I receive so many questions about food cravings. It is a topic that always comes up with my clients, people I chat with at the gym, or through the emails I receive. How do I manage them? WARNING! This is not your typical article where someone suggests you drink more water. PLEASE! That one always irritates me. When I was dealing with cravings, drinking more water left me bloated, and I still wanted dessert!
First of all I want to give a little history on my eating habits. When I was a teen and in my early twenties I had a problem with constant weight fluctuations. I would eat a whole lot of junk food, gain weight, and then crash diet until I took it back off. It was a pretty miserable form of weight control to say the least. In my mid-twenties I made a decision to leave the extremes behind me. I began to exercise and adopt healthier eating habits. I took up endurance sports like back packing, hiking, cross country skiing, competitive running, and cycling. When I was running marathons and doing century bike rides, I could consume a crazy amount of calories, mostly carbohydrates. The result was a low body weight but also very low muscle mass and surprisingly higher body fat. There was definitely still room for improvement with my eating habits.
After I took up weight lifting and competing in figure (a division of bodybuilding), I quickly learned that I needed to change my eating patterns to put on muscle. This included increasing protein, changing the type of carbs and fats I consumed, and giving up refined sugar. It took a long time, lots of research, and the advise of some seasoned bodybuilding coaches to figure out how and what to eat.
Finding the right type of nutrition plan was one thing but implementing it on a regular basis 365 days a year was quite another. After the first couple of shows I made the typical rookie mistakes and tried returning to my former eating habits. Food I had been denied through months of competition prep was everywhere, and I wanted it all. I knew this pattern was not sustainable and certainly not the lifestyle I wanted. So I started to really pay attention to my food triggers, habits, and how I was responding. I came up with some concrete methods that have helped me control food cravings and stay consistent.
- I stopped adapting a damsel in distress mentality. If I state that I have no control over my actions, then I alleviate myself of all personal responsibility. Negative statements also send a strong signal to my brain which accepts those statements as valid. “I have to eat cookies with my lunch.” “There is no way I can eat a few chips. I want the whole bag.” “I must have bread when I go out to eat.””I have no self control.” All those negative statements had to be eliminated from my thinking. If I ate a cookie, it was because I wanted the cookie. If I had too many chips at a Mexican restaurant, so be it. Move on. Leave it behind and get right back on track.
- I accepted that there are no short cuts to building healthy habits. In order to transform my thinking and my body, I had to make changes and adapt consistent daily habits. I also needed to accept the fact that change was not easy and there was no quick fix. It took a lot of practice and time. There are no short cuts to success. We have to put in the effort.
- I adopted the mindset of a champion. Be an ordinary person who takes extraordinary action. So many people have told me, “I wish I had your self control.” It’s like they think I took some magic pill or was born with a special gene. I struggle like everyone else. I have off days, bad moods, aches, pains, struggles, and times where I would rather feel sorry for myself. It helps me to adapt the mindset of a champion. A champion is committed. They never give up. They persevere even when it’s difficult. It doesn’t matter if you are competitive or not. You can think and live like a champion.
- I became very selective with how and when I enjoyed the foods I was craving. I accepted and acknowledged the cravings and then planned a meal or time where I could enjoy the foods I wanted. This is never an all out binge. Rather, it is a meal where I choose to have something I have been craving. I don’t judge the choice, fat content, or calories. For me, this is always a night out with my husband, where I am completely focused on the good conversation, nice wine, and the flavors of the food.
- I replaced a perception of deprivation with a feeling of power. It actually starts to feel good to say “no thank you” to a tempting food. I know that sounds ludicrous, and yes it is difficult in the beginning. But if you continue to make a habit of declining, a feeling of power replaces the perception of deprivation. You can also say yes to having a single portion of a food you are craving, and then call it quits when the meal is done. You do not have to live in a deprivation state of mind. You are in control of what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel about those food choices.
I hope you are not disappointed. I didn’t offer herbal tea, lemon water, or appetite suppressing supplements. There are a place for those things. Drinking water can help, if your thinking is aligned with your goals. However, if we don’t bring our mind along for the ride, no amount of herbal tea or cocoa powder will do the trick.