Irrespective of how long a person has been in food addiction recovery, they are still vulnerable to cravings, triggered by people, places, and events, as the brain’s emotional centres ignite. Often caught unaware when least expected, triggers sadly contribute to relapse.
Yet, by incorporating craving control techniques and understanding how they can keep cravings at bay, your clients can attempt to stop cravings before these situations occur.
Here are some essential strategies to remain in control and avoid relapse.
1. Maintain Balanced Blood Sugar Levels
Did you know that there is a significantly higher risk of relapse when blood sugars are low? Research shows that low blood sugar decreases activity in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s decision-making centre, leading to hunger, irritability, and anxiety. Therefore, there is a direct correlation between blood sugar levels and self-control.
If your client engages in behaviours such as skipping meals or consuming sugary snacks or beverages, the issue will become exacerbated. However, a nutritious food plan including three meals a day based around the consumption of whole foods will help stabilise blood sugar levels, prevent crashing, and leave your client feeling fuller for longer.
2. Understand the Impact of Stress
Stress is an important aspect of our biological evolution. When we encounter stress, hormones including adrenaline and cortisol alert us of signs of danger and protect us as if we are under threat. When stress is prolonged or chronic, it puts our bodies in a state of hyper-vigilance.
When we encounter a state of alertness and stress hormones flood our body, did you know that high levels of cortisol increase appetite, sugar and fat cravings, and abdominal obesity? Elevated cortisol additionally leads to low energy levels, poor concentration, anxiety, depression, addiction, obesity, increased cholesterol levels, and hypertension.
Food addiction sufferers often establish stress-eating behaviours, also known as emotional eating. They turn to food for comfort and respond to the pleasurable release of dopamine, which highly palatable foods high in sugar and fat provide. Therefore, reducing stress is vital when decreasing cravings and establishing positive eating habits.
3. Practice Meditation
Decades of studies have evidenced that meditation reduces stress levels, increases self-control, and enhances brain function. What’s more, it has been proven that individuals struggling with addiction who meditate regularly are less likely to relapse.
If your clients struggle with cravings, encourage them to establish a daily meditation routine to build resilience, set intention, boost positivity, and foster a sense of groundedness. Even ten minutes a day makes a difference.
4. Engage in Breath Work
If a client is triggered or is entering a situation where they think cravings will occur, a simple breathing exercise can work wonders to calm the mind and nourish the spirit.
During periods of stress or anxiety, the body’s instinctive response is to decrease respiration, resulting in shallow breaths. This reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, which inhibits function resulting in a loss of self-control.
Taking deep, slow breaths restores the body to its natural calm state and will allow your client to think clearly and make healthy, positive choices in response to cravings.
Although regular exercise is important for our overall health and wellbeing, it also assists in the reduction of cravings.
Exercise, especially in nature, boosts mood and increases confidence. Exercise additionally helps to eliminate stress chemicals and moves us into a more relaxed, positive state.
Your clients may struggle to find the motivation or energy to exercise. Still, it is key they remember that once they engage in physical activity, feelings of resistance will fall away. Even gentle exercise such as a walk around the block, stretching, or practising yoga has enormous benefits in the counteraction of cravings.
We all know how beneficial sleep is, yet so few of us prioritise it. Lack of sleep is detrimental to our physical health, but did you know it also gives way to lethargy, anxiety, and irritability which increases the likelihood of cravings?
As a healthy sleep pattern is essential in helping a client avoid relapse, I recommend the following sleep hygiene routine:
- Set a schedule where they wake and fall asleep at roughly the same time each day.
- Establish a relaxing night-time regime to wind down. This could include reading, meditation, massage, or listening to relaxing music.
- Regular exercise, but not within the four hours before sleeping.
- Avoid any blue light from computers and mobile phones two to three hours before bed.
- Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks from late afternoon onwards.
- Avoid alcohol as high sugar levels interrupt the body’s natural sleep rhythm.
- Do not eat two to three hours before bedtime as digestion affects sleep.
7. Be Thankful
I ask all of my clients to create a list of all things they are grateful for in life. I carry this out early on in their treatment programme and revisit it at regular intervals to review any changes or additions. Often, clients are surprised at how many things they feel grateful for. Yet, when in the grips of a food addiction or craving, it can be challenging to find the positives or even see a future away from addiction.
Gratitude exercises are proven to alter brain function, reduce stress, and boost confidence, all of which will assist your client in tackling triggers when they arise.
Laughter truly is the best medicine! In fact, laughter triggers the following physical reactions:
- Reduction in stress hormones
- Increase in immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, lowering the risk of disease and infection.
- An influx of released endorphins that promote happiness and alleviate pain.
The road to recovery can seem long and arduous, and, all too often, this is approached with a sense of severity, fear, and trepidation. Encourage your clients to seek out the people and activities that give them joy and laughter as recovery should be motivating, inspiring, and something to celebrate!
9. Phone a Friend
Sometimes, we all just need a helping hand. Asking for help can be difficult for many, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, asking for help is an integral aspect of the recovery process.
To assist your client, create a buddy support sheet made up of people who encourage them on their journey to food freedom. These must be people who will unwaveringly offer support and words of advice. If your client is triggered or fears being triggered, these will be the people they can call for a motivating pep-talk!
10. Use the H-A-L-T Technique
An acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, H-A-L-T is a powerful strategic technique that helps clients prepare for the daily obstacles life may throw at them. Advice and guidance following this technique may include:
- Don’t get hungry – Instead of going hungry, your client should eat three nutritious meals a day.
- Don’t get angry – Assist your client in understanding how to prevent negative thinking patterns, such as anger, resentment, and sadness, from taking control.
- Don’t get too lonely – This is where the support team comes in. By having a social network, or buddy support sheet, your client will have people they can turn to and bounce off.
- Don’t get too tired – Encourage your client to have sleep on their list of priorities.
Food addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that requires early intervention and a person-centred approach to treatment. Recovery is a life-long process, and, as health and fitness professionals, it is our duty to equip the client with the skills, tools, and strategies they need to remain on the journey to health and joy.
To discover how to help your clients live a life of food serenity free from food addiction, join my accredited Food Addiction Accelerator Programme tailored to those working in the professional wellness industries.
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