Craving Intolerance

My client, Emily, has recently been having a very hard time dealing with the discomfort of having a craving or feeling hungry. When she gets a craving, or feels hungry, and it’s not time to eat, Emily has a running dialogue in her head that goes something like this: “I hate feeling this way. This sucks. I shouldn’t have to put up with this. If I just eat, this will go away.” And because this is what she’s telling herself (and not effectively responding to it) – Emily keeps giving in and eating food that’s not on her plan. This is causing Emily to take in extra calories every day, which is stopping her from being able to lose weight. While she’s not gaining weight (which is good!), she’s also not losing, and Emily really wants to lose weight.

We spent our session talking about discomfort intolerance and what was happening when Emily had that dialogue going in her head.

I reminded Emily of the hunger experiment that she did a few weeks ago (when she went from breakfast to dinner without eating anything to prove to herself that hunger comes and goes and that, at worst, it gets mildly physically uncomfortable) and what she learned from it. Emily told me that she knows she only experienced mild physical discomfort on that day, but that lately hunger (and cravings) were feeling worse to her.

woman holding cookie

I pointed out to Emily that it was unlikely that her hunger was causing her more physical discomfort right now (after all, she was getting much less hungry on a daily basis than she did during the hunger experiment) but what was very likely was that, because of what she was saying to herself, she was turning something that was mildly uncomfortable physically into something that was extremely uncomfortable psychologically. So it was true that Emily’s hunger and cravings were feeling much worse to her lately – not because they were worse physically – but because she was adding a huge dose of psychological discomfort.  When Emily feels hunger or a craving and says to herself, “This sucks; I hate feeling this way; I shouldn’t have to put up with this,” it magnifies the negativity and turns something that is, on a scale of 1 to 10, probably about a level 2 discomfort into something that she experiences as an 8 or a 9 level discomfort.

We realized what needed to happen here was not that Emily experience the physical sensations of hunger or cravings less, but that what when she does experience them, she doesn’t exacerbate the discomfort by adding in major psychological distress.

Emily made the following Response Card and committed to reading it at least once a day, plus every time she feels hunger or a craving:

This is mild discomfort! I can easily tolerate this. It’s important for me to tolerate it because doing so will enable me to reach my weight loss goals. Don’t turn something that is a 1 or 2 level discomfort into something that’s an 8 or a 9 discomfort by stressing about it. Go get busy and distracted and you will barely feel it, if at all. 

Hopefully this will help reset the dialogue in Emily’s head and help remind her that while hunger and cravings are uncomfortable, they’re not majorly uncomfortable, and the discomfort is worth putting up with because it will help her lose weight!

4 replies
  1. Barbara Kelly
    Barbara Kelly says:

    This is me. I crave things just for the taste. I need to recognize that I’m not hungry but just thinking and craving that taste.

  2. Rhonda Weidman
    Rhonda Weidman says:

    So helpful to read this. I need to get comfortable with my feeling of craving so i can avoid the binges I’ve been having lately!


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