Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Read: Craving

Why do we crave food when we're not hungry?  Why do we take that sip of alcohol or puff of smoke, when we know it is detrimental to our health?  Why are we unable to say "no" to certain behaviors that leave us unhappy in the end?  And, more importantly, how can we modify our brain and behavior to overcome these compulsions and lead happier, freer lives?

These questions, and more, are answered in the brand new book CRAVING: Why We Can't Seem to Get Enough by Omar Manejwala, M.D (Hazelden Publishing, 2013).

Available on Amazon

Sure, it's got a catchy title and attention-grabbing cover, but this book is packed with science, research, and useful insights about cravings.  Manejwala defines "craving" as a "strong desire that, if unfulfilled, produces a powerful physical and mental suffering" (p. 2).  Throughout the book, this definition is shown to include food cravings, nicotine cravings, shopping cravings, OCD, and addiction to alcohol and drugs.  As Chapter 1: Craving: Why it Matters explains, cravings for these things can become very serious and really hinder and harm a person's life--and the lives of their loved ones.  For that reason, this book is not limited to a certain audience.  Anyone who either experiences or is close to someone who has experienced cravings or addictions has something to learn from this book.

I certainly thought I could learn a thing or two, so when the author and Hazelden Publishing kindly offered me a chance to read an advance copy of CRAVING, I accepted without hesitation.  He pointed out that conquering cravings is one way to become healthier, so it's a dare worth exploring.  According to the press release, some of the questions Manejwala covers in CRAVING are:

  • How and why do our brains drive our behavior?
  • What are the warning signs that a craving is evolving into an addiction?
  • Why is craving the most difficult component of addiction to address?
  • How can we change the parts of the brain that fuel our cravings?
  • What are some beliefs about cravings that recent research has disproven? (For example, it's not necessarily true that we want what we can't have.)
  • What simple steps can we take that can aid in the longer-term process of living without constant craving?

These questions sounded interesting, so I dove headfirst into the new book.  Read more to learn what was inside....

In CRAVING, Dr. Manejwala first explains the science--the brain chemistry involved in cravings--and then gives tangible examples from his personal experience in the field of psychiatry and addiction medicine.  Chapters include:

  • Beyond Neurotransmitters: The Real Brain Science of Craving and Decision-Making
  • Addiction is Addiction: How Gambling, Food, Sex, Alcohol, and Drug Addiction Are Related
  • Plasticity: How Thoughts, Actions, and Experiences Actually Change Your Brain

Once the physiological nature of cravings is understood, he goes on to explain how it forcefully impacts behavior and describe the ways that various interventions, therapies, and treatment programs work to mediate these cravings.  Further, he accounts for why these types of programs are and are not effective, and how people can reap the most benefit and avoid the dangers.  These chapters include:

  • Spirituality and Recovery: How Twelve Step Recovery and Other Spiritual Approaches Reduce Cravings
  • You Can't Do It Alone: Why Groups Can Reduce Urges and Improve Behaviors That Individuals Can't
  • The Naive Perception of Immunity
  • Apparently Irrelevant Decisions (AID): How Simple Actions Can Reduce Craving

There's a lot of interesting information here!  I was interested in the section on why group support is effective, but also the ways in which things can go wrong. His advice on how to select the best group for you (which varies based on personal needs) can help those seeking recovery ensure their best odds as success with group support and therapy.  He also includes words of wisdom from those who have been there, noting that the attitude change is key.  For example, he notes the old-timer recommendation that you "Go until you want to go, and then go some more."  Manejwala writes, "The actions you take to produce recovery will themselves be as desirable to you as the thing you originally craved" (p. 136).  

In addition to finding others with a similar problem and establishing a sense of belonging, he also notes how meditating and volunteering can reduce cravings.  I dog-eared far too many pages to share it all with you here, so check out the book for yourself.  There are so many factors at play in cravings and addiction, but Manejwala leaves no stone unturned! 

Finally, he concludes with a chapter on "Joy, Hope, and Recovery," where he highlights the takeaways from previous sections.  This chapter offers specific tips and strategies for coping, recovering, and moving on.

This last section demonstrates how the lessons gleaned from craving and addiction science can apply to all of us.  For example, Manejwala includes a section on how to "Meet Your Needs in a Healthy Way," where he outlines the twenty categories of human needs for living a happy, fulfilling, and joyous life (p. 150).  

Twenty Categories of Human Needs

These are things we all need, and Manejwala warns against downplaying any one need.  If our needs are not being met in a healthy way, we will find a way to artificially meet them, potentially in a self-destructive manner, such as through a craving.  By identifying what's truly lacking in your life and meeting those needs in a healthy way, we can mitigate self-destructive behaviors.  Other positive suggestions include practicing altruism, finding your "authentic self," having the courage to change, celebrating imperfections, and letting go of things that stand in the way of our growth and wellness.  

Overall, I found the book to be informative, relevant, and applicable.  His conclusions and suggestions are based on the interaction between brain chemistry, controlled studies, and case studies with anecdotal evidence from his own practice.  The alternation between these pieces of evidence kept the text fresh and engaging.  Even with such extensive knowledge in the field, Manejwala explains the main ideas in relatable ways that we layfolk can understand, learn from, and apply to our own lives.  

In my humble opinion, this book is a great starting resource for anyone interested in learning more about cravings and addiction--whether for yourself, to relate to a loved one, or simply to gain insight into human behavior.

Interested in learning more?  Click Here to view CRAVING: Why We Can't Seem To Get Enough on Amazon, and you can learn more about Omar Manejwala, M.D. on his website.  

Available on Amazon

Have you ever dealt with cravings, either minor or serious addictions?  What types of recovery strategies, therapies, or treatments worked for you?

Which needs are you neglecting?  How can you fill that gap in a healthy way?

Disclaimer: I was mailed an advanced copy of CRAVING at no charge, to read and review.  The opinions expressed above are all my own.


  1. This seems like a really interesting book. I would say I absolutely love my food and have had to control an urge to just consistently overeat.

    By the way thanks for sharing that 'Lift' app the other day, I've been using it non-stop and it has been helping me with my habits.

    1. Yep, the book was an interesting read; great cross-section between brain chemistry and human behavior.

      Glad you're liking "Lift" ! Keep it up

  2. So many books out on habits and behavior modification. I'll add this one to my list. Thanks!

  3. I do need to read this.
    I may not CHANGE :-) but I do crave and love me some salt.

    1. Lol yes, regardless of how intense cravings are, it's an interesting read for all!

  4. Added this to my Goodreads list in less than 10 seconds. Thanks for the review!

    1. Haha good! I hope you enjoy and learn from it!

  5. Wow! This sounds like an incredible book! I find learning about the human brain so fascinating!

    1. Awesome; then you'll likely enjoy this one.

  6. Thanks for this review- I've been looking for an interesting read and this sounds like it fits the bill. I love reading about why we do the things we do!


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