How A Meltdown Can Help You Manage A Craving

Have you ever seen a little kid melting down in the grocery store? Begging for candy or some other treat…imploring Mom or Dad to give them what they want….NOW!!!! Have you ever felt a bit like that toddler when you’re hit with a food craving? You want something, you want it now, and your brain will not settle down until you get it. Sometimes that urge can be overwhelming, but you can train your brain to manage cravings, just like a parent can train a child not to melt down every time they impulsively want a toy or a treat. Here’s how it works…

As a mother, I learned (not as quickly as some!) that a screaming, demanding toddler can best be managed with acceptance. One could almost call it feigned indifference. There’s not much point in arguing, reasoning, begging, bribing, cajoling, or (heaven forbid) giving in! The best approach to help a child move past a melt down is to calmly accept the situation and wait it out. By neither escalating, nor giving in, the toddler begins to learn that a temper tantrum does not result in the desired toy, treat, or attention, and is not worth the drama. A temper tantrum will eventually wind down. Without reinforcement (giving in), the temper tantrums happen less often. So it goes with your own internal melt down over wanting a treat. Not giving into a craving or an urge may be as possible as surviving your child’s melt down. It’s not fun, but it’s manageable, and each time to observe it calmly without acting on the urge, you train your brain not to eat impulsively.

When hit with an urge or a craving, you might think to yourself, “I see you…I hear you…I understand you’re trying to get my attention. Although I’m aware of your presence, I don’t need to act on this urge. I don’t need to give in.” Just like you’re not giving in to your child demanding something in a store, you’re not giving in to your brain demanding a treat right now.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a treat, by the way. It simply means you won’t be having it impulsively. You can plan it for another time. You can plan it for tomorrow. This is the thrust of acceptance therapy, as it relates to cravings or urges. And just like temper tantrums wind down on their own over time, a craving will also peak and then begin to decrease, often in less than half an hour. You can use that time to distract yourself to make it easier to exist with the craving, if that helps.

So, mother yourself (or father yourself) when it comes to urges. See them. Hear them. Acknowledge them. Accept them. But recognize that if you give into them, you are setting yourself up for trouble the next time, because your brain wants to do what it’s used to. If it learns that screaming louder results in a treat, it’s going to keep yelling until you give in. But if you train your brain that no amount of begging and craving something will result in capitulation, your brain will eventually move on and stop demanding treats impulsively. Train your brain! You can do it! It just takes some practice.

One last reminder….be sure you schedule some treats so you aren’t feeling too diet-y or deprived. Acceptance therapy isn’t about making treats forbidden, it’s about accepting that you aren’t going to have anything you want, whenever you want it. You are in control of the situation and you have authority over when you schedule a treat. Remember, this takes practice, but just like learning to manage a toddler’s temper tantrum, you can practice until you get skilled at managing any urge or craving. You’ve got this!

Thanks for listening. I wish you the best of health!
Lisa Oldson



Categories: Reblogs

1 reply

  1. Dr. Lisa,
    This post was really helpful. I work with young children, and I have 2 kids of my own, so I absolutely understand what you are saying. It’s been really hard lately, while staying safely at home, to not give in to the urges to have treats. My brain has definitely been throwing those temper tantrums. I think what you wrote about will help me to distract myself and work on retraining my brain. This makes sense to me. Thank you!

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