Resisting Empty-Calorie Temptations

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 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.

7 thoughts on “Resisting Empty-Calorie Temptations”

  1. Oh, those empty calorie cravings. There’s nothing like them, is there?
    I think I’m fortunate in that I don’t seem to get them too often. But when they hit, there really is no stopping them.
    My biggest empty calorie craving this summer has been ice cream. I’m not really sure why since I wasn’t a big ice cream eater before I started eating better and exercising regularly. For some reason, I crave it now though.
    The way I handle these cravings is to only buy Blue Bunny Ice Cream Lites. They have a mere 90 calories and I can justify those 90 calories each time I have a major ice cream craving. I get my fix and I can burn the calories off my taking a 20 minute walk. (Although most times I don’t go for the walk, I just suck it up and take my calories like a man!) I resort to this method, however, ONLY on the days that the “wait 20 minutes, drink some water, and find something else to do” doesn’t work.

  2. Use exercise to reduce food cravings

    In the most-recent article on her new FitNotes Web site, Fran talks about techniques to reduce cravings for junk food (she calls them empty calories). I have found that, following the ride home from work, I am not hungry for supper when I get home and,…

  3. You’re on!! Next Blue Bunny craving that strike, I’m going to break a sweat and see how that works. You’ll be the first to know.

  4. I’ve been fighting off a potato chip craving for the better part of a week now. The only thing keeping me from giving in is the fact that I have weigh-in tomorrow morning and don’t want a lot of water retention from the salt.
    But after tomorrow morning, all bets are off…just kidding. =)

  5. I just thought of a concept my biology teacher told us about the problem with eating as an addiction which I don’t think came to mind before it. The problem is, unlike many other addictions, whether it be very real like drugs or ciggarettes, or seamingly inconsequential, with eating addictions to the bad stuff or unhealthy habits, you can’t just stop eating, you have to eat, and you have to be able to control it, making it all that much harder. You can’t just cut it off completely, you have to manage it every day and stay conscious of it. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, it feels like managing a floodgate.
    Personally, I use a combination of most of the ideas, especially the realization of the discomfort and bad feeling effects, both directly from a meal and in the longer term of general health, willpower through a resolute state of mind, “stalling” in some cases, and a little of most all the others. The “stalling” was a little trick for weaning off habits. The most important was eating when going to a movie, and other social activities. I went to a lot of movies, and usually got something to snack on and a drink or freezee. That was a hard habit to ween off. You just want to do something else while watching, kinda of the fidgeting type of thing where you need to let off energy somewhere. I can have a lot of extra energy lying around, always need to do something. But anyway, to brake the habit to the point of breaking the impulse as well was to instead of not buying anything and trying to resist that way, instead I started getting something, but “stalling” ever actually eating it. Eventually I didn’t even need to buy it in the first place. Knowing it was always there anytime I decided to break into it helped because that eliminated the additional craving of not having it there. It then became a constant choice and eventually the habit was gone. The mind didn’t expect to need the food anymore, it didn’t feel lost anymore, or denied anything. The drink was the easy part. It also saved me a lot of wasted money.
    I used this same trick for several things, “stalling” by considering them a special occaision that needed to be enjoyed fully in the right time only, which is actually how they should be enjoyed. Those things then became special occassions in my mind and not expected to be eaten anytime and not as background during normal life or to release energy. I guess it’s not really a trick because I just finally made those foods what they are supposed to be in the first place. But at first it seemed like “stalling,” even though it was really willpower saying “hey! those are special! Not ‘food’!” It took a little to really realize that. So I still enjoy everything, just giving everything the individual respect they deserve, whether they are special or real food. The distinction is that ‘food’ is what you eat for your body, which is the point of eating! So that includes everything your body NEEDS, and if it tastes good that’s great too (and it doesn’t have to be surgary or salty or fatty to taste good, the other tastes simply have to be appreciated, especially for their richness). The special ‘treats’ are recreational eats. (ha! that rhymes!) You eat them to enjoy yourself, to have a little fun with your culinary pleasures. Your body has no use for them, they aren’t really food, and you aren’t really eating in the sense of sustaining life.
    I guess its really all will against animal impulses. They both have their place in life, but there needs to be balance. Tricks can only take you so far, and help out in the beginning, but in the end I think you need to realize your strength of will, and realize things about those eating habits. I think even the tricks have an aspect of strength of will, but we don’t realize it because we see it as a trick and not a choice, and because we think to be using willpower means to constantly be fighting some overpowering feeling or force. But part of the willpower is not to be fighting these unwanted impulses and be aware of the feeling, not even to suppress them or to ignore them. Maybe the real power, and ease to carry it on, is to simply live with them so well that they are always there but no longer hurt, to live with them, listen to them, but not be a slave to them, not see them as opponents, which in turn causes pain, or stings. The worst thing to do is to consider them stings, and to look upon doing the action they promote as ‘giving in’ to them, to consider them as an other, as something outside ourselves, a will that is trying to bend us to their intentions. Then we are always considering the taunt, and not the question, we are always one foot in the game feeling the pull we are trying to resist. We are always hovering there wondering if we should ‘give in,’ never decided, never addressing THE QUESTION and moving on. We consider ourselves a victim of this imaginary authoritarian figure embodied from that simple autonomous chemical message, and so can never escape. They are a part of ourselves, and are a subordinate part the instant we became conscious. How can we be a victim? I understand why it would be linked to emotional aspects when our relation to it has so many parallels to our relationships in life, in particular to authoritative figures, to those we view ourselves as subordinate to and victims to. We already think of those impulses as an external will we are subjected to. We have already made them a person constant in our lives with expectations and overbearing will. I guess that’s why it can be so hard. How hard is it to ever escape the lingering will and expectations of your parents and idols, or other loved ones for that matter? It never goes away, most just seem to learn to live with it, listen to it, and decide and live.

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