Chocolate, cheese or crisps? What’s the hardest food for your clients to resist?
When I ask fellow professionals what would most benefit their work with weight loss clients, it’s overcoming cravings that tops the list.
There’s a growing body of psychological research into craving for a specific food. It’s super useful to know about it if your work involves helping people change how they eat. The research hasn’t been widely shared yet, but I’d like to change that.
I’m on a mission to tell fellow clinicians about the amazing research that our academic colleagues do on all aspects of the psychology of eating, appetite and weight loss, so we can help more people achieve their goals
What does giving in to cravings do to people?
Clients often tell me that being unable to resist say, chocolate, leaves them feeling weak-willed. Other people can say ‘no’, so why can’t I? Comparing themselves with others unfavourably, reinforces a negative self image. Resisting cravings becomes a badge of success or failure.
When clients talk about their history of repeated dieting, the story usually goes that they started a diet well and resisted temptations. But before long, being reminded of a much-loved food became an irresistible longing and they gave in. Because this meant breaking the rules of the diet they were following, this led to a sense of having failed and the unhappy cycle continues.
Do your clients tell you similar stories?
Of course, it’s likely that individuals vary in the intensity of their cravings, based on many factors including gut hormones, brain reward pathways and life circumstances. So I think it’s important that we don’t assume what we have to offer will serve everyone. But being able to explain what happens in our minds when we crave that chocolate bar helps make sense of the experience. And it opens the way for a discussion about whether your client would like to know more about cravings and how to manage them.
Research on cravings
It’s good news time.
There’s a huge amount of work across academic and clinical specialties looking at why we crave what we do and how we can stop eating in response to these cravings.
Smithson and Hill (2017) carried out an online survey of 2,932 participants of Slimming World groups over a 7-week period and found that eating in response to food cravings was a significant predictor of weight change. They concluded that it is the behaviour that follows food cravings rather than simply the frequency or intensity of those cravings that contributes to successful weight maintenance.
The other good news is that in recent years effective psychological strategies and techniques have been developed and these can be learned and adapted to your clinical practice.
Offering your client evidence-based techniques is good for your working relationship
Something that is really valuable to clients is feeling a greater sense of control of eating. When your client finds that they can, after all, pass on the nibbles at a party, or enjoy their evenings without grazing, they’ll feel more in control. Being able to choose when to enjoy a favourite snack feels good, especially when they’ve felt overwhelmed by its allure in the past.
Want to learn more about how to help people overcome cravings?
Because of the huge interest in the topic when I run my regular Psychology of Weight Loss workshops for professionals, I’ve developed a new Masterclass on “How to help your clients overcome food cravings”.
Join my Cravings Masterclass
I’ll be running this Masterclass for the first time on the mornings of 11th and 12th November 2021, online, and tickets are available here. It’s open to professionals of all backgrounds whose work involves helping people change how they eat. The Masterclass is approved by the British Psychological Society for the purposes of Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Feedback from previous workshops
It was very informative and incredibly inspiring.
I really enjoyed the mixture of theory, case studies and clinical experience
One of the most useful workshops I have been to in years!
Smithson and Hill (2017) It is not how much you crave but what you do with it that counts: behavioural responses to food craving during weight management. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71: 625-30