You decide to not eat sugar and everything is going well for the first 15 hours or so. You finish dinner and are watching some TV. About 15 minutes in, you suddenly have a hankering for some chocolates. And unfortunately, you did not listen to my advice and have the chocolate handy. What do you do, Jack? What do you do?!
You try to resist but after some hand-wringing, some impatient walking around and generally acting like you have ants in your pants, you pop the chocolate in.
And you gave in to those cravings.
Next morning (or maybe 5 minutes after finishing that chocolate), you are angry with yourself. And it starts all over again the next day.
Eventually, you stop torturing yourself and say "this is not for you".
Cravings happen. And unfortunately, we seem to have no control over whether we get those cravings or not. Really. It is not wrong or your fault if you have a craving - you have no control over whether it is going to hit you or when it will.
But you do have control over whether you follow that craving. While the long-term solution is to ensure you do continue eating your favourite foods and realise that deprivation indefinitely is not the answer, there's a time and there's value to do what you are doing.
For the purposes of this post, the example I am going to use is a craving for sugar. Because that's something I am an expert on. You replace it with whatever applies to you.
So, let's address what is under our control - whether we follow a craving that attacks us when we least expect it.
- Expect it. Don't assume (wrongly) that because you have made a decision to not eat sugar, that's all there is to eat. You will have cravings. Multiple times. At stupid times. By expecting it, you won't be thrown off by it when it does happen.
- By making a decision early, you have already done something right. "I am not going to eat sugar this week" has reduced most of the decisions and fatigue that result from it. The decision is already made and most times, that will cover you. It is only when we are bombarded with many "Do I eat this piece of sugar now?" bits of decision making does fatigue win over.
- As simple as this sounds, the most effective way to control a craving is to ensure that it cannot be fulfilled too easily - so do clean out your pantry.
- A craving is just a thought. Just because you have a thought does not mean you actually want that piece of chocolate. Our brain likes to test us and it likes to sabotage us. Take 5 slow breaths, just focusing on the inhale-exhale. Once you do that, just tell your brain "No. I'll have my chocolate next week". And 5 more breaths, focusing on the inhale-exhale.
- Go drink some water. Hot water? Cold water? Well, try both. But drink a tall glass of water.
- Sit on that craving. Instead of trying to run away from it, ask yourself what will happen if you indulge in that craving. Ask yourself if you are truly deprived. You will realise you are anything but and we have access to these goodies all the time. If not today, then next week or whenever. Allow your common sense some time to defeat the craving.
- Set yourself a reward. "I am not going to eat sugar this week. When I accomplish that, I am going to eat my favourite ice-cream and I am going to have an extra scoop". And of course, reward yourself!
These are some methods that I use and they work, almost all the time. When they don't work is when I am impatient and silly. There's no cure for that, unfortunately.
Remember, having a craving is not under your control. But what is under your control is whether you follow that craving. Control your controllable.