QUESTION: I came across your book yesterday, and couldn't put it down because I couldn’t believe that someone else has gone through the same things I have. After reading, I went to buy a few Weight Watchers-approved things from the market (I've done the plan before), and told myself that tomorrow's a new day. Well, the “new day” started out great, but between my hunger, cravings and anxiety, I probably ate twice as much as I should have. Even though it was healthy stuff, I still doubled up on calories. How did you control your cravings? It’s just crazy-difficult to go from eating so much to having just a little Lean Cuisine for lunch. — Hopeless in the Valley
DEAR VALLEY GIRL: First, please, don’t say you’re hopeless! Believing that you can change your ways—and your life—is key to long-term weight loss. So don’t give up on yourself.
OK, pep talk over. On to the meat of the answer: I’ve had more than my share of those “new days,” when you wake up determined to resist the temptations of the world we live in, only to cave before rush hour’s over. And it’s almost worse when it’s not a chocolate-covered doughnut that you give into—a real indulgence—but a too-generous helping of boring old bran cereal or baked potato chips. After all, you end up eating about the same number of calories on pseudo-healthy foods as you would if you went ahead and ate the thing you really want—the gooey sticky bun or warm scone from Starbucks.
So, how do I control my cravings? I took the liberty of putting your question into present tense, because I have cravings every day. You may not want to hear this, but once you reach your goal weight—whatever that is—you’ll still have temptations, you’ll still want to skip your workout, you’ll still have days where you need a quick food fix and the only solution is the drive-through. That’s what people mean when they say this is a “lifestyle”: managing your health and your weight is a life-long process. The trick is to find tools that work for you, that allow you to live healthfully and happily. That takes some research, commitment and a bit of trial and error. That said, here are some of the things I do to keep from caving to those cravings.
- Question them. It’s 9 p.m., my son is finally in bed, and I’m thinking, “Where’s the chocolate?” But is chocolate what I really need? I’ve just had a full, demanding day. Maybe I need to shut off the lame TV show I automatically turn on and slip outside to look at the stars instead. Maybe I need a long, hot bath, or to turn up the stereo and dance with my husband. So often, food is our go-to source of comfort when there are SO many other things that can REALLY feed us. Maybe you crave foods at certain times of day just because it’s a habit (like my 9 p.m. chocolate fix). You’ll never know if you don’t ask the question.
- Go on a sugar/salt fast. Swearing off sugar or salt—or both—completely for a period of time (say, a month?) may curb your cravings once your fast is complete. Like many overeaters, I am an all-or-nothing type: It was easier for me to cut certain foods out completely than to limit my portion size, at least at first. Once I lifted my personal moratorium on sweet and salty foods, I found that my tastebuds had transformed. They became much more sensitive, so that I began to appreciate a wider array of flavors, particularly in fruits and veggies. Plus, super-salty and super-sweet foods started to turn me off—I was satisfied with less of the stuff.
- Plan your indulgences. I “schedule” small indulgences so I have something to look forward to—that way, I’m not left thinking I’ll never experience the unique pleasure of crunching on nacho-flavored Doritos again. For instance, I’ll allow myself one “treat” in a pre-set portion (for instance, three mini York Peppermint Patties) a day, or set aside one day a week as a “free day” when I can eat whatever I want. And, believe me, it works—I look so forward to those indulgences. Just knowing I’ll be able to satisfy my need for sweets in particular makes it easier to do without in the meantime.
- Make it inconvenient. Don’t keep your trigger foods in the house—knowing you’ll have to make a trip to the store will cause you to at least think twice about indulging. If you’ve got vending machines at the office, leave your change (and singles) at home. Try to cook only as much as you need, so you don’t have leftovers in the fridge ready to satisfy a late night binge.