Today, we’re talking all about managing urges and I’m giving you a glimpse into a master class I did for the Real Weight Loss Challenge, which is going on now. I won’t give you the full hour long version.
If you’re somebody who is trying to lose weight and keep it off for forever then learning about urges, what they are, why you might have them and what to do about them is going to be pretty key. I firmly believe that if it were as easy to get the right mix of calories, macros, have enough protein, do all the steps, the water, the workout, we would all be in our ideal bodies already.
While there are also some metabolic things that could be happening, you could be in perimenopause or menopause, you could have a thyroid issue, you could have other things that are going on preventing you from losing weight. I’ve spoken with 1000s of women at this point, what is generally happening is we are eating when we’re not hungry.
We are eating because;
- Other people are eating,
- It’s the holidays,
- Someone offered us food,
- There’s food in the break room,
- You didn’t want to be rude,
- You’re meeting your friends out,
- You have to travel for work,
All of the different reasons that we find ourselves eating beyond what we need physically.
It’s not because you’re bad, have no willpower, need more discipline, should know better, or you should get your shit together. What does help is understanding what is going on with urges so that we can figure it out and hopefully lessen the urges.
Why might we have the urge to eat?
You might already know this, but there are two pathways, the homeostatic pathway and the hedonistic pathway when it comes to the urge to eat. This makes a lot of sense to have a homeostatic pathway. You have probably heard the term homeostasis. Our bodies are seeking homeostasis, although never really achieve homeostasis. That’s why we have neurotransmitters and hormones and chemical reactions. Our body is very invested in staying alive. That is why we do recognize physical hunger. We have hunger hormones, you might know them as leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is the hormone that lets us know that we are full and that we have reached satiety. Ghrelin is a hormone that lets us know we’re hungry and it’s time to eat. Sometimes we can have a little problem with those hormones when we have decades of dieting, and suppressing natural hunger. Our homeostatic pathway can be letting us know that our gut health isn’t very good, or that we have a true need for specific nutrition, calories. This is all about our body signaling to us its need for food to live. Sometimes our bodies might have a glitch. We might have something metabolically, hormonally or something with our gut health that makes this homeostatic pathway not 100% clear.
It makes sense that there are true hunger signals happening and we could experience that as an urge, a craving, or a temptation to eat depending on how you actually think about those words. When I think about urge, I think about urgency. I need that. I want that. I have to have it. I can’t stop thinking about it. A craving sometimes it’s like Oh, I’m kind of in the mood for or I’m thinking about a temptation to me but I wasn’t really thinking about it until someone else had it. I saw a commercial, someone mentioned it. Those words can be used interchangeably.
The hedonistic pathway is this idea of us being drawn to food or having an urge to eat when we see food. We see what others are eating or we see a commercial on TV. We smell something cooking. We recall foods or places we enjoyed where we ate food and this is about the pleasure. The hedonism that we get from food and there’s nothing wrong with getting pleasure from food. Part of the human experience is enjoying food, whether it is purely because you like the way it tastes, or looks, or smells, or it just reminds you of your grandmother or your vacation in Italy or some other time in the past. It’s normal to have food related experiences that are pleasurable.
Learning how to enjoy food is part of losing weight, and keeping it off forever. Unless you’re just wanting to be a robot and you never want to ever eat your favorite foods again. So I just wanted to set us up for this idea that urges are normal. If you’re a human you’re going to have urges, it’s to be expected. We’re not robots, there is not a button that says get rid of urges or a mindset reset button. You can only think about food for fuel, or you can only eat chicken broccoli. That just does not exist, I don’t care who it is, most fit people have foods that they enjoy.
I did want to kind of backtrack a little bit rather than just get into how to manage urges. Let’s cover what really happens when we’re used to using diets in order to lose weight. I use the word diet indiscriminately. I think about dieting, not in a pejorative way like you shouldn’t diet, diet culture, diets, bad diet trauma. There could be good diets, and there could be bad diets. I think it’s all what you think they are. But generally speaking, when we talk about why diets don’t work is when a diet has you over restricting. Literally ignoring this idea of the homeostatic pathway.
