Craving foods, cigarettes or alcohol? – mindfulness could help



I keep my eye on the All in the Mind podcast from the ABC – its all about the mind, and mental health and all that juicy brain stuff.

I saw the other day that they interviewed psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer, who is an expert on addictions.

He was talking about cravings.

Cravings are a strong, edgy feelings of needing to do something or needing to consume something.

Cravings are common and varied. I’ve personally experienced cravings for chocolate, chips, and alcohol in my short calorie-dense life. These cravings can start to feel a little out of control at times, like an addiction, something we can’t stop.

The origins of craving/addiction likely lie in “reward systems” in the brain. Humans are very quick to learn when they find something that brings sustenance or pleasure (activates dopamine), and will continue to seek out those things. This reward system was incredibly valuable when food and pleasure sources were scarce. It helped us remember where we found them.

Unfortunately, modern society is full of things that can trigger that dopamine reward system such as different foods, alcohol, drugs, and social media.

Feel stressed –> drink alcohol –> feel better –> focus on obtaining and using alcohol

Feel stressed –> smoke a cigarette –> feel better –> focus on obtaining and using cigarettes

Feel stressed –> check social media –> feel better –> focus attention regularly on social media

Rather than attempt to remove these items from our lives, Judson has been involved in the development of programs that instead use mindfulness techniques to help people better understand cravings.

What he’s found is that the more you encourage people to sit with cravings – note how they feel, where in the body these cravings appear to come from, the sensations they bring, and the thoughts and behaviours they lead to – the better they are able to resist those cravings.

Judson’s scientific work has led to two publicly available programs for quitting smoking and coping with food cravings .

These programs combine psycho-education on cravings and habits, training in mindfulness techniques, personal coaching and support from an online community.

Worth a look.

Unfortunately, these programs come at a cost (starting at US$25 a month), which might prevent some of you accessing them. However both include 4-day free trials, so you can experience the basics of the program before committing any money.

If you’d just like to read a little more about the underlying science of these programs, check out Judson’s Huffington Post articles.

Want to comment on this article, or ask me a question about the health and well-being services available to you as a student? Feel free to comment below, abuse me on Twitter (@Dr_Furber), contact me on Skype (search for ‘eMental Health Project Officer Gareth’), or email me ( Those trying to quit smoking should check out the Quit Website 

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