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Saturday
Apr272013

8 Reasons You May Have Uncontrolled Cravings

See if this sounds familiar. You take on a nutrition and exercise program (dare I say “weight loss” program). You’ve got all kinds of enthusiasm, commitment and diligence going for you. In preparation, you’ve read dozens of blog posts. You’ve consulted with a personal trainer and/or dietitian or nutritionist. You’ve ransacked your cupboards and refrigerator to get rid of all the junk and filled them with Healthy Way of Eating foods. Maybe you’ve even prepared your meals in bulk the night before to save yourself time on that first day. You follow the plan precisely on that first Monday. You fit in a workout and even take supplements. You finish the day filled with a major sense of accomplishment. In fact, you can’t wait to do it again on Tuesday, then again on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, you’re short on pre-planned foods but do your best to make something quick. You stick close to your plan, but it isn’t as perfect. On Friday, you’re feeling good about your first week’s success. You go to lunch with a friend and “treat” yourself. In the moment it sounds okay, but you don’t feel as good that afternoon and maybe give into another off-plan meal for dinner. The weekend comes, and you’re out of the routine. In fact, you fall completely off your plan but make an effort to try again on Monday.

The second week, you still have a strong desire to achieve your goals, but you feel a little defeated that the previous week didn’t go so well. You try to get back on the plan, but it’s a half-hearted commitment. The foods that aren’t on your plan keep calling your name. By the end of the week you’re back to your old routine and say to yourself, “It’s just too difficult.” Eventually, however, you get yourself excited and recommitted enough that you start the cycle over again.

Has this happened to you in the past? Are you in the middle of a similar cycle now? Why is it so difficult to stick with the nutrition plan you know is right—right for your health, right for your ability to manage your weight? Shouldn’t we somehow naturally gravitate toward a diet that lets us live at “peak performance” every day? Why would we not? Let’s explore 8 of these reasons.

1. You're not clear about what makes a healthy diet.

If you ask ten different people what a healthy diet includes, you’ll get 10 different answers. I’ve found that many people are still afraid of fat, think they can get their vegetable and fruit intake from drinking juice, and feel the best way to start the day is a bowl of cereal with skim milk. These and other dietary myths leave people making choices they think are right but have little chance of delivering the success they hope for.

If you need a place to start, read our blog posts, The Healthy Way of Eating and the Life Time Weight Loss Getting Started Guide, and our FREE e-book Eat Well Live Well. These will get you started with the basics. Once you get the basics down, you can get into deeper questions. The key is to build a solid foundation of knowledge and decision-making that will guide you through your nutrition choices every day.

2. You haven't gone "all in" long enough.

It’s often said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Some suggest a full month. Some even say a little longer than that. At a minimum, we encourage people to stick to the right habits—every day—for a month. Unfortunately, rather than going into a new nutrition plan with the mindset that the plan is for 30 days without veering off course, many people have the mentality that they’ll “do their best,” which leaves the door open for getting off track.

Think about it. No matter what your current age, one month out of the rest of your life is a very short period of time to commit to. For one month, get rid of the junk. Usually, that’s enough time to see the true health and weight management benefits of making the right choices every day. If you get through your first month, it’ll be much easier to get through the second month. If you commit just to a week, it won’t be as compelling to commit to a second week because you won’t have seen enough of a change in how you look and feel to overcome the temptation to eat the foods you know you shouldn’t.  

3. Too little protein or fat, or too much carbohydrate.

I’ve written about this before, but higher-protein diets are consistently shown to be more effective for reducing body fat levels, likely because of their effect on satiety. Protein takes longer to digest and helps reduce the blood-sugar-raising effects of meals. With more stable blood sugar, and a digestive system that’s breaking down food for a longer period of time, you’re less likely to feel hungry or have cravings.

Because so many people are stuck on the myth that fat is bad, they may fit more protein in their diet, but it comes from foods like chicken breasts, tuna, turkey bacon and egg whites. Without the naturally occurring fat found in many foods (like egg yolks, the rest of the chicken, or the fat found in real, nitrate-free bacon) people miss out on important nutrients, which may cause cravings. They also miss out on the satiating effects of fat.

Finally, who can really eat a plain chicken breast day after day? The reason it’s hard to keep eating chicken breasts—without marinating them or adding sauces and other condiments—is we don’t feel satisfied from a meal like that. It’s boring. The naturally-occurring fats found in meats and dairy make the foods more satisfying, helping to keep cravings at bay.

