Using Mind Over Matter To Beat Cravings and Gain Control of Your Food
We all know too well that midafternoon slump that can find its way into the 3 o’clock hour and leave us searching for an energy boost. Often that leads us to cravings for sweet or salty snacks that generally do not serve our goals of a healthy lifestyle all that well in the long run if we cave into them.
According to J. Guyenet, PhD, author of The Hungry Brain, “Everything we feel and every behavior we engage in – including what and how much we choose to eat – are the results of brain activity.” This is exactly why we emphasize mindset as a critical part of any sustainable lifestyle changes. The idea is to rewire our mind to override our old habits and create new ones.
Anyone can make short-term commitments to a fad diet or short-lived exercise program, but when it comes to making lifestyle changes, there is work to be done in the mindset so that we can approach the issues differently and form new habits.
Where do cravings come from?
Our brain is wired in such a way to prioritize survival. When we eat foods that supported survival the brain rewards us by producing dopamine, the feel-good chemical in our brains. Dopamine is produced in large quantities with sugar, starch, and salt, so that the next time you see these foods, it triggers a craving or a motivation to eat it so that you can “feel good” just like last time. This is why during times of excess stress you may find yourself craving sugary, salty snacks that are full of simple carbohydrates. Your brain knows that if you eat them, you will have increased dopamine production to help you “feel good”. There is good news with all of this, the less you eat these foods, the easier they will be for you to resist. If you follow along with us, we can help you using the same systems that we did, leading us to the point we are today, where we have close to zero cravings. This makes maintaining a healthy lifestyle sustainable and simple.
Can you moderate?
Moderation can be a winning formula for many people who choose to live a sustainable healthy lifestyle. It allows them to eat well, 80-90% of the time, and enjoy other foods strictly for pleasure, 10-20% of the time. Using this formula is an effective way for people to avoid diets and just incorporate a system of healthy eating into their daily routine. Craig and I live off of this formula ourselves, it works for us and we can show you how to make it work for you. It allows you to feed your body with the necessary high-quality fuel that it needs for peak performance, while never leaving you feeling deprived or stuck without any options when you are in a social setting.
However, some people are wired differently and need to start off a little bit different. This is where you have to become mindful and understand yourself. Some people have trouble under circumstances of moderation and perform much better in an all or nothing setting. If this is true for you, when the foods you crave are present, you are unable to eat them in moderation.
When this is the case, it is best to abstain completely by eliminating these foods from your house during the initial stages of implementing a healthy lifestyle, helping to minimize cravings for these foods. Over time, your body and mind will acclimate to your new eating routines and your cravings will subside as your body learns to crave the more nutritious food your body needs for maximum performance. Mindfulness and understanding of your own habits will help you determine which approach will work best.
Tell Your Brain You Are Full
Even after consuming a large amount of food, more than enough to fill us up, sometimes we still experience the desire to continue consuming. It comes down to what we call satiety, or when your brain is satisfied with what you have eaten. Feelings of satiety come from foods that include healthy fat, protein and fiber. Eating a meal or a snack of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and proteins will do the trick. Food high in sugar, salt, and simple carbs will leave you eating more than you need before your brain recognizes that your energy need has been met.
Forget Planned Cheat Days
Many health experts tout the idea of having cheat days, meaning that if you eat in moderation (healthy 80% of the time), you would eat healthy 8 out of 10 days and have 2 cheat days. While the concept generally works, there are two major challenges that we have experienced with this.
1.) Life doesn’t always happen as planned – Since life can be unpredictable, if you schedule out your cheat days, you are likely going to cheat more often than you should. Imagine your cheat day is this Saturday and next Sunday. Then suddenly, right after your cheat day this Saturday, you get invited to go to a cookout the next afternoon where the healthy choices are minimal. Unless you are willing to give up next Sunday’s plans on your next cheat day, you have just added an additional cheat day to the cycle. I don’t know about you, but being bound by this type of strict schedule around eating doesn’t sound like much fun to me.
We have found much greater success in eating healthy at home in our kitchen and when we go out to places with healthy options and then saving any splurges for special events as they arise. This schedule prevents us from forming unhealthy associations with food. When we plan our cheat days, it allows our brain to associate unhealthy food with reward and healthy food with deprivation or punishment. This mindset if counterproductive to our ultimate goal which is for healthy living to become a habit that we don’t have to think about every single day.
2.) When we spend an entire day as a cheat day, it can mentally be hard to get back on track. Our brain often thinks, “I ate whatever I wanted yesterday, and it didn’t seem to do any harm, so what harm will it do to eat whatever I want today.” Before you know it, all the progress you made has disappeared, your cravings are back in full swing and you have to start back at square one.
We recommend not planning out when you will eat unhealthy, just make healthy choices as often as possible, with the mindset that food is for fueling your body for peak performance and not for pleasure. The more you can disassociate food with emotion, the better off you will be.
Plan Activities For Celebration Instead Of Just Eating
I know in our family it has been a tradition for generations to go out to eat or have a party that is focused on food when there is something to celebrate. While we don’t recommend eliminating this completely, plan some activity around these celebrations. At your next party, put yard games outside like cornhole or horseshoes to get people active or plan a group walk in the afternoon. The idea again is to remove the connection in your brain between, food and reward and celebration.
We also like to celebrate with our kids by taking them to do something active instead of rewarding them with food all the time. Trampoline parks are everywhere nowadays and they are fun for kids and adults alike. Hiking in a new place with your kids can also be fun or it can be romantic with your spouse. Get creative and have fun. Go bowling, to a park, ice skating, even an amusement park will get you a lot of steps in. Especially with kids, most of the time they would rather play than sit and eat, so get out and move with them.
Eliminate Negative Self-Talk
When we are striving to improve our body, it is tempting to put ourselves down and talk negatively to and about ourselves since we have a desire to be or look different than we are today. The only outcome you will see from this is self-sabotage. Besides ruining your mood, these thoughts can lead us to feel hopeless, especially if results are not coming as quick as we would like. We might say to ourselves, healthy eating isn’t working anyway, so I might as well eat whatever I want. This negative attitude can lead us to binge eat in an attempt to comfort ourselves. Retrain your brain with positive affirmations or complimenting yourself on the progress and commitment that you have made.
- It is safe for me to be slim and healthy.
- Every day I am closer to my ideal weight.
- I let go of all guilt surrounding my past food choices.
- I nourish my body now and every day with healthy choices that will lead me to my ideal body.
Make A Reasonable Commitment
Starting off making changes that are too overwhelming is hard for your brain to accept. If you try to change everything all at once and forever, you are likely to end up failing. Start making several small changes for a short period of time (one or two months) and practice this new commitment until it has become a habit. Then you can add several new changes every month or two. This allows you to retrain your body and mind to adjust to your new norm and that is exactly what it will become. Over the course of time, you will have an entirely new lifestyle that is fueling your body for optimal performance with greater energy, mental clarity, focus, and productivity.
If we can do it, why can’t you?