Did you ever return home from school feeling sad as a child, only to be given a cookie to cheer you up? Do you feel angry with yourself when you binge on junk food in front of the television, night after night?

While hundreds of diets and fads tell us what to eat and when, few help us grasp why we make poor food choices and what emotions and habits drive us there.

Craving Change™, a program designed by two Calgarians, is the first to answer these questions and give us tools to build a healthier relationship with food. The program—offered as a four-session group workshop for adults—is open to patients of doctors in the Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network.

Facilitator Shirley Sullivan, a health management nurse, says the feedback from participants has been overwhelming. “There’s a sense of ‘wow, I’ve really learned something new here,’ ” she says. “People come feeling there is something wrong with them, that they can’t overcome their eating challenges, and they learn they aren’t alone. They feel they’ve tried everything, but here they discover new strategies to try.”

1. Reasons why we eat

Wendy Shah, the registered dietitian who co-created Craving Change™, says the key is changing your thinking habits to change your eating habits. “As people become more aware of their personal eating triggers, they are better able to control their food cravings,” she said. “We have all learned, particularly in our childhood, to associate foods with something other than satisfying hunger.”

Take the stomach hunger, mouth hunger, heart hunger quiz below to find out more. Food can be used as a treat, a distraction or a soothing tool.


And here’s the good news: You can break the link between your personal eating triggers and your eating habits. But you do need to stop and think before you eat.

2. Try Strategies for change

The program’s “change buffet” of strategies offers tools to alter the way you think and behave. Techniques include nurturing yourself—taking a bubble bath to feel good instead of munching on a bag of chips—or distraction. Doing a different activity can shift your thoughts away from food cravings. A former teacher started an afternoon geneaology project to distract herself from her decades-old routine of a post-school treat.

Another participant, Karen Carlson, says she’s crocheted more blankets than usual this past month. “Yes, I’ve tried distraction,” she laughs. She’s also taken to eating her meals more slowly and savouring every bite. “It gives your brain time to connect with your stomach and let you know you are full.”

Other tips include the 80/20 rule—making good choices 80 per cent of the time and eating less healthy food guilt-free for the rest. “All or nothing thinking can be a real barrier,” program co-creator Colleen Cannon, a psychologist, says.

3. Allow yourself time to change your habits

Cannon says people underestimate how much time and energy it actually takes to make and maintain a change. She developed “slipping towards success” to help keep participants motivated. “See slips as an opportunity to be strategic and learn more about yourself and your behaviour,” she said. “It is absolutely normal to have lapses. Look at them with curiosity and you’ll get valuable information about what to try differently next time.” Participants are encouraged to set goals and be forgiving when they fall short.

Sullivan says it is wonderful to see people gain a sense of hope. “Many have struggled for decades and this program gives them the confidence to move forward and make realistic changes,” she said.

Learn more about Craving Change™ here.

To register for Craving Change™, use our online booking form.