I have worked with many people in the past on cravings with some success, but sometimes there is an exception and recent research may be pointing to the reason why.
When we work on cravings we get the person to sniff the chocolate taking in the aroma and we may well tap on the enjoyment we are going to have, knowing also that we are going to eat the chocolate.
But there is one missing piece in the treatment process and that is that over many many years we have built up anticipation of getting the reward, so that when we see chocolate or other confectionery we have a spike or rush. This has been created over years of conditioning and sugar companies use this to their advantage, so when you see the wrapper you are already high and that is caused by the anticipation, not just the eating of it.
This was discovered when experimenting on monkeys who would look at a monitor that had different coloured shapes on it, and each time a certain colour or shape was shown this was a cue for the monkey to pull a lever, and the monkey would be rewarded with sugary juice that would flow into its mouth. When the experimenter looked back at the results they realised that the monkey would spike with a chemical high each time the shape appeared because it was anticipating the reward of having the sugary juice.
Also, interestingly when they changed the experiment and did not give the juice when the monkey saw the shape and pulled the lever, he would get angry and agitated. So there was an addiction to the substance emerging. This is why sugar can become so addictive, but we don’t realise we are becoming addicted.
Our brains run on autopilot and we go the shops, see the packaging, feel pleasure because of the anticipation and then buy the product. This process can be the same with exercise, or in many areas.
You have a cue, then the monkey pulls the lever. That’s the routine and then the reward. Cigarettes – the cue is the packet – the routine unwrapping of the packet – and then the reward – putting the cigarette in your mouth and smoking it.
So when working on what really is an addiction process it is important to work on what cues a person has to even start the behaviour.
This is why when watching programs on weight control, I have sometimes been left confused as the person trying to lose the weight would say it was three in the morning and they had to raid the fridge to eat the chocolate, and my thought was that, especially if they lived on their own, why did they buy the sweets in the first place from the shop, take them home and keep them in the fridge? Surely they should not be buying them anyway?
This cue and reward process may explain the behaviour.
We also have to acknowledge the emotional factors, an example would be the woman who could not stop eating donuts. For some reason even after many sessions of tapping she could not let go of this behaviour and it turns out that recently her mother died and one of the things her mother did for her was to make her donuts.
So donuts equalled love and was a way of keeping her mother alive. So cravings can be very complex and need the skill of a good practitioner to uncover the core behind the behaviour.