Cravings can wreak havoc on a diet. Here’s how to work with them rather than against them.
Have you ever experienced any of the following scenarios?
~It’s late at night and you’re watching a gripping thriller on your TV and desperately want to munch on potato chips.
~It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon and you’ve been having fun playing with your kids at the local park and now you want to get ice cream.
~You’ve overslept and are running late to work and need a donut to go with the coffee you’re guzzling.
In each of these scenarios, a craving gets triggered and that craving often overrides any resolve you may have had in sticking with your healthy diet. In those moments, your primal brain gets activated and senses danger and does everything in its power to override the higher “executive functioning” part of your brain (the part that can delay gratification) and works to ensure that you get your fix.
In this case, it’s nourishment. You’re hungry. Craving no doubt. The primal brain can’t distinguish
the health factor of what you want, it can only sense there is hunger and a strong desire, so it’s activated and now you’re in fight or flight response mode (uh, really the FIGHT response).
It then does what it can to
help you ‘hunt and kill’ so
you can sate your hunger
Thus, you cave and grab for the bag of chips or stop in at the nearest ice cream parlor or find some source of sugar to pair with the coffee. Or, in the above pic, pounce on the pizza like a puma. It’s a battle that millions of people lose every day (or win depending on how you look at it).
(Please note--Addicts and alcoholics have it worse because their brain connections are already wired to bypass certain areas of the brain, causing them to forget negative consequences from their substance use—and, of course, the damage from the substance use causes further brain-processing impairment. If you are suffering from addiction, please go seek help immediately and make sure you receive daily support and reinforcement to compensate for this physiological difference…a one day at a time, every day approach is key.)
So, what can you do to override the primal brain reaction and stick to your diet?
Stop fighting it. It won’t work.
Our primal part of our brain can act like a turbo button that overrides the rest of us—because it is wired to protect us. It’s important to realize this distinction. If you know you are being protected for survival purposes then you can work with the part of the brain that’s designed to protect you.
Some common ways of working with the primal brain reactions that can help it to de-escalate so that you can return to the executive functioning part of your brain include calming it down and reassuring you’re okay and safe. Here are a few methods that work really well when you’re angered (and become the scary green Hulk):
- Pausing and looking at your immediate environment and saying the different colors you see which disrupts the escalation process (you can do this silently of course)
- You can take deep breaths (inhale and exhale deeply to the count of 4)
- Or you could also release the adrenaline rush by doing push ups or some form of exercise
- Ask yourself, “what experience does the remind me of from childhood?” and then reassure the little child within you
Again these work really well when you’re angered and can help when you’re hungry too, yet in my experience, hunger cravings lasts like a fog rolling in from sea with no sunlight to be seen for days. Eventually people give in and satisfy their craving. Thus, the easiest thing to do is to find a healthy alternative. No, I’m not saying grab an apple. I’m going to suggest that you sate the craving, not the hunger, with a healthy alternative.
Cravings and hunger are different. If you are craving a pizza, an apple won’t cut it. The thing to ask yourself is, “what am I craving?” Is it something sweet, crunchy, salty, chewy, or a happy memory? Then satisfy the craving with a the best yummy substitute you can find or create.
Here are some of my favorites alternatives:
- When craving something salty and crunchy, pumpkin seeds in their shell seem to work for me. Not only are they low-varb and full of iron, they remind me of popcorn and I can go to town crunching and crunching. Afterward, I’m totally sated and not desiring popcorn or chips…unless my sweet tooth then gets activated…
- My sweet tooth is my biggest craving monster and often gets treated with a low-carb hot chocolate (I make it with almond milk and stevia and add some cinnamon and cayenne for some spice). I will sometimes pair it with a square of dark chocolate that I let melt in my mouth with each sip of hot chocolate. Of course, I have low-carb paleo cakes that I microwave in a bowl and shakes in a blender made with chocolate or vanilla egg-white protein powder, ice, almond milk and a dollop of almond butter to sate my ice cream craving. I could go on and on, yet you get the point that I make a substitute and my insulin levels are happy and my cravings are met.
- For spaghetti and pizza cravings, I make a low-carb version using spaghetti squash. I add fresh roma tomatoes, basil from my garden and a drizzle of really good olive oil…you’d be surprised how the similar flavors and textures sate the craving.
This post won’t go into all the recipes here. There are abundant sites online and I’ve sited a few of them in some of my other posts. What is important for you to realize is that sating your craving and finding a win/win solution will work far better and be longer lasting than if you begrudgingly chomp on kale when you are really craving something sweet (although you could bake the kale and top it off with some stevia…or have it in a salad and add some apple cider vinegar and stevia…or just jump in and make a yummy alternative that satisfies what you really want).
Please comment if you have any great alternatives that you turn to when the cravings strike! Happy & healthy eating!!