Myths About Cravings and Overcoming Them

Right now the sun is shining and we’re getting ready for summer, but during the winter in Utah, it can get really cold.  I can remember one night, last November, I was on my way to a family event and it was really cold. The temperature was below freezing. We were on the freeway coming down off a hill when the car in front of me slammed on their brakes and started to slide on ice. We were all driving on ice! Of course my first thoughts were this is not good. So I put on my brakes and my antilock  brake system starts pumping and pumping and pumping. I just kept saying please no please no as we continued to get a little closer and a little closer to this car. Then my son and I simultaneously felt our seat belts cinch really tight. I mean any slack that was left in the seatbelt was gone. I’m thinking I don’t want to crash I don’t have time for this. But then all of a sudden the car in front of me regained control and started moving forward again and it was over.  Shout out to Mario Palazzetti, who developed the first fully electronic brake system. Because as much as my brain knows that I’m supposed to pump the brakes to keep from sliding, my foot just kept pressing harder and harder the closer I got to the car.

Sometimes cravings, which I also refer to as over desire, feels the same way. Like you are completely out of control with only a prayer to save you. Have you ever been somewhere where a really delicious dessert is offered and your desire for it flies through the roof? For me it was a chocolate chip cookie and boy was the craving intense!  My brain acted how an impatient toddler gets; mom, mom, mom, tapping on her leg, mommy, momma, mom tugging on her pants, mom, momma, MOM!  For the love, child!  Relentless!

So I resign to a bite

Then finishing the cookie was all I could think of.  And just like the cartoons where the devil and angel appear on my shoulder.  With my eyes looking at the now-that-I-know-is-so-tatey chocolate chip cookie the following conversation happens

The angel, AKA the adult brain says: You really shouldn’t have anymore

The devil, or the toddler brain says: That tasted so good

Angel:  Party in the brain, not in the body

Devil:  it would be rude to so and so to not finish their gift to me. What if she thinks I don’t like it?

Angel:  It would be rude to my body if I did eat it

Devil: Just one more bite’s not gonna hurt

Angel:  That’s how you convinced me to take the first bite

Devil: I deserve this.  I’ve been doing so good all day

Angel: realizing she’s losing the battle says, please no, please no!

Devil:  eat it, eat it eat it!

And before you know it, the one little bite turned into the whole cookie and I found myself looking to see if there’s a second one I could devour and then a third.

Remember when I was sliding down the icy hill thinking, please no! please not! Praying I wouldn’t crash?

Is it possible to develop an anti lock break system for our brains when we’re on that slippery slope of crashing off our plans?  Absolutely!

But before I do, I want to talk a little more about cravings, why we have them and just 3 of the many myths that are flying around.

Myth 1 Food cravings develop from a nutrient deficiency in the body.  If this were really true, don’t you think we’d actually be craving something like broccoli, not the giant chocolate chip cookie on the counter.  Commonly, the culprits people crave the most are salt and sugar.  Did you know that I hadn’t eaten sugar for a month and a half before I had that cookie? And The craving didn’t really intensify until after that first bite.  Yes, it was annoying like a relentless toddler, but The more I ate, the more my brain yelled more, more more until I had to stop because I felt sick to my stomach.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  because of the mood-boosting chemical dopamine.  When we eat carb-rich, sweet or salty foods, the pleasure centers light up in the brain as it gets a huge dose of dopamine.  The brain loves this and stores it into memory so it can know where to get the “hit” next time it needs a pick-me-up.

A book called salt sugar fat by Michael Moss: dives in to How the food giants hooks us to continually crave their products-

He looked into how 300 well-known processed food manufacturers dominate the American diet with a targeted marketing strategy of calling their foods and snacks “healthy” and “natural”.

These companies hired food scientists to research how foods and which foods affect our chemistry in the brain.  They figured out how to chemically engineer the food with the exact ratios of salt, sugar, and fat needed to light up the brain’s pleasure centers to maximum levels, the same way cocaine does.  They aptly named this ratio the bliss point.

Why would they do this?  Simple. They want us to keep buying their food.  Just like cocaine though The more hits we get the more hits we need to get the same amount of pleasure as the first time.  As we continue to flood the pleasure centers in the brain so intensely, it begins to numb the receptors that tell us we’re full and satiated. and that’s makes us coming back wanting more and more.  You want it, you crave it, you buy it, you taste it: bliss point… and this cycle makes a few hundred food manufacturers very wealthy as they market it as “healthy” and “natural”

This may be upsetting to hear, but it’s also very empowering because it allows us the choice, the opportunity, to take control of our own health in our own life. I’ll tell you more about how to do that later. 

