Sure, eating clean and cutting out all things sugary, salty and crunchy sounds easy enough in theory. But when a craving hits hard, all theories melt away. You drown in the moment, in the wanting, in the need to have it. Next thing you know, you’ve hit the greasy bottom of the now emptied barbeque corn chips bag that was only just a fantasy dancing in your head a few minutes earlier.
When a bad food craving hits, how do you keep your head on straight and win the weight loss war?
A recent research study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors suggests a quirky 3 minute cure for cravings that, while unconventional, could provide you with a quick and dirty tool that takes the edge off an intense craving that threatens to take you and your very best weight loss intentions down with it.
And it’s right at your fingertips – once you’ve downloaded the free game app onto your smart phone, that is.
Trim Down with Tetris?
Attempting to keep their study of human behaviour natural and outside of a laboratory setting, Australian researchers monitored 31 university students throughout the day. The students were sent SMS messages at regular intervals throughout the day, encouraged to report any feelings of craving as they experienced it. Then, those that reported being in the midst of a craving experience were prompted to play Tetris, a classic block-shifting puzzle game, on their smart phones for 3 minutes.
The researchers found that just 3 minutes of Tetris playing was not only sufficient to significantly reduce cravings for food, but it also reduced indulgence of drugs, cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol, sex, sleep, and other activities people often report are hard to resist because of sudden feelings of craving. The research showed that a 3 minute gaming stint weakened cravings by as much as one-fifth, demonstrating how cognitive interference can be used in a natural setting to help steer people away from bad habits and unwanted behaviours.
“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” says Professor Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute of Plymouth University. “Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time….As a support tool, Tetris can help people manage their cravings in their daily lives and over extended time periods.”
Kicking Cravings to Lose Weight and Reach Your Goals
Essentially, the researchers are describing the science of distraction – keep your brain and body too busy to wander off into fantasy-double-stuffed-FudgeeOs-daydream territory. This idea isn’t new, and you’ve likely found, in your own life, that cravings and hunger are far less of an issue when you’re very busy or on the move.
But because common desk jobs and other lifestyle constraints force many of us to spend long hours sedentary or occupied with less mentally and physically demanding tasks, vices like a 3 minute smart phone game could at least lend a hand in keeping your head cool in the face of sudden cravings. Anything that can pull you out of that immediate sense of emotional urgency can provide just the right amount of distance to re-group, to calm the craze and turn your rational mind back on to re-focus on your weight loss program and ultimate lifestyle goals.
If Tetris isn’t your thing, find something else that you can keep on hand and bring out at an instant when a craving hits. It should be something that requires rational thinking and absorbs you both mentally and physically for several minutes. For some ideas, check out these Mind Tricks to Break the Snacking Habit.
A toolbox of quick and easy strategies such as these can help you start to alter the habitual eating behaviours that are getting in the way of reaching your weight loss goals. And, with time, the ceasing of the old patterns will start to re-wire your brain, making it easier and easier to turn away from the lifestyle that is holding you back, and to adopt the new, healthy lifestyle that can lead to a brighter and happier future.