Saturday, March 10, 2012

Give In To Cravings? Or Fight Them?

When you have a craving... a real, big craving... the kind that doesn't go away if you wait ten minutes or distract yourself or get busy or eat a bowl of salad... what do you do? Do you give in? Or fight it?

I want to know. Does it matter what the craving is for? Say you are craving a big bowl of Greek yogurt with berries but you're already at your calorie limit or it just isn't on your plan for the day for whatever reason. Do you eat it since it is nutritious? Do you trust that your body "needs" it for some reason? Or do you fight to the end, say Absolutely NOT, and ignore the craving? What if it's M&M's you crave? Is your strategy different?

Are all cravings 'bad'? Is it ever really your body telling you there is something it needs? Is it best to just stay the course and teach your body who's boss and just NEVER cave to cravings, even if it is for an extra banana or a piece of chicken breast?

What if you know there is a specific reason for your craving? What if you are under a lot of stress, and you know that you are craving a bowl of ice cream as stress relief? How about if you have PMS and you know that's why you're craving a salty snack or some chocolate? Do you give in and feed yourself some potato chips, or maybe try to substitute something healthier like kale chips? Do you eat a Hershey bar to quell the chocolate monster, or have a square of dark chocolate? Or do you just say NO anyway, regardless of the reason?

I've had the experience of craving something unhealthy, trying to shut the craving down by eating a bunch of healthy stuff, only to eventually cave and eat the unhealthy thing anyway. In the past, if I craved peanut butter cups, I'd fight it and eat an apple. Then some crackers. Then some cheese. Then think maybe some peanut butter would do it. After a spoon of peanut butter, maybe a few chocolate chips. And in the end I'd eat way more calories than I would have if I'd just had a Reeses cup to begin with.

I've fought cravings until they went away. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes I just have to go to bed. Or clean toilets or get out of the house and get my mind off it or whatever. But it that really the best course of action? What do you think? How do you handle your cravings?


Anonymous said...

I think when you are trying to lose weight, you should never give in to cravings.

Kristi said...

When dieting, I don't cave. I know that when I cave once, I continue to cave.

Mary said...

For me, it depends on why I am craving it. Looking at Pinterest too long "makes me hungry" - but if I am craving something and it feels like real hunger pangs I give in to a modest portion and then go to bed. I don't want to get in to the cycle of denying myself and then end up bingeing like crazy because I left myself be too hungry or dissatisfied. It's tough!

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

The main thing I have to do to combat cravings is not eat sugar, white flour and any trigger foods. But I find if I eat anything with over 4 grams of sugar something inside me goes crazy. So that is the first thing I ask myself. If I ate something that triggered the cravings. Secondly, I have found that acid in the stomach can mimic hunger pangs. Occasionally I will take a tums and find that takes care of the problem. This is if I'm craving something and I know I should not be legitimately hungry yet. If all that fails then it's probably emotional. And I try to distract myself. It works half the time. The rest of the time I forgive myself and try to do better next time!

Amanda said...

For me, giving in to cravings is what got me to the point where I needed to lose weight in the first place, so it's something I avoid.

I have a plan, and I stick with it. It has room in it for things that aren't the gold standard of healthy eating, because I know myself and total deprivation just isn't going to stick. But it also has limits because I know my serious trigger foods (hello, cookies cakes and brownies! And cheese...) and I have to only have those in controlled situations.

I'm not saying I do perfectly -- nope. But I try my best not to engage in behaviors that will only push the scale back up.

birchgirl said...

I think you need to find a way to stop viewing your body as the enemy. I am not advising going off your plan, but in conjunction with it, I recommend looking at the book The 4 Day Win, by Martha Beck.

Anonymous said...

Craving might be a kind of dissociation from unwanted feelings, a form of distraction (intense, repetitive thinking). The issue for me, then, involves observing where the craving takes me, knowing I can have the food another time, believing that it is more important to experience what lies behind the craving. This is not "figuring out" anything. It is trusting that the feelings will come, trusting that I will be okay with them, trusting that feelings are human and important--not something to destroy or cover over with obsession or compulsion.

Melanie said...

Excellent question. If you discover the answer, you may want to capitalize on that because it's probably worth a million dollars!!!

