Taming The Monster: Useful Ways To Figure Out Your Food Cravings

Useful Ways To Figure Out Your Food CravingsLosing weight and getting healthy would be really easy if it wasn’t for those stupid cravings. Am I right?

We know sugar is addictive. We know grains hurt our guts. We know we’d be much healthier if we avoided fast food. We know a lot of stuff.

But those ridiculous, irrational, completely infantile cravings scream and yell and wear you down until they get what they want.

And then you feel like a failure.

You really gotta stop feeling like a failure. But that means you need to address the cravings.

That’s precisely what I’ve been trying to do this month.

I got a kick in the pants

It all started when my mom wanted to give me a month’s worth of this stuff called Plexus Slim. She’s done all kinds of stuff, from Herbalife to goji juice to Medi, but she says nothing’s helped her with her cravings like Plexus Slim has, and she’s been able to lose weight as a result. My sister says the same thing. They went from thinking about food all day to, well, not thinking about food all day.

I don’t want to have to rely on something that’s not food in order to get healthy. I’m starting to see it as more of a supplement than a “diet pill” (it’s a juice mix), but it’s the principle of it. God gave us food to have healthy bodies, not supplements outside of those foods.

But as a compromise, I told her I wanted until January to figure out what my problem was and lose 20 lbs on my own. She agreed, so I had work to do.

Then I got kinda lucky

Maybe two days after that, I found a post on Mark’s Daily Apple with several strategies to manage cravings. While I found some of the strategies to be interesting and appealing, it was his personal tone – almost like he actually knows my struggle – that seemed to be giving me permission to struggle with this.

Accept that it’s going to be a journey toward personal idiosyncrasy. Make no mistake: good eating is just as personal as bad eating. Maybe the better way to put that is it needs to be just as personal – if it’s going to stick.

It’s important for me, and maybe for you, to realize that the healthy way to figure myself out is to accept the journey and realize too that each step forward is progress.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve followed a few of his tips, and I want to share with you the things that have helped me. My hope is that they help you too.

The wrong ways I dealt with it in the past

I used to try what I now know to be the wrong things to do in order to manage cravings:

  • Willpower – They say willpower is like a muscle that fatigues after prolonged use. I might tend to agree, especially as it relates to food. There’s a chemical reason we have cravings, and while they eventually pass, it can be almost impossible to simply just say no. And while willpower might be able to become depleted, I’m also not convinced that lack of willpower is the only reason many of us struggle and fail.
  • Internal arguments – I’ve literally had internal arguments with myself on the way to work about why I should allow myself to stop and get one of my favorite vices from McDonalds or Hardees. The favorite justification of my lizard brain is “just this one last time, then it’s game on.” I can’t even count the number of last times I’ve had.
  • Wrong perspective – The idea that you can’t eat something triggers your internal toddler, and suddently it’s the only thing you can think about. It makes me think of a Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode where Geoffrey, to make a point to him, offers Will the last peach, and as Will’s enjoying it Geoffry laments about how he wish he’d had it. He didn’t know he wanted it until it was gone! I’m convinced the times I struggled the most with thinking about food too much were when I had the wrong perspective about it.

All of those things were and continue to be real for me, but I’ve been given some new tools to try things a different way.

The new ways I’m trying it now

Changed perspective
I was talking to a fellow slowcarber that has lost over 130 lbs, and one thing he said to me changed the way I see situations where I have an option. He told me that every chance to make a good decision is a chance to celebrate the healthier lifestyle I’m choosing to live.

Think about it this way: if you don’t smoke, you don’t get upset and feel like you’re depriving yourself while your coworkers enjoy a smoke without you. You realize that smoking has too many health risks, so it’s not even an issue. Did you know that obesity is starting to be considered more risky to your health than smoking?

As I start to think about my food choices in terms of risk to my health more than flavor, the way I think about smoking (I still think the smell of a nice cherry burning or a good pipe tobacco is amazing), it becomes easier to look at a box of donuts the same way I do a box of cigarettes.

Journaling helped
One of Mark’s tips was to keep an “unrated” version of a food journal. “For the first week, write down everything you eat – and crave. No judgment. Put as many of your food thoughts and responses in there as you have reasonable time for. Let every quirk and odd association shine through.”

I actually can’t believe how much that helped. For example, here’s an excerpt from what I wrote early in the experiment:

“I knew that when I took Kathy to work that I’d be tempted to stop for breakfast pizza. I ate my (slow-carb) breakfast in the car around 8:30, and as I got closer to the store the thoughts came. I had others as I passed McDonalds, 7-11, and Hardees. My gluttony called out to me the whole drive.”

For the first few days I’d write when I’d get a craving and get out whatever was bugging me on paper. On Friday I realized that I hadn’t written in two days, mostly because I hadn’t struggled in those two days. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the week:

“Yesterday was fairly uneventful with food. I fasted (link) til 11, ate my lunch, and around 3 had some almond butter. Dinner was fine. I don’t recall any particular cravings.”

That day’s entry ends with “Good food day. Not a struggle at all.”

Do you really know what your cravings mean?

The other piece of advice I took from Mark’s post is to figure out why I crave certain things. Throughout my journal I mention what I’m craving and try to provide some context about mood, earlier situations, and things that might help me figure out why I want pizza, for example. Is it the cheese? The salty meat?

Habitual cravings

I’ve realized that Mondays are usually the hardest days for me, and it’s no surprise that it follows my cheat day. We know sugar makes us happy, and we like to be happy. So the first kind of craving we tend to struggle with are the ones that make us feel like addicts. We crave sugar, for example, because we want that “happy juice” from the hit.

It’s important to understand that kind, because when you know why you’re craving, it’s easier to take control. It became easier for me to say “no” when I realized I just had to wait it out.

Nutritional cravings

Once we get over the “habit” cravings, the rest aren’t really what we think they are. They usually seem to indicate that our nutrition is unbalanced. In other words, either we’re not eating enough for our bodies to be fueled or we’re not eating the right things that will actually give it nutrition (so-called “empty calories”).

Knowing why I’m craving a certain thing will help me do two things:

  1. Empower me to know which healthy form of nutrition my body is lacking at a particular moment
  2. Make conscious, informed decisions on what to eat to satisfy the craving if it seems necessary.

You have permission to tweak and experiment

What helped me the most was the sense of “permission” I got from reading Mark’s post to try things out, fail a few times, with the knowledge that eventually I’ll find what I need.

Without sounding too presumptuous, I want to extend that to you. Realize that you didn’t put the weight on overnight, and you’re not going to take it off overnight. Some people have this ability to flip a switch in their brain and suddenly their weight loss efforts become easy and effortless. I’m not like that, and if you’ve made it this far you probably feel you aren’t either. That’s OK.

Read Mark’s article, consider the things I’ve said here, and figure out your own system. Feel empowered to make decisions that affect your health positively instead of feeling like a slave to the cravings. Realize that at first, the more you try the harder it might be, but that’s how momentum works. Also remember that once inertia is overcome, momentum builds.

We’re in this together. I’ll let you know how December went in January.

I’m curious, though – what’s your biggest struggle with cravings? Let’s hash it out and get some change going today!

(photo by cerulean5000)

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  1. I’m so grateful that SCD has a cheat day. I can wait to eat anything until Saturday.

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