Ep005: Calming a Craving

Apr 13

Below is a rough transcript (including time stamps) of the episode:

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This is Episode five, and I'm your host, Donna Doyon. In this week's episode, I'm going to talk about dealing with food cravings.

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And I'll be honest, as I started preparing this episode, I fell down a rabbit hole into a mind boggling brain research. It's really interesting stuff. I just don't feel comfortable talking about the science of it because I don't feel like I truly understand it yet. So I'm going to do the best I can to keep things simple. I will say, though, that as I was reading the information in preparation for this episode, more pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

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So if you are pursuing something, whether it's this weight loss journey or something else that you're really interested in when you first start learning about it, it may feel overwhelming and the vocabulary may be confusing. Stick with it, because every time you expose yourself to that information, it becomes a little more familiar and you feel a little bit more comfortable around it. So the first thing, as I said, I'm going to keep things simple today. I do want to share a disclaimer.

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I want to say, as I'm talking about these cravings, that I am not trained in addiction recovery. I am not qualified to help you with eating disorders like binge eating, bulimia or anorexia. Today, I'm going to be talking about the common type of food cravings that most of us deal with. You know, when you're doing something or sometimes you're not doing anything, and then suddenly you just become so distracted by thoughts of a particular food, it steals your complete attention and suddenly you find you can't focus on anything else until you satisfy it.

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That's the type of irresistible desire for a specific food craving that I'll be talking about today. So the first thing I want to invite you to do is think about the foods you commonly crave. Could be the comfort foods. For me, macaroni and cheese is a big one. It could be the cookies or the cakes. It could be ice cream. Could be the potato chips. What are your favorite or your most common food items that you crave?

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I remember when I was pregnant with my youngest son, I craved Slim Jims, those fake meat sticks, nice and spicy. And I don't like spicy food, but when I was pregnant with him, oh my goodness, I wanted them all the time. So what I wanted to do just to increase your awareness is to take a look at the nutrition label for these foods. Take a look at how much sugar, how much fat and how many calories are in this food.

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Chances are you are craving foods that are high in sugar and high in fat and the combination makes them high in calories. And you may be different. You may really crave the sugar. But I find that a lot of people think that they're craving sugar when it may be the fatty comforts that they're craving just as much. And again, the combination really blows up the total calories for that snack, because, let's face it, how often do you crave kale and broccoli?

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Not so much, probably right. So let's shift gears a little bit and just talk about what causes cravings. And if you've never thought about this, I invite you to pause this audio and just think about it for a minute. What causes you to crave certain foods? And then when you're ready, just hit play again and we'll see how our lists compare. So here are my top three causes of cravings. The first one is the environment. If I see something that looks really tasty cakes, cupcakes, cookies, you can tell I fall into that sugary high fat thing, my salivary glands, they just start pumping out the drool.

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You know, my mouth starts watering. And if I smell something like bread or cinnamon rolls baking. Yeah, really works up a good drool. And it's amazing because when I worked at a grocery store bakery, I was smelling these smells all the time and it was nice that I started to feel myself becoming less susceptible to them. It's kind of like people that work in a flower shop, they don't smell the flowers anymore because they've become accustomed to it.

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So I believe that our environment, what we see, what we're smelling, those are two big things that can cause a craving. The second thing is my energy level. If I feel physically or emotionally drained, I find myself craving that quick pick me up. And again, it's going to be a high calorie, high sugar, high fat content food, because I think that's going to give me the energy boost that I need. The third thing that causes me to crave foods is when I place restrictions on the foods that I can eat.

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Now, this is not something that I do anymore. But when I was telling myself that I couldn't have something, you know, my inner three year old, she just kicked up a fit and she started demanding it. And all she wanted was that particular snack. And I will be honest, I never felt the need to restrict or throw a temper tantrum to eat healthier foods, more nutritious foods. Funny how that works, huh? So how did your list compare?

