Some of you may know that I’ve oaecently been on vacation for a week. And throughout that holiday I was so impressed with how clear my skin was. There was not one spot or breakout in sight. But then when I returned home I got like five spots within two days, and I was wondering what caused those breakouts. My first instinct was that it had to be something I ate. So I looked back on my vacation, and I realized I had dessert one evening. And yes, it was probably a combination of
things. The refined sugar from the dessert, traveling, hormonal changes throughout the month, … But then my focus shifted to something else. I had dessert ONCE during my holiday.
I realized that to many people that might sound super restrictive, like, “She doesn’t even eat dessert while on vacation?” But the truth is, it’s not restrictive to me. I didn’t crave sweets so I didn’t even think about it. The reason I had dessert that one evening was because I was still hungry after dinner. I didn’t bring enough snacks on the beach, then dinner was later than expected, so come dinner time, I was really, really hungry. I had a main dish and some salad for dinner, but after finishing them, I still felt hungry. That’s why I decided to get dessert. I didn’t stuff myself. I ate just the right amount. After dessert I felt comfortably full and satisfied. I wasn’t bloated or anything throughout the night or the next day. It was all good.
But this really stood out to me, because to me it’s just proof that I’ve totally overcome my cravings and also my dysfunctional relationship to food as I’m able to enjoy some treats here and there without feeling guilty and without even thinking about it at all. And I know that cravings are a huge issue for many people as they have been for me. When you’re craving sweets (or fatty food, crunchy food, salty food,…) everyday, you can’t even imagine a day without those cravings. And when you’re overthinking every food decision you make, you can’t imagine being able to eat when you’re hungry, stop eating when you’re full, and doing all of that without thinking about it, and without any feelings of guilt or shame. And that’s a very painful place to be in since we all need food to live. When you’re an alcoholic you can simply stop drinking alcohol for the rest of your life and be happy (I’m simplifying). But when you have a dysfunctional relationship to food, you have to heal it, because without food, there is no life.
WHEN FOOD BECOMES YOUR FRIEND
So I want to tell you how I managed to overcome my cravings and heal my relationship with food, because I feel like in modern day society, having a dysfunctional relationship to food, even if it’s not a full-blown eating disorder, is very common. And I know first-hand how much easier life gets when food becomes your friend.
ADD IN THE GOOD STUFF
As I said, I used to struggle with cravings too. For me it was usually sweet cravings, but this same information also applies to cravings for salty food, fatty food, crunchy food, or what have you. Here’s what I did and my advice for you. First of all, focus on ADDING healthy foods to your diet. Restriction doesn’t work. So instead of cutting anything out and driving yourself crazy, just start adding the good stuff. You want to focus on improving your nutrition overall, because being well-feed and well-nourished prevents cravings.
WE CRAVE THE FOODS WE CONTINUOUSLY EAT
Secondly, we crave the foods we continuously eat. So if you’re having sweets every day, you’re gonna crave them everyday. I experienced the same with coffee. I rarely drink coffee (maybe once or twice a year), but there was a time when I started having one cup per day, simply because I enjoyed the taste and the smell of it. I grew up with the smell of coffee in my house every morning, so it is kinds soothing for me. But after a couple of weeks I noticed that I started craving a cup of coffee at the same time every day. It was no longer a conscious decision to drink coffee, but a craving that wanted to be satisfied. So I stopped drinking coffee immediately. I don’t like the feeling of being even mildly addicted to anything. Whether it be coffee, sweets, or my hair straightener (another story for another time?) doesn’t matter.
And the same is true for food. We crave the foods we eat on a regular basis. So by now you probably have figured out that in order to stop craving sweets (or anything else), you have to stop eating them. But earlier I said that restriction doesn’t work. So what to do?
NUTRIENTS > CALORIES
Here’s what I did. First of all I made a mental shift, recognizing that craving sweets is my body’s way of telling me I’m undernourished and I need food ASAP. Sugar is a quick energy source so it can satisfy your hunger very quickly. That’s why the body sometimes sends out a sweet craving when we’re really just hungry for anything. I NEED FOOD, NOW! That’s what you’re body is trying to tell you. And even more so your body is calling for nutrients! The processed foods you can find so readily available in the grocery store and at the drive-thru are calorie-dense, but lacking in nutrients. Have you heard the term empty calories? Empty calories are horrible because you could eat a huge junk-food meal that is very high in calories, but still end up hungry an hour later, because your body is still waiting for the nutrients it needs. Hunger is not your body crying for empty calories – those don’t exist in nature – it’s your body crying for nutrients. So if you don’t feed it the nutrients it needs to survive, it’s gonna keep sending out hunger signals and cravings until those nutrient-needs are met.
WHY YOU’RE ALWAYS HUNGRY
So what if you never eat healthy, and you’re eating processed food, fast food, and junk food everyday? Well then you’re ALWAYS HUNGRY. Sound familiar? So that’s important for you to know. When your body is sending out hunger signals and cravings, it does so because it needs and craves NUTRIENTS.
Before we move on, let’s take a moment to recap.
1. Focus on improving your overall diet.
2. Start ADDING more healthy foods – no restriction.
3. Look at food in terms of the nutrients it provides; not calories.
4. Shift your mind from hating on your body for “pestering” you with those cravings, to your body wanting to keep you alive by sending out signals that you need more nutrients.
