Cravings & Self Control

Greetings from the land of a 6 day weekend! Of course I use that term loosely as I am still doing some work. I’m just doing it from the comfort of my own home and in my PJs while I sip hot cocoa and snuggle with kitties. Not too shabby!

Let me tell you a little secret about myself…I have absolutely NO self-control or willpower. None at all. I just don’t understand it. Somehow, I have managed to give up drinking (almost 2 years), all animal products (almost 1 year), and in the span of a few months go from a non-runner to a half-marathon finisher twice over. Don’t ask me how I can make myself do all of that yet if you put a plate of cookies in my face I just cannot stop myself from eating every. single. one. Unfortunately, my body and mind are used to doing what they want. This summer and fall while I was training for my races, I was eating a lot to keep my body fueled. I also had the ability to eat anything I wanted without gaining weight – this is not a good thing trust me! I was eating lots of sweets and now I’m not running as much but my body and mind are still acting like I am. No matter how hard I tried, I could not control my appetite, especially my sweet tooth.

So, I recently went through a 7 day “detox” diet in which I stripped away the junk and infused my body with greens and nutrients. For the first 4 days I could have no sugar at all…not even fruit and some high-glycemic vegetables like carrots! My main reason for the detox was to help curb my sugar cravings. I have a terrible sweet tooth and can get to the point where I just feel gross from eating too much added sugars. Fortunately, the detox not only helped reduce my cravings but it taught me a lot about just what they are in the first place. I learned that cravings can be ignored (seriously, I had no idea) and that for me they are usually habitual or situational. Once I understood my cravings, it felt easier to control them. This is why the detox was beneficial to me. It sort of helped me “reset” my preferences.  

Habitual cravings exist because it is what your body knows. Ever notice that your sweet tooth acts up after dinner every night? Well if you are used to something sweet after a meal, then you will continue to have the late night sweet tooth. It’s just what you know. During the first days of the detox when I couldn’t even eat fruit, I would crave an apple and peanut butter in the afternoon because that is my usual power snack. I craved it because it’s just something I always eat, not because I necessarily really wanted an apple. I also experience situational cravings, like when you crave something sweet because it’s a holiday and a “special” time of the year. It was very cold one night so I automatically craved soup with crunchy crackers. It’s not that I really wanted soup for dinner, the cold just made me think of comfort food.

Though I somehow made it, trust me when I say it was not easy! I have absolutely no willpower and spent pretty much the whole time complaining. I wanted exactly what I couldn’t have. I can’t have fruit?! Please, fruit is so good for me this is ridiculous. I can’t have carrots? But this salad and that dinner (etc…) would be so much better if I could just put carrot in it! It was like this every day! I have gone plenty of days without eating carrots and thought nothing of it…but tell me I can’t have them and suddenly it’s all I wanted. Unfortunately, I think that this is the way most people’s’ minds work when they try to tell themselves they are on a “diet.” You try to tell yourself you can’t have something and then it’s all you can think about until you just give up and binge terribly.

As I progressed through the detox, I noticed a gradual shift in my cravings. Day 1 I would have done anything for chocolate. All day I wanted chocolate. The next few days I wanted apples. Once I could eat fruit I wanted carrots. Then at the end of the detox I wasn’t craving anything at all. In fact, when it came time to eat a regular meal I couldn’t figure out what to have because I didn’t “want” anything! It’s amazing how quickly our taste preferences change. If you eat sugar then you will keep wanting and eating sugar. It’s addictive and the way it is processed in our body leaves us urgently wanting more (sugar highs and crashes are a vicious cycle). If you step away from sugar (or whatever it is you are craving) and give your body time to adjust without it, then you will eventually be able to beat the craving.

Now, I know for a fact that on cold days I will always want soup and on Thanksgiving I will always want pumpkin pie with whip on top. That’s just life and some things cannot be avoided. I also know that I don’t need sugar or chocolate every single day. It’s not good for my body or mind. However, this does not mean that I won’t indulge from time to time. I’m just going to be more conscious of my choices from now on and realize that just because I’m craving something, doesn’t mean I have to give in. Because cravings will eventually go away, but the satisfaction of making healthy choices is a feeling I want to stick around forever.


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