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Did you come up with some similar items, whatever you came up with for causes, for why you crave certain foods? Focus on those as I'm going through the rest of this episode, because each of us is individual and our cravings will be individual. There may be some similarities, but hopefully the tips that I'm going to give you on how to move beyond and how to calm those cravings will help you deal with your own causes of cravings. I will tell you that science does support these three things as being key factors in arousing cravings, the environment, your energy level and any food restrictions you've put in place.

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And chances are good, whatever you came up with for your own list of reasons, those are probably supported by science as well. Just letting you know that researchers have been studying cravings and they use magnetic resonance imaging or MRI to see how the brain reacts to food cravings. And there were three parts of the brain. The hippocampus, the caudate and the insula have no clue if I'm saying those right. Those three things seem to connect memory with rewards and emotions.

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So here's an example. Imagine when you were a little kid, you spent the night at Grandma's house in the morning while she was making cinnamon rolls for breakfast. You were playing with your toys at the table and then when she pulled them out of the oven, she told you, time to pick up your toys. And you said, I don't want to. And she said, OK, then you can have cereal for breakfast. Well, you wanted those cinnamon rolls.

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And so you quickly picked up your toys and then you climbed back up into your chair and you're waiting. But then you remembered grandma always makes you wash your hands first. So you scrambled back down, you washed your hands and your grandma was laughing as she poured you a tall glass of milk. Perhaps she ruffled your hair when you were settled in your seat. She placed that hot cinnamon roll with icing drizzled over the top of it. And then she wrapped you in a hug.

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She was standing behind you and she just draped her arms around you and she hugged you and she kissed the top of your head.

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So what do you think happens as a grown adult when you smell cinnamon rolls, your nonconscious mind returns to that moment, you relive it and you crave a cinnamon roll. But it's not for the high calorie, high sugar, high fat content, but it's for the love and the affection you felt from grandma. You felt it in the past and it became associated with a cinnamon roll with the smell of a cinnamon roll, the taste of a cinnamon roll.

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So that's a pretty powerful experience to have to calm. When you see or smell cinnamon rolls, but we're going to learn how to do that, the same type of memory association applies to when you're eating, when your energy levels are low. In this situation, though, it's probably a more frequent occurrence. And you've trained yourself, you've trained your brain that these high sugar, high fat, high calorie foods will help you make it through the next few hours.

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And these cravings become part of a habit cycle that could be based on the time of the day. It could be based on who you're with or something that just happened. And I talk about habit cycles in Episode four, so if you missed it, you can go back to listen to that. And then finally, when it comes to food restrictions, which, as I said, I don't support this practice, I think it's just asking for trouble because remember, our brains want three things.

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They want to experience pleasure, avoid pain or discomfort and to be efficient. And you probably don't restrict your intake of kale and carrots. You probably don't crave them very often either. Let me insert another disclaimer here. What I'm talking about is the dietary food restrictions based on your hope that not eating these foods will help you lose weight. I'm not talking about the dietary food restrictions that your doctor might implement for you because you have food allergies or you have some medical condition that would restrict you from having those because ultimately they do you more harm.

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So be sure to follow your doctor's guidance around your food restrictions. But if we're talking about the normal type of dietary food restrictions that I'm talking about that apply to weight loss, cutting out your favorite foods, your comfort foods, the snacks, the chips, the less than healthy food choices we have.

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When you make the decision to cut these out of your diet, to never allow yourself to have them again, your brain experiences agony over that decision. Your brain feels your reluctance. It feels your resistance and your brain feels uncomfortable with that decision. You're nonconscious brain doesn't understand why you suddenly want to change things when things are working just fine, because remember to your brain's primary focus is on survival. And if what you've been doing, the foods you've been eating in the past have kept you alive, you're nonconscious brain is OK with that.

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So if you're resisting it, you're feeling discomfort and you're feeling that pain of, oh, I can never have that again.

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And your brain to help you feel better, it's going to say, here, have a cupcake, your brain is going to use every tool in its toolbox to keep you eating that food that you've suddenly decided you no longer want to eat. So that's a little bit about what cravings are. It's that irresistible desire for a specific food or type of food. And we know three causes of craving, the memories evoked by sights, smells and emotions related to food, low mental and physical energy levels, and then the practice of restricting foods.

