3 Steps to Outsmart Cravings, Part 3

12/02/2013 03:32 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2014

Step Three: Get Your Real Needs Met
Back when I lived in New York City, I always had this feeling of excitement and possibility. I lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where exciting and weird things happened all the time. I saw famous people, I saw dead people, I went to crazy parties, there was always something happening.

Okay, so the dead people part wasn't that great, but my point is that my life was unpredictable, and I liked that.

Then I moved to the D.C. suburbs where I have to drive to get anywhere. I made my living in New York from media companies, and there aren't nearly as many media companies in D.C., so my employment options were limited.

I was away from friends and family, I was feeling really insulated and frankly, kind of bored when I moved down here. Like the possibilities for my life were closing down. Mostly I drove long hours back and forth so I could slave in a broom-closet of an office, no window. I just felt stifled.

Then after I got laid off, well, yikes. I felt like I'd reached a dead end. I didn't know where to go or what I could do. And that's when I began to gain weight, and fast.

One night, after dinner, I took a walk on a familiar trail near my house and I had this epiphany -- that I had been turning to food and fine wines as a distraction because these things gave me a false replica of that feeling I'd been seeking: the feeling of excitement and possibility I had in New York.

This was a HUGE lightbulb moment for me to connect the dots of what had been missing from my life and how I was trying unsuccessfully to get it. From this epiphany, I realized that I could problem-solve my excuses, lose weight, and improve my life, all at once.

A cascade of bad habits
I noticed that a big time for me to start snacking was that afternoon slump. A frequent excuse I used was, "I feel really sleepy. I just need a little something, a little snack, to wake me up." I was tired, and so I was looking for that afternoon comfort.

I had to step back and take a good look at the other habits I had that were contributing to that tired feeling in the afternoon.

I noticed that a glass of wine at dinner made me eat more at dinner, then I wasn't sleeping as well because I'd eaten too much; a domino effect led to skipped morning workouts. Morning workouts give you energy back, to fuel your days.

I had to get to the bottom of my excuses and see what problems I was trying to cover up by giving in to cravings.

Repeatedly giving in to cravings means you have unmet needs

In step three, we're going to get clear on how to dig beneath the surface of cravings and start getting happier and more fulfilled in life.

It's important to understand that when we frequently struggle with cravings, it's because we need something. These might be emotional needs, like:

Love, Belonging, Excitement, Fulfillment, Comfort, Confidence, Forgiveness, Freedom, Support, Respect, Trust, Understanding

Perhaps we need to practice giving ourselves the time or space to sort out feelings of anxiety or overwhelm.

Or we might need something physical like:

Rest, Sleep, Water, Fresh Air, Exercise, Relaxation

How can you get your needs met?
In this step, we're going to look back at the brain chatter of the excuses we heard in Step 2, Recognize Mindless Excuses, and we're going to figure out how to get our real needs met.

So, for example. If I say, "I'm too tired to cook. Let's order pizza." Guess what: I'm tired. I might not even need to eat because what I really need might be sleep. Our craving brain chatter is frequently total BS, but sometimes it offers clues as to what our real needs are.

We don't need unhealthy foods. We don't need alcohol. We don't need yet another pair of shoes. But when we have a craving for something like that, our brain gets busy convincing us of our need. But this disguises what we actually need!

If I had a terrible day, might I comfort myself in other ways? If there's a problem, I can face that issue head on and solve it. Or if there's nothing to be solved, there's always a healthier way to feel better. Maybe you just need to sit in the bathtub. Maybe you just need to write out your thoughts. Maybe you just need to take a walk.

Get to the root of what makes YOU happy
I know, it's far easier to order a pizza than it is to acknowledge that we don't like the way we set up our lives. But when we face whatever it is we really and truly need, on a deep level, instead of always giving in to cravings, then we can get to the root of what will really make us happy. And then guess what? We won't suffer from so many cravings!

Back to my example, of having the realization that I was giving in to cravings because I was kind of bored, because I had habits that were causing me to feel tired in the afternoon, and also because the default action of putting something into my mouth was basically my only means of stress relief: Now, all of those aren't problems I could solve overnight. I had to take a hard look at my life, and I realized that I had the potential to make my life big and exciting and to put myself out there and push past my comfort zone.

I still live in the same place geographically, but I now have that feeling of excitement and possibility back in my life because I'm always extending myself, reaching out to new people and pursuing lots of exciting opportunities.

We all have the Internet; we can all make the connections we want and change our lives in whatever direction we want. If you disagree with me, then remember this:

You're only limited by the size of your inferiority complex.

So the third exercise is this: When you have a craving, figure out what you really need, whether it's an emotional need, or a physical one, or both. And set about getting those needs met! You'll be much happier for it.

Commit to the practice
The exercises I've shared with you in this three-part series are practices. You won't just do this once, and think, "Oh yay me, I can cross cravings off the list, I'll never give in again." You're going to have to keep reminding yourself.

Dopamine is a powerful chemical, and your brain wants you to forget about everything I'm telling you. It wants you to keep your habits to conserve energy -- that's the brain's goal. So it's a little bit of an uphill battle, but the rewards of practicing are worth it, because it does get easier over time.

When I was putting together the content that I'm sharing with you right now, in front of me I had a plate of French fries. After taking a few mindless bites, I had to consciously shut down my laptop, put away my phone, and turn my complete attention and focus to the meal in front of me. I had to very consciously remind myself to commit to the practice.

If I didn't put everything away so I could just sit and concentrate on eating, I can guarantee you I would have popped more fries into my mouth than I needed.

But because I narrowed my focus to chewing my food and really tasting it and enjoying it, I was able to stop eating when I felt perfectly satisfied.

And you will find, as you start paying closer attention to whatever it is you crave, that it's usually not as great as you've been making it out to be, once you become fully aware, sitting in your seat of consciousness, and looking clearly at the craving, the behavior, and the real "in-the-moment" experience -- plus how you feel afterwards! -- the whole big picture doesn't measure up in reality and this makes it a lot easier to ignore cravings.

Here's the thing: I love good food. I love eating at restaurants. I'm a hedonist at heart. I'm not going to stop enjoying food. But what is the point in doing that if we aren't fully present to and fully appreciative of what's right in front of us?

When we're not paying attention to our pleasures in life, and we're not feeling grateful for them, the irony is that we shovel it all in without thinking, and then we want more! The less we slow down to appreciate our indulgences, the more we consume!

When we slow down, pay attention, and appreciate the objects of desire, the less we overindulge and suffer negative consequences. Strange but true.

Now go forth, and outsmart your cravings.

Katie Morton helps people overcome sabotaging and numbing behaviors in order to live big, blissful lives. Get her free eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful Life, to learn how to break bad habits and start living big.

For more by Katie Morton, click here.