Let’s face it – sometimes sticking to your medical weight loss plan isn’t easy. Cravings can hit, and hit hard. But that doesn’t mean you have to give in.
Most of the time, cravings aren’t driven by physical hunger, but by psychological hunger. In fact I would dare say that’s probably the case more than 80 percent of the time. Still, cravings can feel very urgent and real, almost overpowering. Here’s what I advise my patients do when a craving hits:
Check In: Ask yourself what the craving is really for. Is it about chocolate (or whatever the food may be)? Or is it a craving for something no food can really provide – more time for yourself, a lowered stress level, eliminating unpleasant emotions, escaping a difficult circumstance, simple boredom, facing the fear of reaching your goal? Understanding what you really want, and realizing that food won’t make that happen, can help break a craving’s grip and get you in touch with what you really do need.
Buy Some Time: Cravings are often strong in the moment, but actually pass rather quickly if not acted upon. When a craving hits, tell yourself you’re going to wait 20 minutes, and then see if you still want the food. Chances are you won’t.
Distract Yourself: Along the same lines, rather than focus on the craving, which can make it even more tempting and powerful, do your best to switch gears. Make a phone call, take a brisk walk, write in your journal, repeat a mantra in your head that helps you refocus on your goals, or engage in a game.
Quench Your Thirst: Sometimes, a craving is actually about being thirsty, not hungry. See if drinking a glass of water or some hot or iced tea does the trick. But beware of reaching for artificially sweetened beverages, soda pop, juice, and the like – they can actually stimulate your appetite and intensify cravings.
Decode the Clues: Often, a craving can be triggered by some unconscious or entrenched automatic response you may not even be aware of. One example may be popcorn and movies. For some people, the two are so closely linked that going to the movies automatically equals eating a bucket of popcorn – even if the popcorn doesn’t really taste very good! The same can happen based upon a certain time of day (mid-afternoon or late night), an activity usually associated with snacking or eating (watching TV), a particular location (a trip to the mall), etc. Stop and think about whether you’re really hungry or whether your environment may simply be triggering you to want to eat. If you have to, spend time away from a trigger location or activity until you think you have the craving under control.
Test It Out: Ask yourself if it’s true hunger that’s causing the craving. Ask yourself these questions: When was the last time you ate? Are you experiencing real hunger pangs? Will any food do, or is your craving for something in particular? If it’s real hunger, it’s likely been some time since you ate last, which means an apple will hit the spot just as much as ice cream. If not, it’s probably not true hunger.
Stay Ahead of It: Set yourself up for success by being very mindful to not skip meals or put yourself in difficult situations where you’ll be more susceptible to cravings. Be sure you’re eating lots of low-calorie/high-bulk foods and drinking plenty of water. Hedge your bet by making sure you’ve always got a healthy option close at hand. Preventing cravings is much easier than dealing with them.
Count the Cost: Sometimes it can help to remind yourself that giving into a craving can actually lead to more cravings, setting off a possible binge cycle by stretching out your stomach and triggering hormones that increase appetite. Do you really want to put yourself in that position? Probably not.
Get On With It: When all else fails and you find you’ve given into a craving, resist the urge to beat yourself up or let it lead to days, weeks, or months of binging. Simply chalk it up to a lesson learned, refocus on your goals, and get back on the plan. Losing weight is more about persistence than perfection – so don’t let a craving lead to giving up on your goals!
Dr. Michael Kaplan
Founder and Chief Medical Officer