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So let's talk about how we can overcome or calm those cravings. I have three ideas for you. The first one I really love. I think it's a lot of fun and it's built on a reward system. So I've heard this called the urge are the cravings, are the reward are basically all you are doing is finding a substitute for the emotional feeling that you will have when you eat whatever it is you're craving. So what you do is you get a pretty Jarvis or some type of container and you put it in your kitchen or wherever you have your food or snack supply.

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And if you deal with food cravings at work, you may want to have a second jar or container in your workplace, too. And then the other thing you need are glass beads or baubles, just something that feels good in your hand, something that's colorful that either calms you or soothes you. Perhaps you want something that's a little bit exciting, playful, fun. Just pick something that calls to you that is going to feel like a reward to you, because this bauble, this bead is something that you're going to want to hold so that you can rub it, you can play with it.

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So how it works is any time you say no to a food craving, you take one of these glass baubles or beads and you hold it in your hand and then you put the bead into that jar. And each time you say no to a craving, you do this and you watch as the number of colorful beads start adding up in that jar. Now, the theory is that when you've reached 100 beads or baubles in that glass container, that's.

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About the point where your cravings will have so much less power over you now you may be thinking, oh, Donna, 100 cravings, that's an awful lot.

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It is a lot, but it's something that you can do. It's building a skill. It's developing the ability to say no to these cravings. As I already said, I've heard this idea from other people. One thing I've never heard anyone suggest, though, is as you are holding that bead, that bottle in your hand, take a moment to think about how empowered you're feeling in that moment for choosing your weight loss goals in your ultimate health over that snack smile, feel your confidence and your pride in that moment.

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And when you fully transferred those positive emotions of self-love into that glass bead place, that glass bead in the jar.

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If, however, you're standing there and you're stomping your feet and you're holding this glass bead in your hand and you're saying this really sucks, I don't want to not eat that food, OK, I get it. I have to give up that food. I shouldn't eat that food. Well, this sucks. No one should have to live this way.

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I hate that I have to do this. I really want that darn snack and I'm pretty ticked off that I can't have it, but OK.

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Yes, yes, I'll do the right thing. If that's the energy you are transferring into that stone, do not put it in the jar. Instead, find another place for it. Perhaps you have a little box. You could put it in just another container, maybe just a small bowl or dish. The reason for this is we don't want to taint the energy, the positive energy within your glass jar. When you look at that jar of beads, I want you to know that every single bead represents your free will and your love of self.

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You've heard the old saying that one bad apple spoils the whole barrel. One resentment filled bid will spoil the beauty of your cravings. Jar ends. Those negative energy infused beads still count towards your 100, but I think you'll enjoy the beauty and the process more when you harness and focus on the positive reasons and the celebration of allowing that craving to be unsatisfied. And you can even do this by working through your emotions.

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As you're holding that glass bead, you can hold it and say what the f this really sucks. I hate not being able to eat those cookies. Oh, but I guess it's for my greater good. Let's see. Why am I doing this again? Oh, I'm doing this because I'm a little bit too big to be able to sit and play with my grandchildren on the floor. I'm doing this because I want to see my grandchildren graduate from high school in one day, get married and have their own children.

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Ah, I'm doing this for the right reasons. I'm giving up those cookies because I love my grandchildren. Ah, I'm doing this because I love, I love myself and I want to be here. I want to be healthy and happy and see how you can talk yourself through the negative emotions to that better place and transfer that positive energy of hey, this is pretty cool. I am just passing on this craving because I've got something better waiting for me.

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And when you can do that, go ahead and put this love infused feed into that cravings jar, the good one, the positive energy one. The second approach for calming a craving is what I'm calling just a mindful approach to it. Think of it this way. Succumbing to a craving is like falling into a trap. You've probably noticed in the past that when you stop eating a certain food, you eventually stop missing it. But then once you eat it again, you want more, more, more.

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You want so much more of it. This is what I've heard called the dopamine trap. So dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stirs the desire and the anticipation of a reward. And it's a really good feeling. We want it. And so we do whatever we have to do to satisfy that anticipatory need, the desire. OK, so I'm not too well versed in how the neurotransmitters all work together yet. It's one of those things I really have a hard time wrapping my head around.

