I spend a lot of my waking time wondering why we continue to consume foods that we know are not good for us. Perhaps that’s the wrong question. Maybe I should ask why our bodies crave harmful “foods” and shun healthful, nutritious foods? Yes! That is really the question that keeps me up at night. Why do our bodies emotionally and mentally and even possibly physically-via our taste buds-reject foods that are essential to our well-being and good health? It absolutely blows my mind that our bodies seem to do this! For instance, a person who drinks a lot of soda, be it diet or regular, tends to reject water, blaming the taste and feeling of it. But we are made of water, so why wouldn’t our bodies crave it instead of the soda?
The only thing that I can conclude is that the body is a conformist. It conforms to and accepts whatever we mandate it should be fed, not because it’s good or bad, but because that’s all it knows. This is actually very good news because if you can get your body accustomed to bad food, you can also get it accustomed to good food. You just have to stay strong and learn a few tricks to get there. There is also a little thing called addiction that is related to this craving situation. I am not talking today about food addiction; I’m talking about how it feels to be physically addicted to a particular substance like caffeine. It is hard to stop ingesting certain substances because the body actually goes into withdrawal when denied the drug, so I will speak to this, as well.
There is one more thing that I would like to say about cravings before I get down to the nitty-gritty. I constantly hear people say, “You shouldn’t deprive yourself of foods that you really crave. Just allow yourself a little bit to satisfy your craving and then you can continue on your merry way.” When my friends and colleagues utter these words, I don’t always say what I really think, but enough is enough! The theory is poppysquash! If a person craves sugar, it is because of a real chemical reaction that has occurred in the body. He can eat a little and stop, but just like any good addict, he will crave a little bit more each time, making it totally impossible to quit. And like any good addict, he will promise anything to get just one last hit to get him through the moment. “After all,” he’ll argue, “it’s too hard to quit cold turkey, and it surely can’t be healthy to deprive myself of something that everyone else in the world can have, right?”
Isn’t that exactly what “the experts” say? Anyone with an addiction problem will embrace this kind of thinking and run from mine. In truth, it doesn’t work. Maybe once, and for that moment, but when you are alone at night and have a little bit of down time, you will start thinking of that same food again, telling yourself, “It isn’t healthy to deprive myself. Just a little bit more won’t hurt until tomorrow when I can get back in full swing.” Isn’t that what all the professionals say? Well, I say that if you don’t kick the habit, cold, then you will always crave whatever it is you were trying to stop. Always. So, as unpopular as my ideas might be, they do work. No nonsense and no games; just a better understanding of why it happens in the first place.
“Conquering Your Cravings!” would have been a catchy title for this piece, but I didn’t use it because it would be suggest that you could really conquer your cravings. Certainly, you can keep them at bay, and perhaps learn not to think about them as much, but never to have them? That’s just not realistic, and I will never set you up to fail. Cravings will always be a fact of life, and I would rather you keep up your guard and imagine them lurking around every corner, ready to pounce at your slightest moment of weakness. That line of thinking will help you protect yourself from those evil temptresses, those latent cravings that will always be looming, taunting, just waiting to enslave you, yet again. They know they can never be permanently vanquished, and they can wait! Okay, you get my point; enough of the dramatics. Now let’s get down to it!
Oh, one more thing: get the stuff out of your house! It is very hard to stop a habit or curb a craving when it is all around you. I know you might not want to inconvenience someone else still might indulge in your favorite poison, but ask him to keep it stored somewhere else or to just do you a favor and not have it around. If you are the one shopping, then just don’t bring it home. For now, throw out whatever you have in your cupboards and refrigerator! Withdrawal is hard enough without having it all staring you in the face. Now we can get started!
Our usual suspects:
Sugar, saturated fats, salt, caffeine. These basically encompass the majority of foods we tend to reach for. I omitted alcohol, since that is an entirely different subject.
Lets start with Sugar. Lets face it; this is a biggy. And there are always those who think they can handle this craving by appeasing themselves with “just one cookie,” until the package is gone and they are scrambling to explain to the family where all the cookies went. It isn’t easy to quit the sugar addiction, but I can assure you that if you do not go cold turkey, you will not get through it and will continue to suffer forever, since the craving will never go away. Let me say that again. If, you don’t stop completely, and if you choose to give yourself just a little something sweet every so often, then you will perpetually crave sugar.
So the only alternative is just to kick it, and kick it hard. I can guarantee that it will be only three days! Three days of fighting this craving/addiction to put an end to it. It is easy after that, I promise, but you must have three clean, solid days before you will stop craving those sweets. If you break down during those three days, sugar will just continue to torture you until you give in, so hang on and count off the days. The craving will stop, and it will get easier!
Now for Salt. It is amazing that we crave salt the way we do. It is so bad for us and it causes such havoc that one would think that the side effects of overindulging in sodium would be enough to scare us into cutting it out of our lives! But, clearly that is not the case-not even close. The problem with salt is that our bodies need it to survive, so we have to consume enough to sustain life. The danger arises because of the amount of sodium we take in is above and beyond what we need. Salt is one mineral in which we will never be deficient; in fact, our excessive intake of sodium threatens our very existence.
How does one kick this habit? Again, first and foremost, get it out of your house! Second, find yourself a really good salt substitute. Go to your local natural food store and ask for a recommendation. New products are appearing every day. Third, once again, you just have to bite the bullet. Unlike sugar, the effects of sodium on my body and mind really help me stay away. It causes me bloat to such a point that it takes days to lose the water weight. It just isn’t worth it, especially knowing that I won’t be able to stop once I start on the chips and pretzels or olives and pickles. Therefore, I have become quite happy to just avoid it altogether.