We’re going to purposely not eat and override our hunger signals. We’re ignoring true physical hunger. We’re using willpower to adhere to food rules. We might obsessively count and track calories and macros. Weigh and measure everything. We might be obsessed with the scale, and then we base our food intake for the day on the scale. If the scale goes down, we might have this whole process of oh, now I deserve a treat. If the scale goes up, I deserve to not eat anything.
If you think about it, the more we try to override our natural hunger signals, and try to take away whole food groups, the more we try to avoid sugar and sweets and beat ourselves up for wanting certain things. The more we increase this desire for food. It makes perfect sense. The more I tell myself, I can’t have it, it’s bad. You’re bad. It is this whole idea of good and bad foods. It does create more desire for them. It’s sort of the thing you’re not supposed to do. You’re not supposed to smoke, you’re not supposed to drink, you’re not supposed to fool around, all the things that you want to do. Then we sort of create our own urge monster by trying to suppress our own natural hunger and beat ourselves up for liking food that tastes good.
We get into a situation where we might diet all week, and then overeat or binge all weekend. We get into a situation where we’re constantly obsessed and thinking about food, we start to fear social occasions, vacations, holidays, restaurants. We get used to the idea of restriction and deprivation, although those seem terrible. We feel like in order for us to lose weight, we need to be restricted, and we need to feel deprived. Then we start to rebel against that. We create this sort of cycle of I can’t be restricted and deprived, but I also don’t know how to lose weight without doing that.
The Real Weight Loss Challenge, which is a two week commitment. It is like a mini version of Self Made. The process that we walk clients through, flexible eating, we play out in a mini version over 14 days together. Managing urges is one of those big topics. Obviously urges come up a lot in our all or nothing mentality. We think that in order to lose weight, I have to do all of these things. I have to;
- Lift the weights
- Eat less
- Take all the supplements
- Take all the vitamins
- Drink all the water and
- Get the right amount of sleep
- Do all the things
and then if I get tired, get off track, get sick or the scale doesn’t go down then we cycle in and out of the all or nothing.
That’s why sometimes we feel heightened urges for food, alcohol, online shopping or for whatever give us that dopamine hit. I need to feel better or I need to avoid other feelings. I have lots of clients who will tell me that emotional eating isn’t a problem for them. They assume emotional eating means I’m sad or I had a bad day so I’m going to eat.
You might be someone who feels urges to eat, and feels like they are addicted to sugar or they can’t stop eating certain things. We’re trying to create joy, calm, happiness, that little bubble of me time with a chocolate bar with a handful of candy or cookies. That is also emotional eating.
I always give this example when I talk about urges. It is this idea of feeding the stray cat. Now I have nothing against cats. If a stray cat did come to my door, I’m gonna grab that cat. I’m gonna feed that cat. So think about it this way. If the cat comes to your door, a gray stray cat that looks skinny, hungry, sad, alone. We’re gonna put out a bowl of food. Great. Now the cat has food. Guess what, the cat’s going to come back and keep coming back. Now the cat is getting fatter. Next the cat is bringing more friends with them. Now it’s a whole posse of cats. They’re all fat. They’re all demanding food and they want it now.
This is what an urge is like. It starts off small and we indulge the urge. Instead of two Oreos, next time I’m going to need a whole sleeve of Oreos. Then I’m going to need the whole bag of Oreos. Then there’s not enough Oreos in the world to satisfy whatever need I actually have. That is not hunger.
If I stopped feeding the cat, what would happen? Well, I hope the cat doesn’t die, but do not call Animal Services on me. I love cats. The cat is going to go somewhere else, right? The cat wants to get food from you. It’s the same thing when I stop indulging my own urges. I will lessen the amount of urges and the feeling of the urge. The more I feed the urge, the more the urge comes back.
We’re gonna get into trying to figure out where these urges are coming from.
