One homework assignment this week as part of the 60-day Whole30 program I’m participating in with several other members of CrossFit South Arlington is to review these two articles and talk about the circumstances surrounding my own food cravings:
There have been a few challenging adjustments for me during this program, but fortunately food cravings haven’t really been among them! In the food log I’ve been maintaining since the program started, I count only four instances of food cravings, all of them for some sort of sugary or even mildly sweetened food, on day 5, day 8, day 11, and day 19. None of these cravings were for a particular food — at least not strongly so. The first time it happened, the first thing I thought of that I wanted to eat was Justin’s maple almond butter, but really anything moderately sugary would have satisfied the urge.
These cravings weren’t really triggered by places, people, or events, but three of them do share one thing in common — they happened an hour or two after a lunch of just eggs and mixed greens sautéed in red palm oil. The fourth happened after a lunch that included 15 cranberries. Were the eggs and fat not quite enough to keep me satiated throughout the afternoon? Did the cranberries trigger too much insulin and lead to a sugar craving later?
The first three instances were still relatively early in this experiment so I may not have fully transitioned from sugar burning. I wasn’t eating a ton of sugary carbs, but I was eating more fruit than I should have, indulging too often in things like sweetened nut butters, and certainly not paying any attention to the small quantities of sugar in things like bacon and sausage. People transitioning into a low-carb diet often report feeling flu-like symptoms and frequent sugar cravings within the first few days. I’ve never really had it that bad, but maybe these particular cravings were kind of a low-grade version of my body suddenly adapting to having nearly zero sugar content in my diet.
In any case, I managed to overcome most strong cravings and food-related impulses a long time ago. This is not to say I haven’t ever indulged in things I believe I shouldn’t eat, but it’s not difficult for me to deprive myself of anything entirely. I started using a psychological trick way back in the mid-’90s, in my first successful (although short-lived) stab at weight loss.
First, I try to focus on the great-tasting foods that I can currently eat instead of on the foods I can’t. The old glass-half-full mentality. Quit obsessing over cookies and doughnuts, and instead remind myself that I can eat things like great steaks and curries and an array of tasty, spicy veggies. This attitude does most of the work in avoiding temptation.
Second, I try to maintain a mental mindset that any particular off-limit food isn’t actually food. So, if I see a plate of brownies, I regard them as non-consumable objects. They may as well be made out of plastic — I won’t be eating them in either case. This is pretty successful in and of itself, just refusing to regard particular kinds of food as edible at all.
If that’s not enough to prevent some kind of food from tempting me, though, my third strategy is to try calling up a tangible memory of how the forbidden food tastes, smells, and feels. In other words, I try to indulge momentarily in a brief and vivid — though imaginary — sensation of all the things I enjoy about that off-limits food. And then I remind myself: I already know what that tastes like. The experience of eating that is already stored away in my memory, ready to call back at any time. So, if I were to indulge in actually eating it again now, what would I gain from it after the few seconds of consumption had passed? Just another memory of the past, the same type of memory that I already have.
Indulging would also mean that I’ve disrupted my own health goals, and I know how easy it is for marginal choices to aggregate over time into a drastically unhealthy lifestyle. It’s better to avoid even those marginally bad choices whenever possible. I gain nothing by indulging again but regret and a fleeting sensation of the kind I can already recall at will from my memory.
That’s my three-pronged strategy for avoiding food temptation, and it’s usually very successful. I used to live a life of constant prodigious indulgence in all kinds of junk food (along with terribly unhealthy food that I assumed was good for me), and I have a detailed memory of all the qualities that I loved about it while eating it, as well as all the ways in which it made me feel terrible afterward. Calling up both of those different types of memory when needed helps to keep me safely away from the wrong foods.
Here are my food photos for day 44:
Thursday, Feb. 27
I woke up at 10:25 a.m. (after heading to bed at 2:25 a.m.).
Breakfast: 11:10 a.m. | 4 oz. salmon, 1/2 large carrot, 1/12 head cabbage, 1/4 sweet onion, 1 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spicess
Leftovers from dinner. I ate half of the contents in the skillet below, saving the other half for lunch — or so I thought!
Lunch: 2:45 p.m. | 6.7 oz. herring, .18 oz. chipotle SeaSnax seaweed, 5,000 IU Vitamin D capsule, Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc caplet
I inadvertently left the leftovers at home, so stuck to packaged food on hand at the office for lunch.
Dinner: 9:45 p.m. | 4 oz. salmon, 3 eggs, 1/2 large carrot, 1/12 head cabbage, greens mix, 1/4 sweet onion, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, herbs & spices
Mostly leftovers from dinner/breakfast, to which I added eggs and some mixed greens.