I’ve heard so many people say that their cravings for junk food completely went away after adopting a healthy lifestyle, cutting out refined grains and sugars, and including more healthy fats in their diet. I’ve read comments by many people on the ketogenic diet saying that their cravings went away in just a few months, while others who went straight carnivore said their cravings vanished after just a couple of weeks (or even days!). But, what about me? Well, after three months of keto, followed by six months of straight carnivore, and now entering my ninth month of eating keto carnivore, I still want junk food. Especially warm, soft, chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven…or frozen cookie dough, another favorite of mine. And if I close my eyes, I can almost taste them.
While my cravings are much more subtle these days–I don’t get hit with an intense urge to scavenge and eat a piece of chocolate like in the past–I’ll sometimes still find myself craving something sweet or longing for a change of texture (maybe something soft like a dinner roll or crunchy like chips).
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this post; I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Maybe you don’t love chocolate chip cookies like I do, but perhaps you’ve been eyeing that piece of carrot cake wondering why it still takes so much effort and discipline to say no. I’ve been a sugar addict since I was in the womb (my mom readily admits that Diet Coke and Peanut M&M’s were her go to foods during her pregnancy with me). Right up until about the age of 20, when I started training for my first fitness competition, my diet was full of pop tarts, French toast, bagels, ramen noodles, cookies, chocolate, carbs, carbs, and more carbs. So even though it’s been years (literally) since I’ve had a chocolate chip cookie, it’s still hard to turn one down. I’m basically battling a sugar habit/craving/addiction (whatever you want to call it) that I’ve had for roughly 36 of the almost 38 years I’ve been alive.
The long and short of this post is to simply let anyone who is still fighting cravings know that they are not alone. It can be discouraging to read how others are completely freed of their cravings and how easy it is for them to say no. Some people even forget to eat–not me, I’m a food addict through and through. In reality, I think many more of us struggle with the day-to-day decisions and have to put forth a good amount of effort to make the conscious decision to take care of ourselves and choose what we will or won’t eat. I was addicted to sugar for many years and old habits are hard to break–but, you can break them. I think the hardest part about fighting cravings is that everywhere we turn, we are surrounded by temptations–at restaurants, in the break room at work, while grocery shopping, during vacations, at the gym (you know which one!), and maybe even in your own house. And, of course, It’s definitely hard when spending time with family and friends who are indulging in decadent side dishes and desserts right in front of you.
While I don’t have any magic tricks to make your cravings instantly disappear, below are a few things I do that help me stay on track and headed toward my goals.
How I fight cravings:
I’ve noticed that eating a ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat, and protein until satiated) has certainly helped diminish the intensity of my cravings, so first and foremost, I recommend cutting out all the junk! Then…
Remind yourself of your goals–often! (My goal is simply to not be in pain, and I know that indulging in many different foods–whether sweet or salty–will make me miserable. So while the cookie is tempting, my goal and desire to feel good is actually stronger; I just have to honor it…and keep reminding myself of it.)
When I’m craving food because I’m bored, I often chew gum. While it can increase or signal hunger for some people because the chewing and flavor tells your brain to get ready for food, I find that it provides me with a burst of flavor and encourages me to get up and try to find something to do that will combat my boredom! (Get out of the house, go to a coffee shop, go for a walk, start on a project–just do something to change your environment and shift your focus.)
Sip on something! It may come as no surprise to you that I enjoy sipping wine…so when I’m bored or really craving something that I know would be a terrible combination with my Crohn’s, I pour a glass of wine (or half a glass) and sip on that for a couple hours. It’s relaxing and gives me something to focus on rather than obsessing about food. It’s a bit of an indulgence, so I find it kind of gives me the feeling of treating myself rather than substituting a food for something I didn’t want…i.e. substituting carrots for the cookie I wanted, just left me wanting the cookie more after eating the carrots.) But, it doesn’t have to be wine, find a favorite tea to make or decaf coffee to enjoy. Sometimes the habit of eating or doing things with our hands is harder to break than the actual desire for food.
Be prepared with an alternative. Can’t eat cake when everyone else is celebrating, but want something sweet to enjoy too? Bring your own dessert. For example, if you’re following a ketogenic diet like me, carry a fat bomb or other keto-friendly treat to eat when everyone else is enjoying their dessert. Or, consider having a treat ready at the house that you can look forward to enjoying when you get home. I often make a protein powder/coconut oil concoction that is sweet and doesn’t upset my Crohn’s, so I’ll enjoy one of my “protreats” when I can’t ignore my sweet tooth. I don’t recommend doing this all the time, however. If you constantly eat treats, you’ll continue to fuel the fire of your cravings. Try to do this sparingly.
The hardest craving for me to beat is when I’m craving something crunchy. My digestive system is so finicky that I can’t just turn to pork rinds or parmesan crisps (also things I love that don’t love me back). In cases like this, it helps that I don’t stock anything that would be tempting for me to eat in the house. Why make it harder for myself. If you have spouses or children and buy foods for them, it can help a little to put all the food you don’t want to eat into a separate cupboard so that it’s a little more out of sight (not a perfect solution, but it’s easier to just not open one cupboard than to stare at all the food you don’t want).
So for those of you who are like me, know that you’re not alone. We need continual reminders that our choices to be healthy are stronger than that piece of cake. And if you do fall off the wagon and indulge in something you shouldn’t have, don’t let it derail you. Enjoy what you just ate, don’t wallow in guilt, and get right back on track. We’re only human.
Finally, as I finish writing this, I am about to go spend time with friends at a food truck park to celebrate a good friend’s birthday. There won’t be anything there I can eat or drink (processed food and cheap wine and beer will wreak havoc on my digestive system), but I’m choosing to go because life is about making priorities and showing the people we love that they are important to us. So, I’m about to cook up a big bowl of ground beef and over easy eggs that will fill me up and should allow me to enjoy the company of my friends without feeling too deprived and obsessing about food. Life is about choices, choose the ones that will set you up for success and be fulfilling to your life.