If you’re an avid reader of women’s fitness websites and magazines, you probably already know all their usual tips for fighting sweet cravings. You know, those articles illustrated with a stock photo of a blond woman hesitating between a cake and a green apple? I usually think to myself: “I would eat both”.
I don’t understand why green apples seem to be the ultimate symbol of ‘healthiness’. I’m no photography expert, but those stock photos all seem really, really bad. Magazines and websites should really stop using them:
|This one was the weirdest: why put an apple on your head and strike this pose?:|
Anyway, so that’s why I chose an apple-less stock photo to illustrate the title of this post.
Ok, let’s start with all the “usual” strategies:
The usual basics
“Keep blood sugar balanced, eat every three to four hours. Do little bursts of exercise to stabilize your blood sugar level. Drink enough, stay hydrated. Manage stress and get enough sleep.”
=> Easy to do in theory. A bit more difficult when you’re having a busy day!
The nutrient deficiency case
“Take a honest look at your diet and check if you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Determine the source of the craving and get the root of it. When you eat enough nutritious stuff, your desire for non-nutritious stuff goes away.”
=> Eating tons of veggies and some red meat doesn’t prevent me from craving dark chocolate. And no, I don’t have an iron deficiency!
The healthy alternative suggestions
“Choose healthy alternatives: fruits, nuts, herbal teas etc. Or make low-cal options to some of your traditional favorites. When you want to satisfy your sweet tooth and stay within your diet, they make a wise choice, or at least a modest splurge instead of a diet crashing roadblock.”
=> This is obviously the strategy I follow when you take a look at my recipes.
The “be prepared and plan ahead” plan
“Make the right thing to do the easy thing to do. When you know your trigger times, arm yourself with pre-portioned snacks that you package at the start of the day so you don’t overdo it when your cravings inevitably strike.”.
=> I like being organized and planning things in advance. And yes, I pack snacks. But excessive scheduling can be a recipe for insanity if you take it too far. It’s inevitable you’ll soon feel controlled by your regimen. Your furious inner rebel may even leap out and take you on a bender of self-destructive behavior.
The mindful eating strategy
“Eat mindfully. Avoid all-or-none thinking. Allowing yourself small portions of decadent foods can help prevent cravings all together. Be sure to take your time to really savor the taste to boost your feeling of true satisfaction.”
=> This strategy doesn’t work for me. I feel way more deprived and frustrated eating just one small cookie and stopping than eating no cookie at all. Once my brain is on sugar, I might as well be on crack.
Self-talk and affirmation strategies
“State your health goal out loud” or “It’s not that you can’t have candy or cookies. It’s that you choose not to. Use “I don’t eat”, instead of “I can’t eat”” or mojos like these vending machines mojos.
=> Talking to myself out loud makes me feel a bit crazy ⊙_ʘ
Willpower and goal-oriented strategies
“Focus on your goals”. “The word discipline usually causes people to groan, but it actually should be seen as a good friend that helps us get what we want in life”.
=> We have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as we use it, because we use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks during our days. “Willpower is human’s greatest strength, but the best strategy is not to rely on it in all situations.” (from the book “Willpower” by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney)
The “Distract yourself” strategy
“Generate some ideas for strategies to use as distraction techniques such as going for a brisk walk, calling a support person, listening to music etc.”
=> This works well when you’re not that hungry. However, hormones fluctuations can sometimes make us hungrier than usual, even when we’ve already eaten enough, making it hard to concentrate on something else.
The “Wait for it” strategy
“When a craving does hit, delay the decision for a minute. Many temptations are time sensitive, like dessert at the end of dinner ; if you can avoid them for an hour or so, the desire to indulge will disappear”.
=> I’m not very patient ; implementing this strategy means ignoring the chocolate bar screaming at me “come get me, I’m in the cupboard” for at least 10 minutes, which is kind of a lot when a chocolate bar is screaming in your head.
The “Out of sight, out of mind” principle
“You can’t focus on what you don’t see. Out of sight, out of mind. Most cravings are strong enough to send you to the kitchen but not strong enough to send you to the store.”
=> Having no tempting food in the house is my favorite strategy and the most effective. Works like a charm! -But only if you’re living like an hermit and not leaving the house…
And here are 6 extra strategies I found on the Internet or in self-help books. They’re a bit different than the usual tips:
Surfing the craving
I found this strategy on Oxygen Magazine’s website: “In general, cravings only occur for no more than 20 to 30 minutes. Instead of trying to avoid the sensation of a craving, mindfully notice the physical and mental sensations you feel. Is your heart speeding up? Do you feel a little anxious? Are you obsessing about a certain sweet? At first, the craving may get worse, but remind yourself that it will eventually go down, then watch the craving decrease. Picture the rise, peak and decline like a wave in the ocean, with you along for the ride, surfing it. With some practice, you’ll learn how to avoid giving into the craving when it strikes, so your food urges no longer control your behavior.”
=> The craving is a wave that can be surfed until it passes. It sounds very much like the “wait for it” strategy, but it works way better for me, because it doesn’t feel like waiting! When I see my craving as a wave it becomes way easier. You imagine yourself surfing the wave (craving) in the way in which a surfer would surf a wave. See yourself successfully riding the wave (and managing your craving) until it finally breaks on the beach (reduced in intensity and passed away without being reinforced). I think it works well for us women, because many things we experience with our body also come in waves (like menstrual cramps or labor contractions).
