Mar 312015
 

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Have you experienced someone putting a plate of your favorite dessert in front of you and it was in your mouth before you could even think about it?

Have you ever experienced someone putting a plate of your favorite dessert in front of you and you felt like you could take it or leave it?

What was the difference?

Or maybe you were somewhere in between:  you had the thought of wanting it but you could easily resist it.

Cravings are a dieter’s worst enemy, because they can sabotage your weight loss plan and leave you feeling hopeless.  There is plenty of advice on dealing with cravings when they strike, but I prefer to avoid them altogether, and there are several reasons why.

When Distracting Yourself or Eating Substitute Foods Doesn’t Work

The advice on cravings ranges from drinkingwater to distracting yourself or eating a different, healthier food as a substitute.

Let’s look at a couple of them:  Distract yourself for a few minutes and the craving will go away.

I don’t know about you, but my cravings tend to last a lot longer than ten or fifteen minutes.  I can “ignore them” for hours and then at 5 or 6 o’clock, there I am shoveling the cookies in my mouth, after I thought had won the battle for that day.

And the idea of a substitute food hasn’t really worked for me either.  If I’m wanting chocolate, the only substitute that’s going to make that craving go away is some other form of sugar!  When I try this strategy, I end up eating the healthier food, and then later on the food I was craving.

Here’s the deal.  Cravings can be related to many issues:  nutritional deficiencies, yeast overgrowth or an imbalance in your gut bacteria, stress, unmet emotional needs, hormone imbalance, fatigue, low moods, low blood sugar, lack of enough high quality sleep.  There are probably more, but you get the idea.

You need to discover and address the real issue to get control of your cravings.  If your blood sugar is low, there is no amount of distraction or breathing that is going to satisfy a body that knows it needs food, RIGHT NOW.   Whatever is fastest, closest, and will fix that blood sugar fast, is what your body is going to go for.  If you think your mind is in control here, you are mistaken.  This is survival-driven. You can’t fool it or think your way out of it.

Brain chemistry and Cravings

The brain processes that contribute to cravings and our behavior around them are complex.

Omar Manejwala, M.D. addresses this in depth in his outstanding book, Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough.

He mentions a study in which students who were craving chocolate had a reduced ability “to perform certain tasks that require visuospatial memory.  In other words, cravings actually affected what these students were capable of remembering.”

This is why you find yourself in the middle of eating something you didn’t intend to eat, wondering why you didn’t distract yourself or eat something healthy.   Your memory was compromised.

Don’t Depend on Willpower

Do you know that your supply of willpower is limited, and that you can use it up, so that when a plate of cookies is set in front of you, you may not have enough left to resist the cookies?

That’s right.  In the book, Willpower, by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, the authors explore the latest research on self-control and how to make the most of it.

Specifically, they note how women following diets will use up their limited supply of willpower resisting temptation when dessert is put in front of them , but when the willpower is used up, they will end up unable to continue the resistance.

They need to refuel their willpower, which, ironically, requires food, specifically glucose!

Strategy #1:  Implementation Intention

One strategy is to keep the tempting food out of sight and out of reach, but that is not always possible.

Another strategy the Baumeister & Tierney recommend is an “implementation intention.”  An example of this would be to come up with a rule that you follow in certain situations, such as, “If someone brings donuts to work, I will not eat them.”  It may sound simple, but it can work surprisingly well.

Strategy #2:  Never Say Never

And, although this strategy seems the opposite of the one just mentioned, Baumeister and Tierney also recommend never saying “never.

When faced with that plate of donuts, tell yourself that you can eat as many as you want, but you will not eat them now.  I know one of the factors in my decision to eat one or more of those donuts, when I do, is that I say to myself that I don’t know when I will get another chance (because I don’t EVER buy donuts), so I have to take advantage of it now.  But if I tell myself, I can buy donuts after work, then I don’t need to eat them right now.

Strategy #3:  Avoid Fatigue

Are you getting enough sleep?  (if it’s less than 7.5 hours, the answer is definitely not).  If not, can you take a nap during the day?  Even 10 minutes can be enough sometimes, to get up feeling refreshed, and you will be less more resistant to cravings.

If you are having trouble with getting to sleep, staying asleep, or sleeping deeply (and who doesn’t at our age), you will need to do some research and make some changes to your nighttime routine.  You may need to get outside for 10 minutes in the middle of the day (to help your circadian rhythms reset).

You may need to shut off the computer or tv an hour before turning out the lights.  You need to sleep in total darkness.  There are other things you can do as well to improve your sleep, once you have determined that as the problem.

Do whatever you have to do to get better sleep and you will be amazed at how much easier it is to stick with your food plan.

Maybe it’s not sleep that is the problem.  Are you tired all the time, with that feeling that you just don’t have any “get up and go?”

If you’re always tired, get your thyroid and adrenal function tested.  It will be difficult, if not impossible, to get control of cravings if these two areas are not functioning well.

