How do I deal with food cravings or craving in general? According to the four efforts I should replace craving with the disadvantages. Can loving-kindness also work? I feel like concentrating on impermanence and on the disadvantages, in the midst of an emotion, works not as effective. I guess one needs to strengthen one's conviction in both?
I read the Buddha saying about guarding the senses -- but I doubt that the Buddha meant not looking, not hearing (etc) at things. While it can be advantageous, I think perceiving them differently is much more important. Can someone answer what "sense-guarding" means, or "not grasping at the beautiful", and how do I do it?
I'm pretty sure I heard on this topic from my teachers about three hundred million times. Here's a summary in my own words.
There are three levels of dealing with this problem, from the crude to the most advanced.
On the basic level, we guard senses by not paying attention. That's the same as to say, you don't look, don't listen, isolate your mind from informational influences that may lead to arising of craving, depression or other pathological mental conditions. As primitive as it is, this is actually pretty effective. Indeed, if you are in a really bad shape ("bleeding") this may be the necessary emergency action ("stop the blood"). In the long term, this is not sustainable and leads to isolation, so not the ultimate solution.
On the medium level we look at them but remember the disadvantages, emptiness, impermanence, etc. In other words, we don't guard our senses but we guard our mind. We guard it by changing our interpretative context in such a way that makes the experiences harmless. The traditional approach is to see phenomena from philosophical/phenomenological/analytical/scientific perspective. The Mahayana approach is to see things in context of their emptiness, their conventional existence. In any case, the idea is that by changing interpretative context we change the effect phenomena have on us.
On the upper level, we look directly at it and what we see is self-liberating as it is. In this approach we are free from any single interpretative context. But it's not that we look at phenomena without interpretation either, we don't become like the primitive animals incapable of interpretation. Instead, because we trained context switching on previous level, we effortlessly see from all perspectives at once and by doing that we see the energy aspect of phenomena, their energy characteristic. When we see it like that, we don't form any attitude toward phenomena, so they come and go without leaving a trace. This dissolution without trace under the light of our confident awareness free from interpretation, is called self-liberation. Meaning, all phenomena become Nirvana effortlessly by themselves.
Simply note your cravings as they arise. Note them arising and note them disappear. If you keep doing this, you will stop taking actions based on your cravings. That will lead to cravings arising less frequently. If you keep doing this as a habit, one day you will experience the end of craving.