Let’s understand and normalize that as humans we eat food and our brain, that homeostatic pathway is driven to making sure you stay alive. That’s a beautiful thing. Also, under that, our brain is wired for reward. So on one hand, our brain actually needs fuel. It needs the chicken and broccoli or whatever. It needs the steak. It needs the eggs. It needs fuel. It needs the protein shake. It’s not going to be that discriminatory when it just needs fuel. But there is another part of our brain that is very driven towards reward.
We do have to be willing to change how we approach eating. When we’ve been dieting for decades and decades, that’s easier said than done. Flexible nutrition is going to feel different. In some ways, it’s going to feel scarier, it’s weird to not have a restrictive or restricted program, like all the foods you can have and all the foods you can’t have.
There is a difference between restrictions and boundaries. I think this is very helpful for anybody considering trying to be more flexible. You can’t just say, I’m going to eat whatever I want, as much as I want, because I want it and that’s being flexible. Flexible eating is really about having boundaries. That is you deciding ahead of time, how you act, or how you want to eat when;
- You’re on a business trip,
- Going on vacation,
- It’s a holiday,
- You’re going away for the weekend,
- You’re going to someone’s house.
It is the idea of how do I eat, rather than I have to either be on a diet, bring all my own food, be miserable and resentful, or just eat whatever they give me and feel like I have no control. It’s this all or nothing.
There is this idea of boundaries, things that you do eat, things that you don’t eat, that work well for you. I know a lot of clients who eat no gluten or no dairy, or they do low carb. Not because they think carbs are bad and gluten is bad. It just doesn’t agree with them. They figure it out over time. Would I like to eat all that bread or the thing that I want to eat? I gotta find a different version of it because it makes me feel bad. You know, I have a gluten sensitivity or I have a dairy sensitivity or I just feel better without it. That’s the difference between a restriction and a boundary.
When we’re not hungry and we have urges to eat, we need to take a closer look at what is going on with;
- Food and feelings.
- Food in the holidays,
- Food and people relationships,
Taking a deeper look doesn’t mean you have to find childhood traumas and things like that.
It’s just sort of recognizing it’s normal to have an association with foods. Especially if you got an ice cream for getting an A on a test or for when you fell down or after baseball games while growing up. You got treats for when you had a bad day. You had got treats when you had a good day. If you were brought up that way, it’s totally normal that this is sort of carried forward where you are constantly thinking about treating yourself or withholding from yourself. I think it’s very normal for a lot of us to not really be in touch with our own physical hunger.
When you’re thinking about urges to eat, I would ask you to sort of analyze;
- Are you eating enough throughout the day?
- Are you getting enough nutrition?
- Are you getting enough protein?
- Are you getting enough fiber?
- Are you getting enough actual real food?
I talked to a lot of busy women who have a meal of a yogurt and a cheese stick once a day. Then they don’t eat for another six or seven hours and wonder why they are really hungry. I’m eating while I’m cooking dinner and I’m eating seconds and I’m eating all night long because we’re so used to go go go. Put ourselves last, not prioritize eating. They think hey, this is going really well. I’m not even thinking about food. I’m so busy. Until we’re so overly hungry.
If you want to cut down on urges and that urgency to overeat or urgency to grab food, really examine, are you giving yourself enough food during the day?
Other tips that I might add if you’re looking at how to handle urges. Sometimes if we at it from a nutrition standpoint,
- Are you just not getting enough vitamins and minerals?
- Do you take a good multivitamin/multi mineral?
- Does it have iodine?
- Does it have magnesium
- Does it have selenium?
- Does it have B 12?
- Do you need extra?
Most of my clients take magnesium, d3, fish oil, and probiotics. Sometimes we do have a misfire or misconnection and we’re not really totally sure of our own physical hunger because we don’t have good gut health. We could figure out through trial and error different foods that you eat to see the response. You could be bringing on board a probiotic. You could even decide to eliminate certain foods that might not be helpful to you. This is part of the process of figuring out what true hunger is and what false hunger is.
Some other reason for why you might be eating food.
One of the things that many of us experience is using food for reasons other than hunger.
- It might be out of habit,
- Sitting in front of the TV,
- We’re not sure, but we’re not interested in finding out,
- We don’t want to know,
- We are afraid to look deeper.