For adrenal testing, you will probably have to find a non-traditional doctor, for example, a naturopath or a functional medicine practitioner.  For thyroid testing, you may need more than just a TSH test (see this article on hypothyroidism)

If you are tired for any reason, you will crave sugar, salt, caffeine, and anything else that will stimulate you, or has stimulated you in the past.  You will be much more vulnerable to cravings if you are tired.

Strategy #4:  Find New Ways to Deal with Stress

Stress will decrease your ability to resist cravings, at the same time that it will increase your cravings.  Stress will deplete nutrients, which will increase cravings.

Stress makes you uncomfortable, which drives the behavior to get relief.  If you want to succeed with your food plan, you will need to deal with excess stress in your life.

Whether it’s meditation, a yoga class, a friend who’s a good listener, or getting a massage, a strategy for stress reduction is a critical factor in weight loss success and relief from cravings.

If you can’t do anything about it right now, plan to take some time to make a list of actions you can take, both ongoingly and in the moment, to change your response to stress.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it is worth it, and necessary to getting control of your cravings.

Strategy #5:  Craving-Proof Your Diet

Eat high quality protein at every meal.  Eat good fats, such as coconut oil and avocado oil.  Avoid vegetable oils.  Try to get to the point where you eat only 3 meals a day.  This will even out your blood sugar and insulin, leaving you less hungry and less prone to cravings.

As I said earlier, letting your blood sugar plunge (which, by the way, is what happens after you eat foods full of sugar), is a sure way to get to the point where you must eat something right now, preferably sugar.

Some Final Thoughts

You may need to develop some new skills to increase your awareness and your ability to observe yourself, to reduce stress, to determine what your body needs.  EFT, also known as tapping, is an acupressure technique that is very easy to learn and can be used to reduce or eliminate cravings.

You may need to track your food intake with your moods, energy levels and ability to sleep deeply for 8 hours.

The Bad News is you are going to have to do some work to discover what you need, and maybe make some changes in your lifestyle.

The Good News is you can make peace with cravings.  I am once again craving-free.

What I Did to Eliminate My Cravings

My cravings started again last October/November after at least five months of being craving-free.

When I started thinking about this in the fall, I thought it was a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and then all the emotions and environmental stimuli that come with Christmas.

Also, over many years of struggling to have enough energy to do my very physical job, I have at times resorted to using sugar to help me get through the day.  Since I was working fourteen-hour days for about a month, I began using sugar and salt to get through it (a hint that my adrenal system was under intense stress, but somehow I forgot how that works).

After it was over, in January, I had established a habit, and I was extremely stressed out.

As I looked back to see what was different about the six months I had no cravings and the five months I was in the grip of them, I realized a couple of things.

My reasons for eating healthy had changed.  My blood pressure had dropped drastically, and I was able to wear clothes I hadn’t worn in years.  The motivation for losing weight wasn’t there anymore, because I had achieved that goal.

And my situation had changed.  My work had changed, which required working much longer hours during the busiest season of the year, and I had a different boss/co-worker.

I took a few days off, which helped.  I finished grad school, which helped.  In the fall I had done some research on sleep, artificial light, sunlight, and SAD, and I experimented with those ideas a bit, but didn’t really have the means to pursue them in depth.

So now it’s March, winter is over (especially here in California), so what’s the deal?

As I was digesting those ideas, I was also finding suggestions to “distract yourself.” I had also taken an EFT class and I knew that might work.  The trick was, believe it or not, wanting to actually do it.  Now when the craving hits, it makes sense, given what I now know about cravings, that you will forget about tapping.

But to not want to do it at all, even when you’re not having a craving, well, that speaks to a conflict of goals issue.

One thing that happened is I reached my goal weight.  Really fast.

It’s like my mind needed time to catch up.  And I’ve spent my whole dieting life working toward the goal of losing weight.  I had no idea how to act once that was no longer the goal.

While having these ideas in the back of my head, I started trying different nutritional strategies.  I started taking my adrenal support supplements again.

I started getting back to my food plan, which included drinking more water, keeping meals to 60 minutes or less, not eating after 9pm, starting each meal by eating a couple of bites of protein…

After I had several days without eating sugar or potato chips (for the first time since November), I started feeling better.  And one day I added in a supplement I have used many times for many reasons – 5 HTP.

But this time I took it mid-morning instead of mid-afternoon.  And it made all the difference.

I went from completely running out of steam and feeling really miserable at 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon, to feeling at peace and happy all afternoon.  (To find out how to use amino acids and diet to work with cravings and other issues, I highly recommend Julia Ross’ book, The Diet Cure).

If I’m feeling well, I don’t get cravings.  It’s really that simple for me.

And it could be for you too.

But you will have to discover that by paying attention to your body, and what happens right before, during, and after those cravings.

It’s a Process

I have gone months without having cravings.  Then they will resurface and I have to newly discover each time what to do.  Since your body and your life circumstances are always changing, your needs continue to change as well.  What worked a year ago may not work now.  That is why the skills I mentioned above are so important to learn.  They will serve you each time you struggle with cravings.

 

Not Sure Where to Start?