Right now on to

Myth 2: Food cravings come in the absence of food.  Totally false!  The truth is, the more often you eat, the more likely you’re feeding those cravings.  I refer to it like an itch. I’ve talked about desire spreading like poison ivy, the poisonous itch.  But maybe you’ve never had poison ivy so it’s hard to relate.  Where I used to live, if I wanted to go outside at night, I had to wear bug repellent or I’d get bit by a mosquito.  We lived near a river so if I didn’t put on repellent, it was inevitable.  A craving is also like a mosquito bite.  It feels good when you’re itching it, but as soon as you stop the irritation starts up again. And you itch and itch until it bleeds leaving a beautiful scab in it’s place.

Decreasing the amount of times you eat per day actually gives the body more time to look for better fuel, like fat off your body.  But if we never give our body a chance to need the extra energy, it won’t go looking for it.  Yes, you may get body hunger, but  Like the mosquito bite, once you stop paying attention to it, it eventually goes away. 

Cravings are uncontrollable.  While it’s true that they may feel that way, you can control them. And it’s not through resisting or avoiding them.  A craving comes because the neurotransmitters in the brain sends a chemical response to your body.  It’s typically influenced by something you saw, smelled, or thought. For example, you walk into a movie theater and smell the buttery popcorn.  Odds are, you’ll want some and it’ll be especially compelling if that’s a part of your usual movie-going experience. 

Cravings are a habit that’s been created in the brain.  That’s all it is. 

Cravings don’t come because we’re hungry.  In fact, sometimes, cravings give us the false sense of hunger.  A craving is a desire.  That desire was caused by some thought like that looks good or I’m missing out if I don’t eat it.  Or Don’t eat it!  immediately kicks in my rebellious side that says, eat it, eat it, eat it!  all these thoughts would cause desire.

And because that thought started where all thoughts start, in the brain,  neurons fired, you felt desire, you answered that desire and then reinforced how good it was . Doing this over and over creates the habit

In honor of Mario Palazzetti, the inventor of ABS, I’ve come up with your solution to cravings using the acronym a-b-s

A is for awareness. Awareness of what our sneaky brains are trying to sell us on and uncovering what we are accidentally believing.  I was going to reuse the example of the devil and the angel, but ironically, my son, who’s in school right now, just texted me and asked if we could go and get boba after school.  I responded with, “having a craving” and he says Yeah, also I’m exhausted and need the energy boost.  Do you know what’s in boba?  Sugar and more sugar.  And tapioca pearls, which might as well be sugar. he was up late last night because he’s helping with the school play and he’ll be there again tonight.  After his energy boost text I said, I fear that the sugar might make you crash right when you need it the most,.  What’s his reply.  I’ll be fine.  Odds are, he’s a teenager.  He probably will be fine, but his brain says, man I’m tired.  We should get sugar.  You know what sounds really good.  Boba.  Yeah…let’s ask mom.  So his brain says, you’re tired, you need energy, get sugar, ask mom.  Having awareness of what our brain is saying will offer us the opportunity to question the toddler brain, what if I’m wrong about that? Are there parts of what you’re believing, not true?  Will sugar really solve my problem or will it just delay them and cause more in the long run. So kinda funny that he just texted me about that.

B is for Believe- now that you know you do have control over what goes in your mouth, believe in yourself enough to do it.  Or at least believe that it is possible.  When we start a new diet, it’s usually easier because we’re believing things like, this is going to work, I’ve totally got this but then when the honeymoon phase is over, when things start to get tough we start to think, what was I thinking? I totally don’t got this!  It was way easier when we were on our high of I’ve totally got this! Beause we were feeling undefeated, empowered, unstoppable.  But if I’ve totally got this is too reaching for you, If that’s not believable, maybe it’s I’m capable of figuring this out.  Maybe that’s not as glamourous, but it’s way better then I totally don’t got this.  Your first step towards getting the results you want is believing it’s possible.

S is for Strategy.  Your strategy and the strategy of the external marketing tactics that manufacturers are bomarding us with.  Do you notice how many food products are being marketed to you on a daily basis? Notice what your brain is offering you when you Drive by fast food billboards, or see ads on the computer, phones,  and tablets, when you walk into the store, the food at eye level was placed there on purpose. The manufacturers paid a premium for that spot on the shelf or in the aisles so you’d see their products first.  During prime time TV, notice how many commercials are food-based.  First, know this is their strategy to get you to buy and get hooked.  Remember they are selling you a bliss point.  This is part of your strategy.  Noticing their tactics and deciding from an empowered place what you want to do.  I’m not saying you can’t eat these foods.  In fact, you really do get to choose whatever foods you want to eat.  But knowing that eating these kinds of foods will flood you with dopamine, and knowing you’ll have the desire to eat more and more, make your strategy ahead of time with this knowledge that you will have that desire to not stop eating when you’re satisfied, but then choose to stop anyway.  Choose to break down the habit instead of strengthen it.

There’s your Anti lock breaks to battle cravings.

Don’t give up on pumping the breaks and eventually you’ll gain traction.

If you’re interested in learning more about managing cravings and how to throw out the need for will power, I go more into depth about that and emotional eating in my Thinner Love program.  Go to my website thinnerlove.com to read more about the program and when the next session starts.

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