That is totally normal.
When I think about feelings, I start with being curious. I try to talk to my 12 year old self.
- What is going on?
- Is there something on your mind?
- Why are you opening the refrigerator?
- Why are you eating that?
- Are you still hungry?
It’s just being from a very curious place.
Often when we find ourselves eating at night, or eating when we’re not hungry, we beat ourselves up. If you’re not sure about feelings, and you’re not interested in feelings you could write down what you’re thinking. Because it is our thoughts that are usually driving those feelings.
Sometimes we think our feelings are coming from outside of ourselves. This person said that, or this happened at work, or this happened with my car, or my boss, or my cat or whatever. We think our feelings are being dictated by other people but they are really being dictated by the thoughts we have about outside circumstances. So it might be more helpful to write down some of the things that are on your mind. I call this a thought download, you could call it a brain dump, a thought audit, what’s on my mind. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. You don’t have to write it down in a fancy journal, but get it out of your head and onto paper. It could be really helpful. Instead of mindlessly eating, because you’re feeling aggravated or overwhelmed or anxious and you don’t know why, putting it on paper can make it very easy to detect. It’s in black and white.
I’m gonna give you a couple of strategies that I think work really well when you’re feeling the urge to eat, and you are not hungry.
Tracking your physical hunger is really helpful. If you’re going to keep a food journal, you might just want to indicate your level of hunger. You could use a scale from one to five or one to 10 or just words; very hungry, not hungry, sort of hungry. Just to get a feel for when you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner. Are you eating because it’s time to eat? It’s 12 Noon? It’s six o’clock, everybody’s eating? Are you actually hungry? I think something very key is to figure out am I really hungry.
Plan for it tomorrow.
Something else that really worked for me, I can plan for it tomorrow. I can have that tomorrow. This is really useful if you see somebody else eating, like your family. They sat down to have ice cream, or they got a pizza. Maybe you saw a commercial or something that struck you where you would really love a glass of wine. I’d really love a cupcake. I really love XYZ. I can plan for tomorrow. I can have it tomorrow.
You could plan a cupcake for tomorrow, and it is going to taste a hell of a lot better when it’s actually in a plan. You can sit down, relax and enjoy it rather than feeling like you have no willpower or discipline. I had the urge that I needed to have it and I just gobbled it down and then I felt bad about it. I can plan for tomorrow.
I often asked myself this question when I’m thinking about breaking into my kids chocolate chip cookies,what would this solve? I always want them because I’m human, I have a human brain and chocolate chip cookies taste good. If I’m not physically hungry, what would this solve? It will solve nothing. It will, because I like eating them. It tastes good, great, but that doesn’t solve anything, it will only add hundreds of calories that I just don’t need right now. So again, I could plan that tomorrow, or I can take it off the table altogether. Me eating anything, when I’m not hungry, doesn’t solve anything.
Set a timer.
Other things that I do, sometimes it’s just really helpful to set a timer. That could be just set a timer for when you feel an urge to go get cookies. It could be just the timer on your phone for 5-10 minutes. See how long they are. Just set the timer and let the time go and see how long the urge lasts. Set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, if you still want those cookies, then you could allow yourself to go get them.
I have clients that I’ve advised to set the timer at dinner. If you’re thinking about getting seconds or thinking about cleaning your plate, but you’re not really sure. Why don’t you sit there, set the timer and wait for 10 minutes. If 10 minutes passes and you’re still hungry, then eat the food. This is just a way to get in touch with your own physical hunger and to also lessen the desire of acting on the urge.
When we fulfill an urge every time we have one, we eat, drink, do the online shopping or do whatever the urge is, we only deepen the desire for it. This idea of imprinting on our brain. We’re just training ourselves.
Other things right that I use as a strategy. I’m big into talking to my inner child, right my 12 year old self, just trying to figure out what’s wrong. Many times what’s happening is that when I have the urge to eat or the urge to drink or the urge to shop online or scroll on social media. Sticking to a bedtime routine is very helpful. If you’re getting your urges to eat at 4pm then this is not a solution for that.