What you can do right now, is start observing yourself when you see, smell or think about eating food you hadn’t planned on eating that day.

What is the conversation you are having with yourself?

Are you rationalizing why it’s okay to eat it?

Can you tell what is driving the behavior?

Did you get enough sleep last night?

Have you experienced some recent changes in your life that are stressful?

What is it you think eating that food will give you?

You won’t always be able to observe and ask these questions, but over time you will start to understand what the problem might be.

You may need to adjust your food plan.  Eating pasta or a sandwich at lunch could be sabotaging your afternoon.  So could eating just a salad, with no protein.  That all depends on what your body, specifically, needs.

There IS no one-size fits all when it comes to what foods your body will do best with.

You might have conflicting goals (you want to lose weight but are worried about how that will affect your relationship, for example).

You may need to make some changes to manage stress better.

You may need to put yourself first – something many of us don’t know how to do, or we are reluctant to do, for various reasons.

But this is YOUR TIME.  It’s time for something new.  A new you.  You can do it!  And you will be glad you did.

Your turn

What strategies have you used to overcome cravings?  Share them in the comments.

 

References

Baumeister, R. & Tierney, J. (2011).  Willpower.  New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Manejwala, O., M.D. (2013).  Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough.  Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Mar 262015
 
Weight loss over 40

It’s easier than what you’ve been doing

 

I found this in my notes this morning

and decided to post it.

Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

I’ve been reading some blog posts of other women trying to lose and/or maintain weight loss – it’s depressing. So many women trying so hard and not succeeding. Either they are admitting the failure in that moment (But still not giving up, because what choice do you have?), or plodding along with that self esteem full of holes and yet still willing to get up and try again.

You know what it makes me feel like? Abuse. It’s abusive. It’s how I felt about myself after I left my marriage…right after I came to the shocking realization that I had been in an abusive marriage and before I had recovered my Self.

Since it’s a week after Christmas and I have just gained 15 pounds in about the last month, the words of wisdom I might have had in October, after almost effortlessly losing close to 50 pounds, will not be the same.

However…I am still dismayed, and depressed, to listen to these stories. They remind me of the years and years and years I went through the same thing. And the years in between I took breaks to maintain my sanity. Are all women on this train? Or is it just some of us.

You may not be old enough to remember Fat Is A Feminist Issue, or Diets Don’t Work (we have versions of the latter today as well), but looking at it from my perspective today, it really seems as if we women are caught in a trap. A very deep, large hole.

It is social, cultural, environmental, political, economical. It affects every aspect of our lives. Emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. It reminds me of when I was pregnant.

I had decided I wanted to give birth at a stand-alone birth center, without a doctor and all the hospital procedures I wanted no part of.

I had gone past my due date, which meant I had to start going to the hospital every couple of days for stress tests. One day the nurse gave me the band they used to hold the measuring piece on my belly (or wherever it was), and said, “see you Wednesday.” I was SO angry!

Here I was, freaking out about not going into labor, and I was receiving messages all around me that I was going to be going back to the hospital because I was NOT going to be in labor.

I went home, made a ritual of throwing the band in the trash, and intentionally spoke to the universe, telling it in no uncertain terms that I would NOT be returning to the hospital, because I was going to be too busy delivering my baby!

And it worked. Okay, I had some more emotional processing to do as well, but I did deliver my son at the birth center.

Maybe that is what we need to do with our weight. We need to stop being victims. I don’t know how this would work exactly, but I do know this. We are not at fault for “giving in” to cravings at 3:00pm every day. That is our biology, most likely. Could be our gut bacteria. Or blood sugar swings. Or Seasonal Affective Disorder this time of year, which is something I am thinking I might have to deal with.

I’m not saying there is no emotional component to it. But if you are someone who has no trouble following through on other goals, why would you think that this particular goal is unachievable?

Maybe the odds are stacked against you and you don’t even know it.

 

What are your thoughts on this?

Mar 252015
 
Mar 122014
 

I just found out about a new approach to weight loss through my professional association, the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, this morning and I am so excited about it, I wanted to share it with you.

If you are one of the many thousands of women who have been confused about which diets are healthy (low-fat, high-carb, or high-protein, low-carb?), or maybe you’ve discovered you have food sensitivities, and you are not sure how to proceed, this plan may be able to help you.

30 Blood Tests Reveal Your Biochemical Individuality

The science behind the program has been studied for 25 years, and is based on the idea that each of us is biochemically unique.  Women signing up for the program will received the results of 30 different blood tests that determine which foods are best for you in terms of your metabolism.  There are other aspects to the program, but this is the part I am most excited about (probably because I am struggling right now to find the foods that help me feel my best).

Imagine finally knowing that the foods you are eating are the ones your body needs most, instead of always wondering whether or not you are getting all the nutrients you need.  And losing weight consistently as well!

The Best Part of All – No Re-gaining the Weight You’ve Lost Plus a Few More Pounds

There is a lot more to the program, which I will share as I learn more, but the most impressive aspect is the proof coming from recent studies that you will keep the weight off and not gain it back along with more as you go off the diet.