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How to Control Eating Urges

By Carolyn Robbins ; Updated July 18, 2017

Eating food -- particularly sweet or fatty treats -- triggers a powerful rewards pathway in the brain designed to make you repeat pleasurable experiences. Each time you eat something tasty, the rewards pathway is reinforced, making your urge to eat stronger. Not surprisingly, the same brain circuitry is involved in drug and alcohol addictions, but you can't simply give up food to diminish your impulses. There are, fortunately, other approaches to managing your urge to eat.

  1. Address your emotions. As a child, your parents may have offered you a treat to allay feelings of loneliness, fear, boredom or sadness. Treating emotions with food rapidly becomes an ingrained habit. Think about when your urge to eat is the strongest. Is it when you are missing a friend or angry at a coworker? Instead of reaching for a bag of pretzels, use constructive techniques to cope with your feelings. You might go for a walk to dissipate anger or call a friend to alleviate loneliness.

  2. Distract yourself. Certified hypnotist Erika Slater, director of Free At Last Hypnosis, recommends a simple visualization technique. Think of a memory or an image that gives you positive feelings. Hold the image in your mind while breathing deeply -- a four count inhalation and a six count exhalation. Tap the inside of your hand near the pinky side while you breathe. Repeat the exercise four to five times or until the urge to eat passes.

  3. Practice "urge surfing." Drug and alcohol addicts are taught a technique called "urge surfing," which helps them notice and accept their urges rather than push them away. Fighting your cravings often heightens the urge to eat and will result in feelings of failure if you succumb. Accepting your urges as thoughts not requiring action may give you some detachment and allow the cravings to dissipate.

  4. Treat your body respectfully. Cravings and an intense urge to eat may be the result of restrictive dieting, according to Columbia Health. If you are trying to lose weight, don't be overly zealous. Eat regular meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar stable. Incorporate all the major food groups into your diet and avoid programs which require you to cut out carbohydrates or fat.

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