Curb Your Cravings

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’ve been “good” all day. You ate your lean protein and veggies and low carb fruit. You stuck with portion control. You exercised. You drank your water. You only had one cup of unsweetened coffee. You feel great.

And then, around somewhere between 3 and 5 PM,  your brain starts to get twitchy. Maybe you want a glass of wine. Maybe you want a bowl of ice cream. You feel cranky and stressed and tired. And you can’t stop that nagging in your mind saying “give me something.”

You figure you will have one tiny treat. After all, you’ve been good all day, right? You deserve it. Maybe a handful of cashews. Nuts are healthy.  And a small glass of red wine… it’s good for you. Reservatrol.

And then, before you know it, you’ve had two handfuls of Stacy’s pita chips, three Reese’s peanut butter cups, two or more glasses of wine and the leftover popcorn in your daughter’s lunch bag. Or maybe, instead of eating the roasted carrots you made for yourself, you pick at the leftover French fries and macaroni and cheese on your son’s plate.

As you start to straighten up the kitchen, all you do is ask yourself why. Why do I do this to myself? Why does my self-control suck? And that horrible cycle of self-reproach and criticism begins.

Here’s the thing: it’s not your fault.

I mean, it is partially, right. You put all those things in your mouth. No one did that for you.

But biology plays a HUGE role here, folks.

Sugar and carbs – and yes, that includes your favorite red – release endorphins, which relax our brains and our nervous systems. Back in cave-dweller days, sugar was a good thing… We often didn’t have enough nutrients and were on the go all day long. A natural taste for sugar gave us a quick, easily digestible, readily bio-available source of energy. We are biologically primed to enjoy it. And because it was hard to find – you couldn’t just go and buy a Milky Way at the corner store – we had it in very small amounts.

Today, we don’t need sugar quite as much. We are far more sedentary, our stress is more mental than physical and sugar is everywhere. Sugar is even added to foods you might never expect, like peanut butter, tomato sauce, ketchup, even salad dressing. (Side note – why???)

But, biology doesn’t change quite as quickly as society.

If you have been restricting your sugar and carbs all day… as many of us do… your system goes into “lack” mode. You don’t have enough stores to easily draw upon by the end of the day. Your body feels energy depleted.

Add the every-day end of the day stress we all experience – homework, dinner prep, clean up, incomplete work projects, traffic, commutes, etc.  – and your body goes into a full on panic.

So, you look for ways to destress. Enter sugar. Once that first molecule hits your mouth, your brain and body start to relax. And so the cycle continues.

Okay, Ms. Wizard. This is all fine and good. But how do I STOP the cravings. Great question.

1.       Cut back on sugar. Yes, this sounds counterintuitive. But the more sugar you eat, the more your body wants. By eating a lot of sugar, your body never learns to burn other the energy stores available. Make it harder to get to. Clean out your cabinets and your desk drawers.

2.       When hungry, eat real, whole food. A lot of times, people confuse why they want to eat. They say they are hungry, but are really lonely or stressed or anxious or angry or bored. The brain is looking to self medicate. How to tell the difference? Offer yourself a carrot. Not in the mood? Then it’s connection and comfort, not hunger driving the craving.

3.       Hydrate and nourish. Make sure your body really is getting the vitamins, minerals, nutrients and the rest that it needs. Get a good multivitamin or superfood supplement. And yes, that includes drinking your water. Dehydration often poses as hunger.

4.       What if you aren’t really hungry? Then try something else to get rid of that buzzing in your brain. Talk a walk. Take a hot shower. Call a friend. Do jumping jacks. Read a book. Have a glass of water with citrus. Basically, look for ways to short circuit the food – reward pathway that so many of us have known all our lives.

Does this mean you can never have a piece of chocolate cake again? Of course not. It’s all about balance. Once you can choose a treat – deliberately and on your terms – you can indulge without guilt. Making it a win for your body, brain and soul.

Need help with cravings or other food and weight loss issues? Contact me so we can figure out a solution.