use senses other than taste.


Express your feelings

          • Paint a picture, draw or doodle
          • Write in a journal
          • Sing

Move your body

          • Stretch
          • Walk
          • Dance
          • Do a yoga pose

Use your eyes

          • Read – a newspaper, magazine, something inspirational
          • Look at a plant, tree, flower

Use your ears

          • Listen to music, a book, podcast or talk radio
          • Get quiet and listen to the sounds of your house

Immerse yourself

          • Get lost or involved in a project, sport or activity
          • Tidy your room

You could probably add a few distracting activities of your own.

Note that distraction is an age-old behavioral technique, and a form of positive reinforcement.  Just do something  that gives you pleasure or relief  (key payoffs of emotional eating)  and takes your mind off  food, craving, wanting to eat, etc.


4.  TUNE IN to your feelings

Feeling your emotions is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially when you are wanting or craving food.

If you can LEAVE the food situation or DISTRACT yourself — great! That will give you the time and space to assess how you feel. But, if leaving isn’t an option, whether you binge or not, at some later point it is important to TUNE IN


First, try to locate where the physical feeling is in your body — the feeling of wanting to eat.  Is it in your throat, heart or stomach area, shoulders, back?  Stay with the feeling.

Rate the intensity of the physical feeling (from 1 to 10)

Notice if any emotions come to the surface, try to locate where the emotions are in your body, and rate their intensity

Can you name the emotion or feeling?  If so, then make a few simple statements:

          • I am feeling ………. right now.  
          • I can tolerate feeling …….. right now.

The truth is, actual feelings are not as difficult to tolerate as we imagine.  But they become more difficult when negative and fearful thoughts are included in the mix.

Sometimes our heads spin with too many thoughts at once, and we feel overwhelmed.  When that happens, it is best to distract yourself with something other than food (if possible), until you can find some time (and a safe place) to sort things out.



This tool involves a relationship with another and communicating in some way with that other – whatever way suits you best.

When you CONNECT with another (instead of the food) you are involved in a form of distraction, but one that’s a two-way street.  You get to express something and get something back …

          • With a person or pet
          • With a friend or family member:  via text message, email, phone call or in person
          • Online: using social media or a bulletin board for people with emotional eating issues, or some other concern that’s on your mind
          • With yourself and/or your spiritual source: say a prayer or a mantra, or affirmations


For research and articles on cravings, click here

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