Do you ever wish your cravings and urges for foods that are not on your plan could just magically disappear? I used to identify as a sugar addict and for so long I wished there was a way for me to not feel controlled by it, and if this resonates, I want you to know that this happens to 100% of my clients too.
Don’t we all think that if we didn’t crave cupcakes and ice cream and a big bag of potato chips we’d be well on our way to our health goals? The good news is that you don’t have to get rid of your cravings and urges, and I’m shedding some light today on how you can navigate them in a way that doesn’t lead to you beating yourself up for giving in.
Listen in this week to discover why it makes perfect sense if you find yourself answering your urges and cravings without even realizing it, and what you can do to start guiding yourself through them in a different way. You don’t have to feel hopelessly doomed if you feel controlled by your cravings, and I’m showing you how to start creating a new habit loop that serves you instead.
This is Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown, episode 54.
Welcome to Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you’re a successful woman who is ready to stop struggling with your weight, you’re in the right place. You’ll learn everything you need to know to lose weight for the last time in bitesize pieces. Here’s your host, Master Certified coach, Natalie Brown.
Hello everybody. This is it. Your last week to review the podcast and make yourself eligible for the anniversary giveaway coming up next week. The podcast is turning one on March 3rd and first birthdays are the best. So I’m celebrating this fun birthday/anniversary mark by spoiling one super lucky reviewer with a gift box worth over $500.
It’s a box of things that I love that I just know you will love too. I can’t wait to give it to one of you. So I’m going to be picking a reviewer at random to gift this box of goodness to. All you have to do is head to Weight Loss Success in your podcast app and scroll down under ratings and reviews.
You’ll see a little highlighted write a review option. Click that and let me know your favorite episode, something you’ve learned and applied, or even why you listen. And then tune in next week for the winner announcement. So fun.
Do you feel like you struggle with cravings? Do you identify as a sugar addict? Do you feel irresistible urges for foods that are not on your plan? You are not alone if you said yes to those questions. 100% of my clients share your struggles.
And honestly, it’s our reaction to, our fear of, and our shame about urges, cravings, and super dependence that creates some of the most intense drama and challenges to our weight loss. Seriously, think about it. If you didn’t crave cupcakes or ice cream, if you didn’t have the urge to escape your stress into bag of potato chips or a plate of nachos, if you didn’t feel like sugar was controlling you, do you believe that you could be more successful at losing weight and getting to your health goals?
Although there is a physiological component, a physical conditioning aspect, if you will, to this experience of cravings and urges in your body, your brain has ultimate control over what actually goes in your mouth. And you are the boss of your brain.
But I think the best news is this; you don’t have to get rid of cravings and urges to take care of yourself the way that you want to. So I’m going to teach you some tools and some concepts today that will help you learn how to navigate cravings and urges and hopefully shed some light on why you may be feeling like sugar has some magical/evil power over you.
So let’s start there, with sugar. Since that, for the majority of us, is what we have urges to eat and crave and wish we didn’t, right? So many of my clients feel this way and so did I. I felt like my sugar addiction was a malfunction of my particular body, that I was broken, that there was definitely something wrong with me.
I had loved and craved and snuck and overeaten sugar since I was a little girl. And I just kind of figured it was how I was made and that it was just a burden and a yoke that I would have to bear. I love sugar, I’m a sugar bug, sugar is my vice, these are all thoughts I had. And they all left me feeling like it was totally out of my control. That I was just the way I was and until sugar went away and didn’t exist anymore, I would be miserably addicted to it.
I remember wishing that someone would just invent a pill that would make me not want sugar so I could finally be free. I really believed that that would be the only thing that could fix me. And then I learned something that changed everything for me. My body’s dependence on and drive to eat sugar was a product of human biology and evolution and the fact that I wanted and craved sugar was in fact exactly the way it was supposed to be.
If you think that sounds like complete rubbish, just bear with me for a minute. Our brains evolved to reward us for taking actions that ensured our survival in order to encourage us to keep taking those actions and keep surviving. Eating, especially calorie-dense foods was one of those survival ensuring actions.
So our neurotransmitter dopamine drove up our desire to find food and then when we ate and digested food into glucose, which is our body’s preferred source of energy and fat storage, our brain rewarded us with a little mist of dopamine. Just a little bit of satisfaction and feel-good serotonin, which signaled to us that the thing we did eat was good and important and we should repeat it.