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But like I said at the beginning, I'm going to keep this simple. So it's my understanding that dopamine is all about anticipation and action to get the reward. It is not, however, the neurotransmitter that says, yes, got it.

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Happy dance instead. Dopamine keeps looking for that reward. It's got to be there in this piece of cake. It's got to be there. One more bite, one more slice, one more cake. It has to be there. And because dopamine thinks. That the reward is within that food. It doesn't know where else to look. So taking a mindful approach, it simply means that you recognize you're experiencing a craving and you can have a little conversation with it, something like, well, hello there, dopamine.

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I feel you and I know you want me to eat that piece of cake. And I know that if I eat that piece of cake, you are not going to be satisfied. So instead, I'm just going to sit here and wait until you relax. I'm not going to fall into your trap today. I have better things to do. Hey, you have better things to do, too. How about if you take your focus off that cake and put it on the walk I'll be taking after work today?

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I'm feeling a little sluggish here. How about if you start helping me really crave taking that walk and I encourage you to keep your conversation with dopamine hits lighthearted, friendly, compassionate smile as you chat with it. Because remember, dopamine is a friend. It is doing its job. It's trying to make you feel better. It wants you to take action. Think of it more like your pet who likes to help, are you? And give it a couple of minutes, give it a little of attention, scratch it behind the ears, pat it on its head, and then send it off to take a nap.

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That's how we can deal with dopamine in a mindful way, acknowledging that it's their address without judgment, that it's doing its job, and also that it's not serving your greater good training. Your dopamine is kind of like training a dragon. It seems big, scary and overwhelmingly impossible. But if you stick with it, if you have patience and if you train it a hundred times or more, you'll discover that you can do it. And the result will be a normal, steady flow of reward seeking action directed dopamine that works in a way that's going to support your greater good instead of these spikes that are just immediate, high calorie, high sugar, high fat fixes.

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A third way to calm these cravings is to just distract yourself, make a mental note that you're going to do something else for ten minutes. Allow yourself the thought that you can enjoy the food, but you have to wait those ten minutes first. And this will either increase your anticipation of it or it's going to take your mind off it and allow the dopamine to just dissipate back to normal levels. Please understand that cravings are a normal part of the weight loss process.

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There is nothing wrong with you if you are having cravings, there's nothing wrong with you. Your brain is adapting to the changes you're making and it's aware that your feelings have changed about things. Perhaps you're feeling more uncomfortable than you did before. Your brain wants you to feel better and it spikes your dopamine as a way to increase your feelings of pleasure. So your brain is doing its job, the job it was trained to do. So this means there's no reason to blame yourself.

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You shouldn't feel ashamed about what's going on. And don't beat yourself up when you respond to these dopamine fueled cravings. What you can do, though, is become aware of them and start responding to them with intention. As you progress on your journey, you'll be able to wave these cravings away more easily. Eventually, you'll rarely experience them as you begin to transition from focusing on food to focusing on the important things in your life. That's when your dopamine is going to start finding other activities to crave, and food won't be its primary target any longer.

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And until that happens, you have three tools today that will help you calm those cravings. The first is to create a cravings, to have those baubles and beads that you can just feel with your hands a tangible reward for not eating that food. And the second thing you can do is take that mindful approach where you're just addressing dopamine and saying, yes, I see you, thank you for wanting to do your job, but I'm good today. And then thirdly, just distract yourself because dopamine is only in our system for a short period of time.

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And if you can distract yourself long enough to not go for the food, that craving will just disappear and you'll forget that it was even there. So those are three tips for calming your cravings. And as you deal with your own unique cravings this week, whether you choose to eat that food or not, remember, it's your choice. It's always been your choice. It always will be your choice.


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    About the Author

    Donna Doyon fosters personal and spiritual growth thru goal setting activities. She invites, encourages, and challenges people to self-develop into physically healthy, mentally strong, emotionally healed, and spiritually awakened beings.