All kidding aside, I feel that there isn't a definitive yes or no to this. There are so many variables. Many experts suggest that if you don't give in to your cravings, you are setting yourself up for an eventual binge. You know - the proverbial "forbidden fruit". We always want what we can't have.

For people who are able to give in to the craving, and eat a modest portion this is probably a smart idea. Much better than eating far more calories while trying to avoid the desired food than eating the food itself.

If it's a healthy food, I think eating it is typically ok. Do you know anyone who is overweight from eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats, yogurt, etc.?

However. For those with addictive issues, giving in to a craving starts a very dangerous downward spiral. For people who struggle with this, a modest portion leads to more 99.99999% of the time. It's like telling an alcoholic to only have 1 drink every day. Not gonna happen.

Raeesa said...

Man oh man, I'm struggling with this. Because it's unrealistic to expect to never give in to your cravings (or never have "bad food")

If I deny myself something for a long time, it increases my chances of just giving up.

I guess I never have the craving for healthier versions (le sigh) so instead of debating each and every time whether to give in or not, I just added 1 meal per week as a cheat day.

It helps me to know that there is no "forbidden foods forever" and because of that, I often skip the cheat day.

As far as chocolate craving around my cycles, I've learned that resistance is futile. The longer that I put off having a small piece of chocolate the bigger the chocolate binge. So as soon as I crave it, I purchase three Ferrero Rocher candies and have one a day. That usually does fixes it. (As opposed to denying myself and then running to the store and just purchasing a stash of candy)

Lori said...

I think that often when our bodies crave something healthy like blueberries or such, there is a nutrient there that our body is needing. In that instance, I'd say eat it.

If your craving is for a trigger food...RUN!!! Do what you need to do to get over it.

Easier said than done, I know.

Big Mama T said...

It depends on the craving. If I'm at my calorie limit, it gets ignored (most days... I'm not at an 'all the time' level of willpower yet.).

If I'm craving something general, like sweet, I'll have fruit; something salty, nuts. I really do think we're programmed to 'crave/want whatever' the nutrients out body needs (salty tends toward protein and sweet toward carbs/vitamins if you're eating 'real' foods).

If I'm craving something specific, however, like I'm not supposed to have it specific, I wait 3 days. I figure if I STILL want that burger and fries after 3 days- and didn't 'cave' then, frankly, I deserve it. I just order the junior/small versions and try to fit them in my daily calorie limit (skip a snack or scale lunch down to make it work)...

If I don't treat myself on rare occasion, I'm more likely to snap and go completely off the wagon. One meal at 800 cals instead of 500 cals is still better than 2000 plus a day or 40 of giving up!

Claire said...

I eat whatever I crave and usually it's something healthy. It's my body telling me what it wants.

But I don't eat what my mind craves. If there's no real hunger I don't eat.

Dani said...


Check out this post I wrote about Intense cravings, I got a TON of different ideas on things that others do to get through it!

Hope it helps you too :)

Mary Ellen Quigley said...

I actually do give in to cravings, but I don't go crazy. For instance, If I want some chocolate I allow myself to have one small square or I'll eat a 100 calorie pack of the Cocoa Roasted Almonds. I don't eat tons of it, just enough to stifle the craving. I do Weight Watchers though, which allows you a small amount of treat points.

Karen said...

I know there are people who can have sweets or pizza or chips or wheat in small amounts and have that small serving and move on.

I'm not one of those people. Wasn't in the past , will never be now or in the future.

That's okay. I've accepted that. But like some of the other readers, I stop and ask myself "what's really going on here?". 9 times out of 10 its stress or lack of sleep for me.

If my brain says, well chips or popcorn sound good, so does garlic bread, it's the disease or neural pathway that rumbling around that will cause me to over eat big time.

I've learned to let it pass, the day/ time goes on and it passes.

Cravings = need, not want (IMO)

I think it was jimmy moore, the low carb guy who lost a lot of weight who said in a recent seminar " you don't loose weight to get healthy, you get healthy and then loose weight".

Cravings are part of the mental part of weight loss. Dealing with them and not feeding them with actual food really gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Good luck and hope that you can learn what works for you to power past the cravings for food and figure out what you need to the right place emotionally. It's a key step in weight loss or maintenance. IMO

Karen P

Karen said...

