Week 5: Crushing Cravings

Your first four weeks are done! Time flies when you are on a program, for some. Hopefully, you have felt, like some others have, that this is, at least, not "as bad” as it sounded when someone told you about it! But, no matter what, making change is hard, so it is time for your first pep talk! At this point, your weight may be down about 5% from your starting weight. For example, if your starting weight was 250 lbs, it may be down 12 pounds. Celebrate this milestone! For comparison, research articles in leading journals show 6% weight loss in one year with intensive lifestyle modification including meeting with dieticians and trainers, and weight loss medications have a benchmark of achieving a 5% weight loss in 12 weeks for FDA approval. So, losing 5% in one month is at least three times as fast! Also, reducing excess weight by 5% statistically improves the risk of important adverse health outcomes. So, if you ever feel that your weight loss is slow, remember that by objective comparisons, it is fast! And, bodies do not read the calendar. Weight loss is not linear for everyone. Some people lose the same amount of weight every week, while others lose it in a step-wise fashion. As long as you remain consistent and you keep up your nutrition, habits, activity, and any medical treatment, we expect the end result to be the same: 15 to 25% weight loss in 3 to 6 months. Some people may feel the weight loss at this point, and some may not. Some people may be getting comments from others about weight loss, and others may wonder why others have not said anything. There are many things that factor into this. Some people lose 50 pounds before anyone says anything. Some people are uncomfortable with any attention related to their body. Some people don’t feel their weight loss until a certain “symptom threshold” and some people feel it right away. These are all things to be aware of and talk about at your follow up appointments if you feel them affecting your mindset. But, in general, remain positive about the health journey you are on, nurture an incredibly positive body image, and reaffirm your intrinsic motivation to do this for yourself and your health.

This week, we will begin a series of blogs on troubleshooting challenges and pitfalls to a healthy lifestyle that will apply long term to today's obesogenic society. We will start with food cravings this week. Here is the review of your weeks’ focuses so far! Be sure you have been practicing these daily to develop a new “autopilot” for longterm lifestyle change! In maintenance, we will make fewer changes than you think. Your weight maintenance program will look more like your weight loss program than a typical American diet, so embrace these things! If you would like more reading on “The Power of Habit”, here is a book.

The Power of Habit

Week 0: Screening: medical history and exam, medication and blood work review, any medication changes or new medication prescriptions

Week 1: “Just follow the program.” Consume 5 medical foods per day, spaced evenly, drink about 80 ounces of water per day, and take 3 fatty acid supplement capsules per day

Week 2: “Practice Makes Permanent”: Self monitor your weight (unless told not to), engineer your food environment, be prepared, sleep habits

Week 3: “Trust Your Body.” Start practicing mindfulness, or pausing to consider other options when challenging situations arise. Stay out of your body’s way and let it get healthier. It has everything it needs.

Week 4: “Exercise with a Purpose.” Start low and go slow with a daily exercise habit. Alternate aerobic and resistance exercise. Focus on consistency and progression. Use the links in the blog for suggestions. They can all be done in your living room with no equipment.

Week 5: Crushing Cravings.

Cravings are urges for food, as opposed to physical hunger. Cravings usually come on suddenly, focus on one particular food, and may be triggered by things like a smell or an emotional situation. Physical hunger tends to build slowly and be associated with rumbling in the stomach. Typically, a craving can quickly lead to the rapid consumption of a food that is not on a plan, which then can lead to feelings of shame, guilt or failure, which then sabotage the plan going forward. First of all, if a craving happens and you do eat something not on plan, even if it is a large amount, the message here is to let it remain in the past and to just get back on your plan as soon as possible and try to avoid any feelings of shame or guilt. Remember, this is an endurance event, not a sprint, and no short term event is going to affect the long term outcome. It is only the effect on your mindset that has the power to do that. But, if you can pause and consider other options before giving in to a craving, either this time or the next time, you can try a few of these strategies:

  • Picture the craving as an ocean wave. It will build and get stronger and stronger and feel irresistable, but then it will “break” as if crashing on the shore and will pass, whether you give into it or not usually. The process usually takes about 20 minutes. If you can get through that time, it will usually go away. Read further to see how. Here is a video on “Riding the Crave Wave”

Give yourself a “neurological reset.” If you have a craving, your brain may need a dopamine surge. Other things that naturally release dopamine are music, scents, activity bursts, yelling, punching pillows, dancing, etc. Here is a link to some helpful videos that can give you neurological resets and dopamine surges without ultra processed food or alcohol:

  • Self soothing meditation video.

  • Primal Movements: This is a video to teach you “primal movements” that activate some centers of our brain rarely used in our modern day society that may leave you feeling frustrated. We are not made to just sit and move in 2 directions. We may feel something is missing, because it is. Find your "something."

  • Aromatherapy (try to buy local from a small business, like mine:). We know how powerful a trigger a smell is when we are cooking or smell food. Use that to your advantage with a scent other than food. It will be just as satisfying, and not get in the way of your health goals.

  • Shadow boxing: great way to get out anger or frustration! Anger is normal. Turn it outward in a healthy way instead of inward with shadow boxing. This is great for hormonal health also.

These are 5 different options to consider other than using food when you have a craving. It is good to have different tools in your toolbox. Try them all before you have a craving so you are comfortable and have them at the ready when you need them. Like anything, it takes practice. You won’t overcome every craving, but that is okay. With time and repetition, you will see what works best for you, create new neurological pathways, create some new behavior chains, and find new ways to give your body and mind what it needs.

Take Back Your Neurological Pathways,

Valerie Hope-Slocum Sutherland, MD

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