That is exactly how our brain/body is meant to function. Sugar and other concentrated foods like flour are digested quickly and they turn into high amounts of glucose quickly as you eat them. These concentrated foods concentrate the amount of glucose and also concentrate the intensity of reward that our brain signals.
So we eat sugar and what is released is not a mist but a waterfall of dopamine, which signals that the thing we just ate was super important and we should do it again and again. Our brain is not equipped to handle these levels of dopamine. So it down-regulates, which means it decreases its sensitivity to it so that we need more sugar to get the same good feeling and this cycle perpetuates.
This is the same reward that’s perpetuated and affected when we use cocaine and other drugs. It is powerful. There is this effect happening in your brain but there’s also an effect happening in your body. Your body uses glucose for energy and stores excess as fat.
When there is glucose in our blood from the food we eat, insulin comes in and sweeps the excess into our cells to be stored and used as energy for later. But for most of us, later never comes. We eat constantly and almost everything we eat has sugar, which means there is always excess glucose in our blood.
So our insulin remains high, which means we’re always in fat storage mode. And the frequently high insulin overtime shifts our bodies from their natural evolved state, which is fat-adapted, meaning burning our stored fat for fuel, to sugar-adapted, which means our body has forgotten how to go to its fat stores most of the time for fuel and it’s instead just relying on incoming glucose through your mouth for all of the fuel.
It’s kind of like when we’re sugar-adapted, our cells are just laying on the couch, calling for McDonald’s from UberEATS instead of getting up and making a roast and some steamed veggies for dinner. It’s just easier. And if you’re human and especially if you’re living in America, there is a high probability that your body is sugar-adapted.
If you crave sugar, if you feel hangry when you don’t eat, if you are storing excess fat, you are probably sugar-adapted. So how is all of this helpful to you? Well, to me, it was helpful because it meant I wasn’t broken, right? You’re not weak, you’re not lacking willpower. It doesn’t mean anything about you as a person.
It’s just biology. And there are things you can do to address it and change it. You can shift your body back to functioning as it evolved to, back to being fat-adapted, back to relying on its fat stores for fuel, and really, that’s the number one thing we want to be eating when we’re trying to lose weight. Our fat stores. We want to eat up all the fat that’s stored on our body. Meals off our butt. I call it dining in.
So sugar dependence in our bodies is a thing, but it doesn’t mean that it has total control and we’re hopelessly doomed. It drives some of the physical craving that is happening and it’s the reward at the end of a powerful habit loop for many of us, but it isn’t unchangeable.
Any habit, including answering urges and cravings for sugar can be shifted and changed. It just takes some time and some tools. So let’s talk about this habit loop that we’ve created and that we reinforce each time we cycle through it.
A habit loop consists of a trigger, a behavior or response, and a reward. Something happens, you take an action, and you get some reward or benefit and your brain is like, take note. When blank happens and we do blank, we feel better. So let’s do it again next time.
Think about the feelings that typically have you reaching for sugar to escape. Maybe it’s stress or overwhelm or frustration or inadequacy. At some point in your life, you had an experience where you felt that feeling, saw some Oreos, and ate them. And you felt a little lift from the dopamine and you felt better.
And so your brain is like, when we feel stressed, the trigger, and we eat Oreos, the response behavior, we feel better, which is the reward. So the next time you feel stressed your brain goes straight to a desire for Oreos to complete the loop.
So it makes perfect sense then that it feels automatic and unconscious and that you find yourself at the end of a row of Oreos before you even realize what’s happening. Our reaction to this is usually to be frustrated and to feel out of control and to make it mean something about us.
We even may start to build up some fear around experiencing an urge or a craving because we feel we have no control when they come. We mostly use these terms urge and craving interchangeably, but I do see an ever so slight difference between them. Both are a strong desire, but a craving is a strong desire for a specific food and an urge is an urgent desire to eat something, anything.
And urge is usually triggered by an uncomfortable emotion and a need to escape it and a craving is usually just a strong desire to eat a particular thing for the taste experience of it and the reward we feel from eating the object of that desire. Both, however, I would relate to an itch that demands scratching. It feels urgent, important, unbearable, and it goes away once it’s scratched.
