Learning About Eight Ways to Navigate The Rough Waters of Cravings

Eight ways to navigate the rough waters of cravings

cravingsYou’re having a great day, and then something pushes one of your buttons. You’re stressed at the office, or at home. You’re alone. You had a great idea and now you’re overwhelmed by what you should do to get that idea off the ground. You can’t get to sleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and… all you crave is food.
When you do eat, you eat substantially more than necessary. Most of the time it’s not your body that needs nourishment. It’s your emotions that need comforting or, more specifically, numbing. It’s tough. It feels lonely. After eating, it invariably feels “wrong” and we’re enveloped in a carb-hangover with various shades of guilt.
What can we do when we get hit by the craving storm? These are eight things I’ve found helpful and successful for me. Most of these things apply to anyone (all but the first), regardless of what type of diabetes you have, or if you have diabetes at all.

1. Check my blood glucose level. 90% of the times when I have a craving, my blood sugar level is either too high, too low, or moving in either direction fast. Before I put anything in my mouth, I check and make sure to take the necessary adjustments. This happens often before going to sleep or at night.

If I’m in hypoglycemia or if my blood glucose is going down fast, my body and mind go through a little “death” experience. They feel deprived of the necessary energy to “survive,” which is what, in my experience, creates a craving for food (food=life).

The first thing I have to do is fix the imbalance. What that means is, I eat glucose tablets or drink juice to fix the low. I don’t (or do my best not to) binge on a pint of ice-cream or a bag of cookies. Because that will set off another imbalanced cycle. This is very difficult because we all know that hypoglycemia is a perfect time to eat everything we’re not supposed to eat otherwise. But that’s a way to rationalize and add stress to our body and mind, because it’s very easy to overeat.

First I fix the low. Then I deal with the craving, if it’s still there.

Similarly, if my blood glucose is high or rising fast, I get a craving. No energy enters the cells and my brain feels starved. Again, the experience is that of a little “death,” whether I’m conscious of it or not, just like for hypoglycemia. This is why, at least in my case, I get a craving and want to overeat. As If to make sure that “I’ll have enough to live and I won’t die.”

But all I have to do is take the right amount of insulin and wait.

For someone with diabetes, like me (T1), this first point is paramount. By checking and dealing with my sugar levels, I handle 90% of my cravings. I don’t eat until my blood glucose level is in balance. By the time it’s in balance I usually don’t have the craving, anymore.

2.Drink water. Anytime I have a craving, I drink water, first. This is a “magical” remedy. It works most of the time. Make sure to drink water throughout the day (eight full glasses, at least), and add a glass or two when the craving knocks at the door of your mind.

3. Exercise. It’s better to do a little everyday, than to do a lot every once in a while. I heard somebody say, “Make exercise a habit.” True. You don’t have to sweat your rear-end off to benefit from physical activity.

Take a brisk 20 minute walk, that’ll do. But do it every day.

I go to the gym, whenever I can. When I can’t, either because I don’t have time or because I’m slacking off, I get myself to take my 20 minute brisk walk (even at night or early in the morning). And that’s better than not doing anything. Among the many benefits, physical exercise stimulates endorphins, which help our mind stay alert and our mood stay positive. A positive and alert mind is the most powerful antidote for emotional food cravings.

4. If I still have the craving gnawing at my mind, I share with a friend. I speak of my craving with my wife or with a friend. If you are in a support group you have plenty of phone numbers to call. The idea is, before I eat, I talk it out. Before food goes into my mouth, words about my craving must come out of my mouth, first.