5. We crave the foods we continuously eat.
CROWD OUT THE BAD STUFF
Now, how can we stop eating the “bad foods” without restriction? Here’s what I did. Realizing that cravings for sweets are actually just BIG hunger for nutrients, whenever a sweet craving hit, I would eat a full, healthy, balanced meal. So say I wanted a chocolate bar, I would have brown rice, veggies, and lentils instead (for example!). I cooked all my own meals and still do. If you have a full, busy schedule, I highly recommend getting into food-prepping. That means, once or twice a week you cook a big batch of a healthy, well-balanced meal, pack it in one-serve containers, and then you refrigerate or freeze them, so you have a healthy meal on hand whenever you need it. You can eat them at home and take them with you to work.
The reason this works is because first of all, by eating a full, well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal, you’re satisfying the real, underlying craving for nourishment, and secondly, you stop eating the processed foods, and so you stop craving them.
Now, if after eating that full, balanced, nourishing meal, you’re still craving that piece of chocolate or those chips, have them. But only AFTER you’ve had your healthy meal. This is called crowding out. It teaches your body that it doesn’t have to send out those intense cravings for sweet, salty, fatty, or whatever, because there’s plenty of nutrient-dense food available.
YOUR BODY IS ON YOUR SIDE
That’s another thing. Your body is always concerned with your well-being and survival. It doesn’t want to make your life harder, or trick you, or screw you over. Your body loves you! But no matter how advanced the human race might be, our bodies still function like they did thousands of years ago. We still have that same fight or flight response. And even though so many of us are lucky to be living in a society where food is readily available all the time, our bodies are still worried about famine and about us starving to death.
That’s one of the many reasons why diets don’t work! And it’s why restriction doesn’t work. Because when we go on a restrictive diet, even though our conscious mind might me thinking, “This is a good idea. I’m gonna get skinny and beautiful.”, our subconscious mind (which is in charge!) goes, “PANIC! There’s a famine! I gotta hold on to every gram of fat and put every little bit of food I get into my fat depots, so I don’t die!”
YOU NEED TO FEEL “SAFE” IN ORDER TO BURN EXCESS FAT
Trust me, your body WANTS to be healthy, thin, athletic, fit, and strong. It really does. But more than anything, you’re body wants you to SURVIVE. And if you don’t give your body enough food/nutrients, it won’t let you lose excess fat because it thinks there’s a famine and it doesn’t want you to die. Your body wants to be thin and fit, but it will only allow you to lose excess fat when it’s safe, i.e. when there’s an abundance of nutrient-dense food available. So if you want to be healthy, thin, fit, strong – you have got to feed your body all the healthy foods. All the micro-nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals, and a healthy balance of the macro-nutrients which are carbs, protein, and fat. Your body needs it all. It’s extra like that ;)
So, I told you to satisfy your sweet tooth (or any other cravings) by instead eating a full, healthy, balanced meal. If you absolutely have to, then yes, eat the candy AFTERWARDS. But you might find yourself already satisfied after that healthy meal. And if you do eat the sweet stuff afterward, that’s a transitory stage. Listen to your body. It depends on how strong your cravings are. If you’re satisfied after the healthy meal, stop there, until you get hungry again. If the craving is still roaring its head after you’ve had a full, healthy meal, give in to that craving. But only afterwards. And over time try to wean yourself off of those foods completely.
To be honest, I always just ate the healthy meal. I think it makes the process much easier because, again, we crave the foods we continuously eat, so the sooner you stop eating sweets, the sooner you’ll stop craving them. So what did I do if I still had a craving for sweets after my healthy meal? I had more of my healthy meal. Until I was full and didn’t think about sweets anymore.
FOOD AS FUEL
Now some of you might be thinking that that adds up to a lot of calories, but honestly, those processed foods are crazy high in calories, and as we said, empty calories at that. But a healthy, balanced, nourishing meal has all those micro-nutrients your body is actually craving, so if your craving is still there after eating that healthy meal, it might be because your body is so depleted in nutrients, that it keeps the “craving signal” on for a while when it’s finally getting some nutrients to fill up your micro-nutrient-tank. During this entire process it is so crucial to remember that your body is on your side and your body is only concerned with your well-being. So if you need more than one portion of that healthy meal, have it. It’s all part of the process.
You’re not gonna get fat from eating those healthy meals. It’s the processed foods that make you fat, sick, and tired. So if you can crowd them out by replacing them with larger portions of healthy food, do it. Eventually your body will know and understand that nutrient-dense food is readily available, so it will stop those cravings, settle down your hunger levels, and start burning excess body fat. Your body is on your side. You just gotta realize that air, water, and nutrient-dense foods are the fuel it needs in order to function properly. You wouldn’t pour peanut butter into the tank of your car, and then complain that it doesn’t function properly. When you give it the right fuel, it will function at optimal levels. That is as true about your car as it is about your body.
I know first hand that having a healthy relationship with food makes life a gazillion times easier and more fun. So I really hope you’ll apply this information to your own life and let food become your friend.
Now I would love to hear from you…
Do you struggle with cravings or a dysfunctional relationship to food?
How do you deal with those cravings?
And what other questions do you have about this topic?
Leave a comment below and let’s talk.
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