Week Three of Whole30 is upon us, widely known as the week when cravings become the strongest and an elimination diet like the Whole30 becomes the hardest. We all harbor strong emotional connections to food, and when the going gets rough, our bodies start heading straight back for the comfort and security of the foods we used to know, eat, and love. This week is going to be about willpower more than anything else, so I’m going to talk you through my personal cravings process and the practical steps I take to overcome them.
Chocolate...Dark, smooth, absolutely creamy and perfect. It is my go-to for stress eating. I know for a fact I never eat chocolate when I am actually hungry. I eat real nourishing food when I am hungry. Chocolate is a craving I get when I am stressed. Years of experience (and raging blood sugar headaches) have taught me that however much chocolate is what I want when I’m stressed, it’s about the last thing I need. So I’m on Whole30, and the craving hits. I stop, calm down, give it about 10 minutes, and immediately look at the positive: I get to notice when I am wanting to eat because of stress versus when I want to eat because I am hungry. Cool right?
I also get cravings in social settings, like a restaurant, party, or when I’m not paying attention. So I tend to overeat and give in to cravings when I’m out celebrating something or with friends. It’s like my hand goes into automatic mode and just keeps shoveling things into my mouth. No one wants to be subjected to this, especially when they’re working toward a goal, like completing a Whole30.
The first answer lies within our lifestyles. For example, chronic stress causes low serotonin. Carbohydrate cravings, in particular, can be caused by low serotonin. So if you are chronically stressed, depressed, or have a high carb/sugar diet, (I think that hits almost all of us now) you are setting yourself up for strong cravings. Cravings are not a character flaw or a willpower flaw. Cravings come because of flawed food and lifestyle habits.
Cravings also happen for a couple of hormone-based reasons. When your blood sugar drops quickly or dips too low, your body releases epinephrine (also knowns as adrenaline). After that, you release cortisol. Your body literally goes into fight or flight mode. These hormones tell your brain to eat, eat a lot, and eat the fastest source of energy. Of course, that energy source is usually chips, crackers, bread, and cookies. The moral of the story is: don’t let yourself get overly hungry and don’t load up on empty carbs when you are hungry (or ever for that matter).
And personally, the more sweet stuff I eat, the more sweet stuff I want. This is usually caused by unstable blood sugar. Did you know that you can have wildly swinging blood sugar levels all day long and miss out on any sense of stability? Just picture Miley Cyrus riding her wrecking ball and you will understand what your blood sugar does when you eat sugar for breakfast, to give you one example.
You’re only going to be feeling cravings if you’re hungry. If I’m hungry, it’s pretty hard to say no to any food (healthy or not) that is in front of me. So I don’t let myself get overly hungry. I hate being hangry, because I get very irritable and my whole perspective can change quickly. I don’t like mood swings because it disrupts my day and concentration. If I am tempted to poison myself with junk food, I think about the consequences; I also ask myself “why” I want to eat something. If I am hungry, then I can go get something healthy, which I usually carry in my car, purse, desk, or pocket. If I’m stress eating, I do deep breathing. If I’m social eating, I make sure I’m eating something healthy, or I exercise better self-control to deactivate my automation hand-to-mouth setting.
How do you handle the social pressure of going out to eat or being at an event or party? If I am going somewhere that I know will give me limited food options, I usually eat ahead of time. It might take a touch of extra planning, but I have gone to too many parties and come home feeling sick, drugged, and bloated. It just isn’t worth it for me. I usually eat a high protein and fat snack before I go. Something like a nut butter, a Whole30 approved protein bar, beef jerky, or canned salmon. Once I get to a party I focus on the veg. If I feel my craving spiking and my auto hand-to-mouth starts to initiate, I load up a plateful of veggies and eat without abandon.
Also, just a tip here. I’m not afraid to be “that person” who asks the server to modify my meal. I give you permission to be the person that asks for changes to their dish. Your goals are worth fighting for and being “that person” is such a silly reason to give them up.
Like I mentioned earlier, planning is everything, especially when it comes to cravings. You can avoid a lot of heartache (and a lot of bellyaches) by planning for your day beforehand. Like your dad or grandpa has probably said: proper planning prevents...poor performance. I usually try to top load the day. So if I know I’m going out for lunch, but I think that I will have limited choices, I eat a big breakfast and a snack. Or if I know I’m going to a party at night, I eat a big lunch and a snack, so that I don’t get to the party and eat everything that is on the table, or someone else’s plate.
We are all given a finite amount of willpower and patience to use in a day, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. You know what I’m talking about. Ever snapped at the poor telemarketer for just doing his job because you had a trying day at work? Yeah. You remember. The good news in all of this is that you have the ability to build up your willpower. Sort of like exercising a muscle.
One of the easiest ways you can do this is by saying “No,” to yourself, about something, 5 times per day. That way, your brain won’t go into temper-tantrum mode the next time you pass on a Girl Scout Cookie.
Above all else, you’re not going to become a perfect eater in just one day or even 30 days. Practice and give yourself a critique. I talk out loud to myself a lot. If I blow it on my eating plan or anything I else, I literally say out loud, “oh well, I’ll do better/differently next time and here’s how.” Or, when I feel overly full, bloated or icky from junk food, I say “well, what did you expect to happen, you eat junk and then you feel like junk?” I’m not afraid to admit that I am not perfect in anything, including my eating plan.
Neither are you, but you can be perfect for 30 days. Week 3 is in the bag and it’s yours for the taking. Go out there and get it!