The sodium strategy is one of making sure you out maneuver yourself. If you are someone who just needs a little bit of that crunchy feeling that only a good bag of chips can provide, then get yourself a nice bag of veggie chips. Just look for the low sodium product, or you will hardly be helping the problem. Many of my clients have enjoyed rice crisps because they have no sodium and are low in fat, but they satisfy the need for that wonderful crunchy sensation. Don’t forget you can also satisfy that need with carrots or celery sticks, with the added advantage that you can have as many as you like!
On to Saturated Fats. We need fat. Without it we would die. We crave it because it is necessary to our existence. Unfortunately, we perceive the craving for fat as a craving for any type of fat. In truth, our bodies crave Omega 3 fatty acids, the good fats necessary to support optimal health. If you feed your body omega 3 fatty acids first, then you won’t crave fat the rest of the day. So, where do you get them? You can easily supplement your diet the first thing in the morning by taking flax seed oil or fish oil; this will help your craving for fattier foods die down. Other foods that will satisfy that fat craving are fish, nuts (unsalted of course) avocados, chia seeds, and many other natural foods that are loaded with omega 3 fatty acids.
Lets put a cap on Caffeine. This is another biggy, and you might not quite understand why caffeine impedes our ability to lose weight. Today I will offer a brief explanation, but I plan to dedicate an entire “Did You Know?” to the woes of caffeine and weight loss. For now I’ll answer the big question: “Why stop drinking coffee or caffeinated soft drinks?” We don’t need to argue about the addictive nature of caffeine; however, we do need to question how it affects our food choices. Let’s look at a typical morning where you get up and start with a cup (or two) of coffee to get you functioning. Perhaps you had a healthy breakfast and feel as if you are on track. Your morning goes fine, lunch is no big deal, and you are on track.
Unexpectedly, at some point after lunch you start to feel tired. It isn’t the food you ate-you have eaten well-so, you think it is just old age kicking in, or maybe a stomach bug? Who knows, but this happens fairly often. What could it be? Well, caffeine is a drug, and like all drugs it likes to dictate when you take another hit. So, the morning caffeine wears off, and you start to experience the symptoms: that tired, groggy feeling that presents like brain fuzz. Now if it is only 3:00 and you still have to function, what are you to do? The quick fix would be to have another cup of coffee, but you already know that coffee at this time will keep you up all night. Your body still needs some fast acting source of energy, and since food is energy, that’s where you’ll go. What kind of food will give your body the quick fix it is looking for? Sugar? Yep, that will do it. So if you can’t have caffeine, the next best thing is sugar. This is why coffee drinkers have a hard time losing weight too. Obviously, if you want to avoid this dip in the afternoon and keep your energy more balanced, then you need to kick this one too-not an easy undertaking. I should know, I have done it a ton of times myself.
How to do it? First of all, like the sugar, it is best to do it cold turkey or you might experience withdrawal symptoms for weeks rather than the three bad days. The amount of caffeine you drink will determine how hard these three days will be. Once you stop, expect to feel extremely tired-so tired that it will seem quite impossible to even get through a day, so it’s best to do this on a weekend when you don’t have to go to work. The fatigue can last anywhere from a day to a week, two weeks, or in some cases, three weeks. That is how hard it is to get caffeine out of your system. Sorry to say, but next expect to have a headache. It will be the kind that just wraps itself around your head and won’t let go for about three days. Once the headache passes, you are going to feel much better, but you then might experience body aches and pains. Caffeine is a strong drug that has penetrated every cell in your body, and your body will feel its absence. You will crave lots of food and sugar throughout the first week, and you might even gain a little bit of weight, but don’t beat yourself up, this one is hard. Hang in there, and I promise that you will feel like a completely different person when you come out on the other side of this addiction.
That takes care of the main culprits. Here are some tricks that might help you get through the difficult days:
When you are craving something you shouldn’t have, go and get a cup of herbal tea. Make sure it’s one you truly enjoy, so it’s something that you can look forward to. Often, by the time the tea is gone, so is your craving.
Drink water. The oral satisfaction of drinking something will help. Also, the water will give you the feeling of fullness that you might need at the moment. Remember it is only a moment, and that moment will pass.
You might think that you are hungry when you really aren’t. When you sit down to eat your dinner or lunch, please only serve yourself a small portion. Chances are, by the time you’re done, you’ll feel very satisfied and proud that you hung in there.
Look at your watch. That’s right, look at your watch to see how long you have until your next meal. If you ate at 1:00 and are going to have dinner at 6:00, you might be surprised to find that you are starting to get hungry closer to the dinner hour than you expected, say around 5:00. So, check your watch and perhaps you will be pleased that you only have to hold on another hour before dinner. You can do that with no problem at all. If you have more than an hour or two, then have a piece of fruit and a cup of tea or a bottle of water; that will get you there with no problem.
Have a list of fill-ins. By that I mean a list of things you can do to fill in the time between meals. Fill-ins should be things you have been meaning to get to but have not found the time. Do one and you will feel doubly good for finishing the task and for not indulging in the craving. I usually have a closet or a drawer that needs some cleaning out; that always does the trick for me.
Get out of the house. Go for a walk, or do a little bit of gardening. It doesn’t really matter what gets you out, but it is important that you do get out just to clear your head.
That’s it. It is absolutely possible to quell the cravings, but you won’t get there until you start. So, just get to it!