So that’s kind of the easy answer to what to do about urges and cravings when they come. Eat the thing you have the urge or craving to eat, right? Which is what we do most of the time, and then we turn around and berate ourselves and beat ourselves up for doing so. We’re just scratching an itch in essence.
But what if we don’t want to answer them? What if the food we have an urge or craving for doesn’t align with our health goals? What is the answer then? For most of us, the only option is resist with all of your might. Use whatever means necessary to not eat it. Distract yourself, push it away, punish yourself, throw it away and dump soap on it, tell yourself you can’t, you shouldn’t, and you’re the worst for even considering it.
But that is like, jumping up and down screaming, pounding your head on the wall over an itch you can’t reach on your back. It doesn’t make the itch go away. And it creates some unnecessary suffering in the process.
Navigating urges and cravings requires a counterintuitive solution. The urgent desire compels us to hurry and eat. The craving drives us to eat the object of our desire ASAP, and both typically result in us eating mindlessly, unaware of when we’re satisfied or full.
Or we try to resist and run away. So the counterintuitive solution is to slow down and to be mindful. I read this quote recently and I think it applies here and describes perfectly what we want to do in the face of cravings and urges. Listen to understand, not to respond.
When we are working on changing the way we eat to lose weight and urges and cravings come, our knee-jerk reaction is to argue and fight with them. We launch into not now, not ever, or I can’t, I shouldn’t, or go away and never return. Things like that. Fighting words.
And we feel tension and tightness and sadly, often an increase in the intensity of the urges and cravings. We recognize the craving and immediately respond with defensiveness. The counterintuitive solution is to listen. Listen to the urge. That looks like relaxing into the urge, turning toward it, opening up to the urge, allowing it to be there, accepting that it is there, with the intention of understanding it.
We want not just to notice that it’s there but to look into it. Get curious about it. What does it feel like in your body to have this urge? Is it tight? Tense? Tingly? Is it increasing in intensity? How does it change if you take a deep breath and focus on relaxing into it? How does it change if you tense up and try to push it away?
How does it compare to the last urge that you had? What triggered this one? Where did it come from? What just happened? What time of day is it? Is this a pattern?
Changing the habit loop starts with noticing the urge, bringing it to consciousness, and then changing the way we respond to it and re-examining the reward that we get from it. Listening to understand and connecting to how the urge or craving feels in our bodies is a new way to respond.
Looking at what happens after eating the reward is the last step in the process. We want to notice, is the food actually rewarding you in your body? It’s a delicious taste experience, sure, but is that where the pleasure ends? Is it worth the aftermath? How do you feel an hour after answering the urge by eating that thing?
This process may sound tedious, but I promise you the payoff is enormous. It takes a little more effort and consciousness to unwire or rewire a habit than to create it in the first place. But when it comes to cravings and urges, the work pays off because on the other side is so much more freedom.
Freedom in your mind and your body as you start to tune into what your body needs and release all of the brain chatter about not being able to be in control around food. Habit change will never be a smooth road with no missteps, but just like if you tripped and fell down while you were walking down the street, the key to success is to just get back up and keep going.
You don’t stay down on the ground beating yourself up about how you tripped and now you’ll never be able to get back up. You don’t scream and cry about how unfair the world is because you have this body that tripped and fell. You just get up and you keep going.
I want to share a couple of resources with you that I think could be helpful. When it comes to mindfulness and body awareness, there’s no better exercise than meditation. There’s an awesome course on mindful eating in the 10% Happier meditation app that focuses on this topic and really getting – practicing and getting good at body scans.
And Dr. Judson Brewer who teaches the course also has an amazing app of his own that I just discovered called Eat Right Now, which is a comprehensive program to help you learn to be mindful in your eating, and it helps you go through this process of managing urges and cravings by listening to understand.
There’s some really awesome tools in there. I have no affiliation or anything with it. I just think it’s really awesome so check it out if you feel like you want maybe a little bit of hands-on help going through this process. Okay everybody, have the best week and I’ll see you soon.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you want to learn more about how to lose weight for the last time, come on over to itbeginswithathought.com. We’ll see you here next week.