Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Constant Cravings


We allllll have them.

If we didn't, the commercials wouldn't have these ridiculous commercials about women who cheat on every diet they try, or hoards of screaming women running after a 100 calorie pack of oreos truck. (I hate those commercials, in case you wanted my opinion...which you obviously do since you're still reading this blog.)

Cravings are hard to beat because they're chemical and then they're reinforeced with a mental/emotional behavior: a habit.

Everyone experiences cravings, if you don't...something is wrong with your chemical make up and you and I can never be friends.

Think about a runner training for a marathon. Big races historically throw a large pasta carb load dinner the night before a race, despite the fact that science now says that protein with a little carb added is the best meal prior to race day. But every runner associates pasta and garlic bread with that big race day. That's a situational memory/habit. The sleepy, restful feeling you get after that dinner is something runners cling to so they can sleep before a big race. I had to break an enormous habit of carb loading on Saturday nights before my distance run on Sundays post marathon.

Think about a smoker. Smokers have the added hindrence of the chemical reaction--one of the strongest in the world (apparently stronger than some heroine chemical reactions). Having a cigarette sets off chemical receptors in their brains that soothe them, mentally and physically. Add the human emotions surrounding a habit - boredom, stress, whatever, and you have a powerful craving that can take years to escape.

Think about your average dieter: someone who has gone through a few diets with minimal results and a lot of backwards sliding (lose a few pounds, feel great, go back to eating how they want, stop going to the gym, go back on diet). They associate diets with withholding, strengthening a craving when it occurs due to our lovely vendictive emotional make up. Add to the fact that a lot of cravings for sugar and carbs are chemically based, most often, based on being tired. When we're tired, our bodies want quick energy--simple sugar and simple carbs (they boil down to about the same thing).

Now, shout out to my dear friend, who is also embracing the volumetrics lifestyle. She's going the weight watchers way, which is essentially a program that makes calorie counting a bit easier to track.

I IM'ed her and said: I'm craving carbs.
She replied: I'm craving brownies.

I said to her: We both must be tired.

We are. It's been a tough two days at our respective offices.

So when I went to get lunch today (a big huge salad from the mall salad place, with chicken breast totaling to about 250 calories), I had to force myself to not get a bread stick (remember, I had my big slip Monday and a minor stumble Tuesday morning), or fries from the food court, or a pretzel.

See, here's the hardest part.

Just like a smoker who knows smoking will kill them, or the distance runner who knows that a dinner of chicken breast, green beans, and a few small boiled new potatoes is better than pasta...dieters face the same problem. We all know that X food is not in line with our goals. We know it and yet we just.don' Or at least, I don't. I'll be the first to admit I have a weakness with food.

It's really easy to forget, but: hunger is not the same as a craving. Similar, our body doesn't equate a certain number of calories to a certain level of fullness.

I'll elaborate, because I in my nerdy nutrition curiosity, learned that our bodies process "full" on a volume basis. How "full" we are is truly the same on how FULL our stomach really is. You can have a 573 calorie king sized snickers bar...but you won't be as full as if you had something 10 times that size with a lower caloric value. It's just the way it goes.

Sucks, doesn't it? I'm bummed that chocolate has a ridiculous amount of calories as compared to lettuce. They don't consider lettuce a luxury item for a reason, though. Same goes with wine and good cheese....not sure why a burger and fries haven't made the luxury list, but you get my drift. Luxury is code for FAT.

Before we go to solutions, let's examine prevention. No one's ever going to erradicate a craving. Or if they do, hand me that pill. Regardless, eating 5-6 times a day in small portions will tackle a craving in two ways, and give your metabolism a boost. If you eat constantly, your body maintains a feeling of "full" and you're less likely to get hungry, then crave a quick fix. Also, by continuing to process low caloric food, your body is still processing, keeping your metabolism fired up. And finally, it takes care of that emotional component of eating when you're bored. My 3:30 snack is what I look forward to come 2 pm.

All that requires planning. And how's that phrase go class? "...the best laid plans..." (I'm not actually sure how that phrase really ends, but it's something about f'ing up.)

When planning doesn't happen....

There are two "real" ways to tackle a craving, and a third that sounds like crackpot science and could backfire in the worst ways...

1) Realize that the loaf of garlic french bread sounds great because you're exhausted. NOT because you're hungry. You're having a craving, but whether or not your hungry is all that really matters. The solution here is this.
Figure out why you're craving something:
  • did you see a commercial? (emotional/memory trigger)
  • are you tired or stressed? (chemical trigger)
  • are you hungry? (chemical trigger).

Solution: Drink water, if that fails...Eat. But don't eat what you're craving unless you're prepared to deal with the consequences. Have an apple, a few carrot sticks, rice cake and peanut butter, a huge glass of water will often stave of boredom hunger.

2) The second is to have some of whatever it is. Really want that garlic bread? Okay. If you're one of those magical people who's super power is self control, be my guest. Have one slice (about 150 calories). Chocolate is your weakness? 1 square of dove chocolate is 42 calories. Stop the craving by eating slowly, and drinking a lot of water before and after.

3) (crack pot advice)...make a friend who has an enviable metabolism eat the craved food in front of you. This often back fires (at least for me). Watching Chadd eat a 5000 calorie diet and lose weight makes me want to throw up all over him. Or punch him. Or eat chocolate. Or all of them. For one of my friends, this satisfies her craving.

Final word: When I find out how to inhabit Chadd's body when I'm eating, I'll let you know.

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