I meant cravings = want, not need.

Typing on the mobile device again. :)

Kathleen said...

Dear Lyn, This is a very interesting point. I have to agree with the previous comments. Giving in to cravings is what made me fat in the first place. Obeying them now seems like a mistake. I know that many people claim that cravings indicate something's missing from your diet. But I disagree. I think that is true under some rare and/or extreme circumstances. Otherwise, as an educated adult, I think you should listen to what your mind is saying and not your body. Do I have cravings? Absolutely. I stubbornly ignore them. My body, of course, wants fat and sugar. If you are craving peanut butter cups OR Greek yogurt with is still fat and sugar. Of course, the yogurt is healthier and more whole, but it's still your body asking for something it wants. Unless a person is malnourished (and fat people can be malnourished) I really don't think the craving is for a necessity. Like the previous comments said, it is a want. And when you talk about eating to sooth, eating to relieve stress...I think this is a dangerous method to use. A very effective method, but a very dangerous one. I had to learn how to cope without the soothing effect of food. It took A LONG TIME. It was VERY PAINFUL. But I eventually got the hang of it.

That brings me to my second point. You struggling with cravings, you trying to eat health food until you “JUST CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE GIVE ME THE REESE'S” cave and eat the 'forbidden' food. I completely understand. Cravings are brutal. Cravings can make you nuts. Like you say, they don't all disappear in 5-10 minutes. It's rough. But it's doable. Sigh. I am sorry, Lyn. Being a person who watches what they eat and monitors their weight is rough. It makes life more difficult and more complicated. But if you want the results, you have to stick to your guns, even when it is very uncomfortable.

Personally, I give myself a 'Free Day' every week or two in order to get some desires out of my system. Usually I am surprised to find that once I take a bite or two of whatever food I have been fantasizing about, that is enough. I am no longer compelled to consume the entire thing (which I did when I was fat). But on that day, it doesn't matter, because I have budgeted calories and 'given myself permission' to indulge in the craving. ALL OTHER TIMES I strictly follow my diet...otherwise I will not lose weight and my diet won't work. And I will have no one to blame but myself. You can't cheat on your diet and then say “Why didn't my diet work!!?” Good luck! All my best. Kathleen.

Wishful Shrinking said...

As soon as I started eating as though food was a Dr. ordered prescription. (For me this means using a food plan made for me by my nutritionist)I started eating consistent timed meals with out sugar in the 1st 5 ingredients and the cravings went away. So I really believe it is not what my body wants that it really is just my mind asking for it. I really think it is my mind because the last time I slipped about 280 days ago my body not used to the sugar of just 6 oreos did everything in its power to get them out. So now armed with that experience I know that the sense of ease and comfort that comes from the first bite is not worth the pain in my body that comes after the 10th.

Anonymous said...

Haha, who craves chicken breasts?

Diandra said...

It depends on the craving, I guess. If it is something healthy, I try to make room in my calorie budget (My budget is BMR plus whatever exercise I get into the day, so if I want to eat more, sometimes it helps to exercise more to earn the calories. Or I substitute a planned meal with what I am craving. So what if I do have oatmeal for dinner?)

With less healthy cravings, it is more difficult. Sometimes it is just a nagging sensation in the back of my mind, and I can do something to distract myself - knit or read or clean. But if it is this "Eat it or die!" sensation, I will simply have what my body/brain wants, and carefully watch when the sensation goes away. In the beginning I would eat a whole bag of crisps and a huge chocolate bar on these occasions (my big cravings are always for something salty followed by something sweet) and be disappointed once everything was gone, and these days half a bag of crisps and a piece of chocolate is enough most of the time. Yeah, still a lot, but my habits have improved, and times inbetween these episodes are longer.

Of course it helps that I plan our meals according to my hormone schedule... when I know my period is approaching, I add more food that is high in iron (red meat, eggs, green vegetables such as broccoli). If I have slept bad for a few days, I cook carb-based dinners and have some herb tea with that. If there is a strength training session planned, extra protein will be added before and/or after. And some (strictly limited) sugar for days with lots of thinking (crazy days at work with an extra square of dark chocolate or a homemade milkshake). Food can act as "medicine" and help our bodies cope with not-everyday situations, and I try to learn as much about nutrition as possible and act accordingly, and the cravings have been reduced immensely.

