A recent review out of City, University of London, concludes that new mindfulness strategies may help curb cravings for food and drugs, especially alcohol and cigarettes, by learning certain techniques to occupy short-term memory.
Regular mindfulness practices allow people to reduce their feelings of the need to react to cravings. The effects of different mindfulness strategies in experimental studies on cravings have found mindfulness strategies helped prevent or interrupt immediate cravings.
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Practicing Mindfulness to Overcome Cravings
The research, published in Clinical Psychology Review by author Dr. Katy Tapper, found that a craving, as defined as a strong conscious desire for food or a specific drug, is causally linked to behavior. The theory of craving predicts relapse episodes in drug cravings as continued substance use; food cravings are predicted by weight gain and eating. Psychologists point out that cravings are an appropriate subject for intervention.
Mindfulness has unique benefits when it’s practiced over an extended length of time. Mindfulness meditation practice has historically been used to help reduce cravings, going as far back as Buddhist-based models. Presently, mindfulness-based interventions have been used to pinpoint cravings with the goal of bringing awareness to behavior, and therefore making individual clinical changes to such behavior.
Mindfulness intervention strategies include exercises to promote greater awareness of present moment bodily sensations, and developing an attitude to accept uncomfortable feelings in the present. Individuals learn to see themselves as separate from their emotions and thoughts.
The Clinical Psychology Review research reviewed 30 studies that have looked at independent effects of mindfulness on cravings. The study by Dr. Tapper concluded that mindfulness strategies are most successful when they interrupt cravings by loading the working memory in response to relevant cues.
Immediate conscious acceptance strategies are successful in individuals’ inhibiting/interrupting craving responses; changing behaviors result in reducing cravings that occupy the mind in order to prevent or interrupt development of the initial cravings. The benefit of learning guided moment-imagery techniques has also shown promising results in a smaller number of studies.