If you’re still afraid of the “F” word, check out these two previous blog posts: Saturated Fat: Wrongfully Accused? and Fat, Carbs and Cardiovascular Disease.

4. Friends, family members and co-workers.

Let’s face it, statistics say the majority of your friends and co-workers have followed some kind of nutrition plan at some point, and they weren’t able to stick with it. However sincere or heartfelt their intentions, they’re not the best people to offer advice. You also need to be aware that some people feel better about their own poor nutrition choices if they see others making those same choices. If they’re sharing bars and cookies with you (e.g. “one won’t hurt”), it’ll make them feel better about eating those foods themselves.

Share your plan only with those who will truly support you. Sometimes, I’ve even had clients whose spouses weren’t that supportive of their nutrition choices. Rather than trying to win them over through debate, I always encouraged my clients to follow the plan and keep the plan to themselves. A month into it, when they were seeing great results and more likely to stick with it, regardless of their friends’ or family members’ input, they’d share what they were doing. It was usually about that time that everyone saw the physical changes and started asking questions as well.

5. Exercise with too much intensity, too often.

While nutrition can fuel your workouts, those workouts can also influence your nutrition habits. If most of your workouts are high-intensity, hour-long, puddle-of-sweat exercise sessions, there’s a pretty good chance you feel famished shortly after. If carbs are the main thing on your mind post-workout, it’s likely you’re burning mainly sugar in your training session.

Not only is too much high-intensity exercise likely to cause overtraining, it can also lead to an insatiable appetite. You may find yourself looking for pasta, jelly beans, bread or any number of sugary or starchy foods. If this sounds like you, it may be time to rethink your training routine. Swapping some anaerobic exercise for some active recovery or aerobic exercise is an easy way to tone down the intensity and get your body burning more fat. You may still be hungry after your workouts, but you probably won’t be raiding cupboards for carb-heavy snacks anymore.

6. Nutrient deficiencies.

Nutrient deficiencies can result from genetic anomalies, reliance on too many processed foods, inadequate intake of fat, protein, or vegetables, and even from exercise itself. Nutrient deficiencies can play a significant role in cravings. The reasoning? If your body doesn’t get enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), it will trigger the desire for more food to try to get those nutrient needs met. That’s likely why a 2010 study in the Journal of Obesity showed supplementing with a multivitamin improved weight loss outcomes.

Be sure you’re getting in your 9-11 servings of vegetables and fruit (mostly non-starchy vegetables), but it’s a good idea to take a high-quality multivitamin each day as well.

7. Stress.

Responsible adults would never justify driving recklessly, doing drugs or other irresponsible behaviors because we’re stressed out. Yet, people often justify eating foods that alter the way they feel and dramatically affect their health to deal with stress.

Life coaches, nutrition coaches, and other counselors can provide solutions for overcoming the psychological issues related to emotional eating. If you don’t get help with this issue, you could find yourself on prescription medications or undergoing medical treatments for other, more severe health problems down the road caused by your poor nutrition habits.

8. You think a “treat” won’t hurt you.

I often tell people I’m coaching that the worst foods they can eat are “free” foods. By that, I mean cookies, bars, candy, and other junk friends and co-workers may offer to you. If you work in a large office space, ask yourself how often someone brings in food to share with others. Do you have friends to come to your home with sweets to share as well? The truth is, these little “extras” add up. Most of them are loaded with sugar and lack quality protein, which means in they may stimulate even more hunger.

One would think that by having an unplanned snack between meals, people would eat less later in the day. That’s not the case. Research shows that eating between meals, even when people are forced to do so, does not reduce the amount of food consumed later in the day.

The best thing you can say is a clear “No, thank you.” Not “Oh, that looks so good. I wish I could, but I’m on a diet.” The more you talk yourself out of your plan, the more likely it is you’ll walk yourself out of your plan. Say “NO” to free food.

Summary

Cravings can be physiological or psychological. When you eat the right foods consistently and stop eating the unhealthy fare, you change the chemistry in your body. Physiological cravings wane and eventually disappear over time. Possibly more challenging are the psychological cravings many people deal with. One of the best things you can do is to surround yourself with a community of like-minded, healthy way of life individuals who see the value in eating well every day.

How many of these ring true to your experience and observation? Are you working past some of these stumbling blocks now? Have you struggled with and overcome then in the past? Share your thoughts, questions, and insights.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Sr. Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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