Junio writes, “Does anyone have tips for how to stop yourself from wanting something?” The temptation she’d like to avoid is a cold beer after a long workday. For me, it’s Ruffles potato chips (and other things). I’ve wished for a long time that I could manage not to want the empty-calorie foods, as have lots of other people. I have two ideas about this: one, some goals that are possible take so long to reach that they falsely seem impossible; two, sometimes you can find a way to allow yourself one of your major temptations and make up for it elsewhere. Together these two principles can go a long way toward helping to cope with temptation.
I get a craving for Ruffles every so often and I try to let myself buy them no more often than every five or six weeks. When I get a bag, I eat half of it in one day. I enjoy it. But the next day I have a weird feeling in my head and stomach—not quite a pain or ache, but just sort of yucky. I imagine I’m feeling the simultaneous dehydration and bloating caused by all the salt in the chips. For a year and a half during and after the time I was losing weight, whenever I was tempted to buy Ruffles, I reminded myself of the yucky way I felt after indulging in chips. It didn’t work. I relied on other tactics, such as avoiding that aisle in the store, eating baby carrots, or deciding to wait only until the next day (over and over again). And I decided eating too many Ruffles every five or six weeks would just have to be okay.
All of a sudden, this year, I realized my Ruffles craving had lessened. When I thought about eating them, or saw them in the store, most (not all) of the time I was put off by remembering the dehydrated feeling I’d get from them. It took a long time, but the frequent craving has subsided and become only a minor one. So for some people with food cravings, trying for a long time to consciously turn yourself off to the food can work (though not as quickly as one might like). It seems that everything having to do with getting fit, losing weight, and changing eating habits takes a long time, so we just have to resolve to keep trying no matter how long it takes.
My other idea, give in to the temptation and make up for it somewhere else, can work for empty-calorie indulgences that do not run in the many hundreds of calories. One of those big imperial pints of beer or half a cup of ice cream is probably not as outrageous as half a large bag of Ruffles. In that case, what I’d do is give in to it and do some extra walking on the way to and from work, or skip a couple of daytime soft drinks or other workplace treats. Since we’re all going to indulge in treats we love, we might as well look at the daily options. Give up where it hurts the least and indulge where it feels the best.
After spouting my own thoughts, I thought I better see what credentialed writers or health professionals have to say about hard-to-resist food temptations. A search on the term “resist food cravings” turned up nothing but three or four commercial or hospital sites. Those with something to sell took the “you can’t do it on your own” approach. The usual predictions of doom, coming from a doctor in this example, sound so discouraging that it’s no wonder if we all assume we have no power over food. Dr. Tate at tatehealthcare.com says:
You’re familiar with the “yo-yo dieting cycle:” you start a weight-loss diet. You do well for the first few days. Soon, however, your hunger and food cravings start to build…. You try to resist these food cravings but eventually you lose control…. Of course, you quickly regain any fat you’ve lost—plus even more. Most Americans are doomed to repeat this yo-yo cycle for the rest of their lives! The fact is—without medical help—you, too, are almost certainly doomed to repeat this cycle for the rest of your life. Almost every year, you’ll weigh more than you did the year before. Naturally, you’ll feel worse and worse about your looks and your health….
Whoa! Thanks for the encouraging words. We might as well give up right now and go lie on the couch with some bon-bons.
Eventually I found some constructive ideas by searching for “food cravings.”
This weight-loss coach advises a basic healthy diet that can help prevent cravings from getting out of hand.
This article by a nutritionist offers insight into cravings but ends by saying you should eat what you crave in moderation. The problem for me was that there were too many astronomical-calorie foods being eaten in moderation, amounting to almost the whole diet. (Pizza in moderation, peanut butter in moderation, pastrami sandwiches in moderation, ice cream in moderation, french fries in moderation… you get the picture.)
This tough-talker says it’s all about mental strength! I have to admit I kind of like this site in spite of its in-your-face attitude. I bet this guy’s an ex-Marine. Sample quote: “Don’t give me your little stories.” Hoo-rah!
Doreen Virtue, Ph.D. says cravings are generated by emotions. Guess what: she’s a psychotherapist!
Weight-loss coach Jennifer R. Scott advocates “stalling” to stave off a craving. Sometimes if you can wait twenty minutes, have a glass of water, and get involved in another activity, you can forget the craving. I use the twenty-minute rule a lot in the evenings when I want to munch.
Dr. Dorie McCubbrey says cravings can arise from habits and that introducing variety into your routine and your diet, you might be able to break the pattern of daily empty-calorie temptation.
MSNBC’s Nutrition Notes says to eat frequently enough to avoid overwhelming hunger and a blood-sugar drop, and don’t be so strict with your food rules that you create cravings of what’s forbidden.
So, I think we do have power over food temptations. Exercising this power just happens to take a lot of effort, time, and practice.
What’s worked for you? It doesn’t have to work every single time to be a great idea.