The Girl From Back Then said...

I think the best thing is to have a little of it, especially if it's bad for you. If you deprive yourself you can start fantasizing about it, by which time you end up eating 3 bars instead. This doesn't always work of course, but it's the best way to compromise between the two extremes. If it's notorious for making you cave to large volumes of food you probably have to be more vigilant and decide it is off limits.

I think it is always a good thing to eat more fruit, especially as it's so nutrious, all-round good for you. It's mostly liquid anyway so it doesn't take up much space for long. I snack on fruit all day and it has never done me any harm! Not to mention my neverending blueberry addiction :) I could eat those damn things until I burst!

What do you think about this?

Lyn said...


LOL, well, I have, actually, and have craved broccoli, too! I take it as a good sign.

The Girl From Back Then~

I lost a lot of weight when I first started in 2007 by eating a TON of fruit, I mean, probably 7-8 servings a day every day. I love the stuff. I am going to play around with adding more fruit eventually. It doesn't seem to be a 'trigger food' for me.

Anonymous said...

"it depends". When I want something that I don't usually think twice about, the craving is a sign that I've been restricting too long, had a difficult workout, whatever. So then I'll have a healthy-ish meal with some extra calories - protein and nuts, say. Sometimes I want flavor, crunchy pickles or spicy dip with veggies. And sometimes it's an ad, a blog, a food related article, in which case i try to have a small, single-serving, like from a restaurant. Sometimes I'll barter for it - I can have it if I finish my taxes, go for a run, clean under the bed.

Anonymous said...

This is why I count calories and never plan past my next meal. I eat healthy food 90% of the time and a healthy version of my craving (i.e. frozen yogurt rather than ice cream) if there is a substitute. If not, I eat what I crave, count the cals and be done with it. I've done what you describe way to many times to fall into that trap again.

If I can't "be done with it" by substituting healthier versions and then I cave anyway, it feels like I've failed and I get into the "I blew it anyway so what's the difference; start tomorrow " frame of mind. By doing it the other way, I never "fail", I DECIDE to make it part of my menu for the day. No obsessing, no dreaming, no "life is so unfair, why me....just this one time" (because we all know, it is just this one time, right?)
Good luck, whatever you decide,

Anonymous said...

Oh, and also, trying to figure out why I crave something, FOR ME is just a way of justifying and intellectualizing. I am not even certain I believe in the concept of craving, especially if we're including the idea of "emotional craving". I think of it as simply WANTING something. We can dress it up this euphemism however we wish, it is what it is and we'll obsess about it exactly in the same way no matter what term we use.
This is exactly the other reason I count calories and include the occasional "craving". Justifying it will get me to the same place, so why complicate things. I already analyze everything else to death anyway; I don't want to play with my own head re. food/nutrition/health. I've done it for years and it got me nowhere except wt. yo-yo-ing. In addition, if I plan it into my menu, I am more likely to eat a limited amt. as opposed to the entire container, under the guise of 'out of control craving due to reason x, y or z", which may lead to a binge.

Anonymous said...

Since Thanksgiving, I have been giving in to almost all of my cravings, and this has led to maintenance. It is ok in some ways, I lost 37 lbs from May - Nov. And I have still lost those 37 lbs. But, I still have at least 17 lbs to go before reaching my ideal healthy weight. I am giving myself this several month 'break' from strict dieting, and am planning to start adding exercise back into my routine in the spring and getting strict with my dieting plan again in summer. For me, I am finding that I can maintain in the winter, but those 'comfort' cravings are emotionally draining to ignore during the cold weather. Of course, this is the first real attempt I've made to change my lifestyle eating habits (I am overall MUCH better than in the past), so we'll see what happens over the coming spring and summer months...

Amy said...

I was struggling with the salt/sweet cravings during PMS and I learned that it is due to a flux in blood sugars. Getting more essential fatty acids (the good fats) helps stabalize blood sugars and dull the cravings. The chemical cravings I can control, it's the emotional cravings that I usually give into, and it's usually bittersweet.