A variation on this is what I call, speak-eat out loud. This will sound funny, but it works for me. I once had a craving for peanuts I couldn’t resist. I knew I didn’t “need” to eat peanuts, but the craving wouldn’t leave me. I also know peanut cravings for me have a physiological component, since my body needs some of the nutritional components in peanuts, and it often manifests during low blood glucose levels. Peanuts also have an emotional component (connected to my childhood with my father), which is what pushes me to eat too much of it. So, being an actor and writer, I just spoke out loud everything I’d do if I ate peanuts. “I’m going to get a bag full of roasted shelled peanuts. I’m going to sit in front of the television. I dip my hand in the bag and pick one at a time. I’m going to crack ‘em open and pop ‘em in my mouth.” I get as specific s possible to make the experience as real as possible. Doing so, I feel it. I feel the texture in my hands and between my fingers. I taste each peanut. I taste the skin and the occasional shell fragments. “And I eat more! So good!…” I continue speaking about it aloud, as if I were actually eating them. But it’s not before long that, for some reason, the emotional memory induced by the words, settles the craving enough, and I don’t have to eat. You can do this with someone else as part of your “share with a friend” (sometimes I do it with my wife), or by yourself.

After the first few times, now the monologues are very short. As soon as I induce the “experience of eating” whatever I’m craving, just by speaking about it aloud, I lose the craving. Try it, you’ll see. Let me know if it works for you too.

5. Snack. If I starve myself, if I eat scarcely or infrequently I’m setting myself up for a craving. I shall not “starve” my system. It’s best for me to eat every couple of hours, whether I’m hungry or not. Obviously, I don’t have to eat a loaf of bread every two hours. I just have to have a  healthy, tasty snack. This keeps my metabolism running, my energy and my stomach full and keeps me satiated. It makes me more unlikely to get a craving down the road.

I can even outsmart my cravings. For example, I have a passion for chocolate. So I make sure to use healthy and balanced chocolate snacks (nowadays we’re very lucky, there’s an abundance of healthy balanced choices) every time I can. This will make it very unlikely that I’ll crave chocolate, because I’ve been having it, regularly. To handle peanut cravings, I’ll add a handful in my salad for lunch, thus my body gets the nutrients it needs. Regular snacks in between meals work beautifully for me.

6. If all else fails and the craving is still enveloping you, do not eat alone. Once I had a craving. I called a friend. After talking for a little while, I couldn’t shake the craving. My friend said, “Okay. Get your food and come over. You don’t have to eat alone.” Suddenly, I felt embraced by a gentle world of “acceptance.” The craving left me with the same speed as a scrap of paper is blown away by a gust of wind.

You don’t have to eat alone. Get together with your spouse, your friend, someone who will not judge you, and say something like, “I can’t get rid of this craving and I don’t want to be alone. Will you please keep me company while I eat?”

7. Chew. If all else fails and I end up eating, I chew a lot. As a person with a health condition, it’s recommended that I chew over 50 times, 100 for complex carbs. If I chew a lot I will automatically eat less. I will also enjoy what I’m eating a lot more, and the overall experience will be better, than otherwise.

8. Choose to be happy. If everything else fails and I end up eating, I say to myself something like, “I’m now going to eat ______. I will chew it well, and I will enjoy every moment of it. I am grateful I can eat this now. I’m happy to eat it, and I’ll be happy for having eaten it.”

The most powerful and vicious trick of emotional cravings is that they keep us bogged down in that guilt-ridden hangover. I have found that my choice to “be happy even if I give into the craving” is the single most powerful antidote to that emotional vicious cycle.

These eight strategies to deal with cravings are what I use all the time. They’re not exclusive of one another. I use them simultaneously, they complement each other. Since I have diabetes, I always start from the first. But I always make sure to drink water, exercise and do all the rest, to either avoid cravings or handle them when they come.

The key is moderation. I can eat anything I want, as long as I don’t hurt myself by doing it.  And the bottom line is, I want to be happy. Giving into cravings mindlessly, rationalizing, being in denial about them, doesn’t make me happy. I tried it. I know. It makes me “high” as in “intoxicated with a temporary deceitful feeling of wellbeing.” But I know it only hurts me. So, I strive to be happy. Because once you experience happy, you don’t want to settle for “high.”

Written by Peter Arpesella, author of GOOD LIKE THIS, A Novel – http://amzn.com/B00GBN7RDI
©Peter Arpesella, 2013. – www.peterarpesella.com

Pe t e r A.
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