“If x, then y”–strategy – eliminating internal dialogue
This is an extract of the book “Willpower” by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney:
“You can try a strategy that psychologists call an “implementation intention”, which is a way to reduce the amount of time and effort you spend controlling your thoughts: make specific plans for automatic behaviors in certain situations, like what to do when you’re tempted by fattening food at a party.
An implementation intention takes the form of the if-then: If x happens, I will do y. The more you use this technique to transfer control of your behavior to automatic processes, the less effort you will expend. So before you get tempted by the food at a party, you can prepare yourself with a plan like: if they serve chips, I will refuse them all. It’s a simple but surprisingly effective way to gain self-control. By making the decision to pass up the chips an automatic process, you can do it fairly effortlessly even late in the day, when your supply of willpower is low.”
=> Automate as many decisions as possible helps you. It can be easier to put yourself on autopilot instead of wasting time with internal dialogs about food. Those internal debates cost a lot of mental energy. I like the fact that this strategy helps promote peace of mind.
I found this strategy in the book “The Procrastination Equation” by Piers Steels:
“When confronted with distracting temptations, focus on their most abstract aspects. Triple chocolate cheesecake, for example, can be construed as another fat and sugar combination. Mentally deconstruct food into its basic components. Every temptations is merely so many grams of sculpted fat and tablespoons of flavored sugar.“
=> It’s true that many things we crave often have little to no vitamin or mineral value. For example, I found a picture of this proud pastry shop owner on a local news website. He won a price for his pastry and decided to pose with the main ingredients of his home-made speciality: sugar, flour and butter. Even if it’s home-made and even if he looks really proud, I have to admit that this picture illustrates quite accurately this ‘deconstructing food’ strategy. Seeing the quantities of butter and sugar that go into his cakes, I think I could pass on those:
The Pain/Pleasure principle
I found this strategy in Jackie Warner’s book “This Is Why You’re Fat”. She gives credit to Tony Robbins, but this principle was originally invented by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham:
“Many years ago, I listened to motivational speaker Tony Robbins. He was very inspirational and taught metaphysical principles way before they were popular. I started using one of his principles and applied it to diet and exercise. It’s called the Pleasure Principle. Basically, he said that you should link everything in life to pleasure or pain because we are highly motivated by both.
Most people look at a plate of cupackes and think, Pleasure, pleasure, pleasure. I don’t. I look at them and visualize myself getting photographed in next to nothing and having feelings of insecurity. Yes, I work hard for this body, but I still have insecurities. So, unless it’s during a treat meal, I see junk food as causing great pain.
Litterally attach visions and feelings of pain or pleasure to everything. You will find that many of the things you once linked to pleasure (eating junk food) are actually causing you a tremendous amount of pain, and the things you used to link to pain (workouts or eating healthy) will ultimately give you the greatest rewards.”
=> The secret of choosing the good option is thus to make it as vivid, emotional an compelling in the moment as the bad option. Stop associating relief and happiness with the things that are only bringing you temporary pleasure. These are the exact things that hold you back. None of the things that bring really quick gratifications give you long term happiness. It’s sad but it’s true. As the proverb says “Wisdom is choosing to do now what you will be happy with later on”.
Here’s a great picture to illustrate the pain/pleasure principle when it comes to cravings:
Creating your own Arch-Enemy
I found this strategy in the book “Focus” by Jurgen Wolff: “Usually it’s good to think positively, but sometimes a bit of strategic negative thinking can help, too. Have you noticed how hard people will work when they are fighting an enemy? The more specific the enemy, the better. You can use this power by creating a final variation of an Alter Ego, an arch-enemy who is the symbol of whatever may be holding you back.
Most of the time in reality this not another person, but some aspect of yourself. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and shape up, most likely it is your own problems with sticking to your diet and exercises regime that get in your way. You can create an image for this “enemy”. Maybe you want to imagine Blimpo –a cartoon-like hugely overweight and slobby creature. Blimpo hates it when you exercise or when you resist the lure of chocolates because Blimpo wants to make you into his own image.
Imagine your reaction if, the next time you are tempted, you call Blimpo to mind. Make the right choice and watch Blimpo deflate a little –enjoy the downfall of the enemy! The best thing is this all happens in your imagination. You do not need to tell anyone else about it –all they will notice is that you are doing better than ever before.”
=> This strategy doesn’t really work for me ; my own Blimpo is pretty strong. He makes big tantrums and I usually surrender.
Giving yourself permission to fail
Ok, this is not a real strategy, since the strategy itself means basically giving in to your cravings. This strategy is different than the ‘mindfull eating’ / “eat everything in moderation”-stuff though. Life is ebb and flow! Everything in moderation -including moderation! This means accepting your cravings and tuning into hunger and fullness. Thinking about your diet too critically can lead to overanalyzing it, and leads to a slew of problems, not least of which is a loss of confidence. So don’t be so hard on yourself and move on.
Any strategies I might have forgotten? What’s your favorite and how do you usually deal with cravings?