The urge jar.
The last thing is called the urge jar and doesn’t cost really any money. You probably have an old vase, a mason jar, a beer glass at home. You could put it right on the counter, on your desk, by your computer, anywhere. It will look like a decorative vase. You’re going to put a marble or like a glass bead in that urge jar every time you have an urge that you do not indulge. So you have the urge to get cookies. I’m thinking about them. I want them but I don’t get them. Then a bead goes in the jar. If I’m sitting by my computer and I’m trying to do work but my brain is not wanting to do the work, that’s when I get a lot of urges. I might have 10-20 different beads that go into that jar. That is just giving my brain a different kind of dopamine hit. Like oh look, you’re doing awesome. You’re not indulging the urge. You’re thinking about the food but you’re not hungry and you’re not getting up to get it. This is a great way to sort of retrain your brain with a different kind of reward.
I’ve mentioned my tally marks system. You can give yourself a tally mark for the urges, glasses of water, steps taken, plan followed, working on yourself. We’re not trying to do an urge jar or tally marks perfectly. You won’t be perfect, I don’t expect you to be nor do I want you to expect yourself to be perfect. Because we have a human brain. Sometimes the map of our brain gets a little bit confused. And that’s okay.
I think having the mindfulness, the awareness, and the want to feel better, the want to get at the root of why I might not lose weight and keep it off. It takes a certain brave kind of woman to do that. It’s a lot easier to keep going in the direction we’re going. I’m too busy. I don’t have time for that. I can’t figure it out. It’s too hard. I’m stuck here. But instead, you’re wanting to figure it out. So don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
I would definitely pay attention to physical hunger, that homeostatic pathway that our brain communicates. Our brain, our gut, our whole body communicates to us about what we need to eat. When we need to eat. How much we need to eat. Trying to listen to your body, trying to not under-eat, make foods bad. The more I think something is bad, and I can’t have it, the more I want it. It is human nature. Learning how to be more flexible with food does not happen overnight.
If you’re like me, and you’ve been literally on a diet for 40 years, we have a lot of food rules that are in our brain about what is good and what is bad. If you eat pizza, you’re gonna gain weight, all of that stuff. If I eat two boxes of pizza, I will gain weight. If I binge on pizza, if I overeat anything, I would gain weight. It just takes time to unwind that. Congratulations for working on that.
If you would like to work on that further, I invite you to work with me inside of Self Made. This is the work that we do. It’s part of our process. Not only are we trying to help you figure out that physical hunger and figure out any true metabolic issues you might have. For a lot of women, it’s just getting back to strength training, building up that muscle and restoring yourself to like that nutritional place that you might not be at. That’s okay.
Dealing with the mindset issues with how to handle;
- The restaurant
- The business travel
- The holidays
all the things that come up where we have associations with food. We’re afraid to say yes or to say no or to feel like we won’t have control over what we eat. This is the real deal. This is what Self Made is all about and I would love to work with you there.
ABOUT THE HOST
Bonnie Lefrak is a Life & Body Transformation Expert and Founder of Self Made, a program designed to help you tackle the physical aspects of health and weight loss as well as the beliefs and thoughts that drive our habits and behaviors. It is her goal to help women create certainty in their own lives, their own results, and their own abilities.
Weight loss is not about the one “right” diet – it is about MUCH more than that. Weight loss is not about the one “right” workout. Weight loss is not about being positive and putting a big smile on.
Weight loss is about FEELINGS. All of them. Not trying to bury them or hide from them but knowing and allowing the full human experience. Weight loss is not about grinding hustling and will powering your way to some end line. Transformation (when done well) is done from the inside out.
By addressing both the physical and mental aspects of dieting and weight loss, she has coached thousands of women ages 30-55+ from all over and helped them ditch the mindsets that are holding them back, achieve permanent weight loss, and get the bangin’ body of their dreams.
Bonnie is an expert at Demystifying weight loss. She helps you u****k your diet brain. She is on a mission to help women love themselves, to find PEACE in the process of losing weight, taking care of themselves, and leveraging the power they do have to become who and want they want right now.
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