If you are looking to lose weight the chances are you might be struggling with urges, cravings, and temptations. That’s sort of a year-round thing. It’s a little bit more heightened during the holidays, or really during any type of special event. Whether that is a birthday, graduation, anniversary, or whatever.
I have spoken numerous times about what is called the motivational triad.
It’s how our primitive brain operates. At a very basic level, it makes sense why we have urges, cravings, and temptations. It’s why we as a species are alive. Our brains are acting on rewards all the time. Eat the cookie, drink the wine, and have sex with that person. That is how the human population has procreated and been propagated for so many years.
Our brain is also wired to avoid any type of pain, danger, fear, or change.
In modern times, our brain sort of equates running away from a saber-toothed tiger as the same thing as saying “No, thanks. I don’t want to eat your fruitcake.” “No, thanks. I’m not having another drink.” Anything that seems dangerous, like not fitting in or doing something different than everybody else, your brain makes that a problem.
Everything in our brains is automated.
Our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. So we don’t have to think:
- How do I use a fork?
- How do I turn on my phone?
- How do I do all of the things?
A lot of this stuff is just automated…thank goodness. That’s what brains do. They try to make every single task literally a no-brainer. Our brains are already working for us and working against us. Working for us, in that it keeps us alive. Working against us, in that our brain does not prioritize weight loss.
Weight loss is not a biological imperative.
The biological imperative is to overeat and store lots of calories. Then there is another layer, because the brain is a very wonderful and complex place. I don’t pretend to be a doctor or a scientist, but there is a portion of our brain that stores memories that have a lot to do with food and also have a lot to do with holidays, and special occasions.
If you feel that your urges or the cravings or the temptations have kicked up a lot, especially around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and whatever you might celebrate, it’s normal.
I had a client tell me that she was really struggling with the idea that she wants to lose weight, but she needs to make these Christmas cookies. As we started to tear it apart, it really became less about cookies and more about feeling connected to her mom.
What I want to offer you is sort of an overview of why some of this is happening, and more importantly, what we can do about it.
It’s wonderful to have the knowledge, and it’s an interesting topic. We want, and we seek, understanding. We want to know why. Why is this happening? How do we make it stop? I think what might be more useful is to have some strategies. We have urges, cravings, and temptations. That’s just part of being human. Repeat after me. “That’s just part of being human.”
There is a difference, whether you want to realize it or not, between physical hunger and emotional hunger.
When it comes to urges, a lot of that falls under the category of emotional hunger. We could see or notice cravings when we actually do have physical hunger. Perhaps you are on a very low-calorie diet or a very low-nutrient diet. Could you have these actual physiological cravings for nutrients that you are missing? The answer is yes. It is something to look at if you aren’t necessarily eating.
You could have physiological cravings and it is something to take note of. Also, you could be on medications that kick up some hunger hormones. I have a few friends that had some complications with COVID. They were put on Prednisone which is a corticosteroid that increased hunger signals.
When we look at urges, cravings, and temptations, they aren’t necessarily all the same.
Urges are when you feel suddenly compelled to eat something, or you do it almost like you have no control over it. You do it out of habit. It is something that you keep indulging and the urge gets stronger.
Cravings are sort of interesting. I feel like they’re a little bit more subtle. You might be thinking more about them and less about acting on them. Sometimes they feel very physical in your body. It takes some time to unwind.
- Is there something going on?
- Am I dehydrated?
- Am I not well-fed?
- Do I not have the right nutrients?
- Am I taking some kind of medication?
- Am I not getting enough fiber in my food?
It feels a little bit slower.
Temptations are more along the lines of thoughts like:
- I’m so tempted.
- That is so tempting.
- There are too many temptations.
- I can’t lose weight, because of all the temptations.
Just a thought that plays in the background of the 60,000 thoughts we have a day. It’s a pretty convincing thought. So we begin to believe it.
It makes sense around the holidays, there’s eggnog and Christmas cookies. Everybody invited me to parties. There’s all the hors d’oeuvres and drinks and desserts. There are too many temptations. We can go to work on the temptations. Unraveling and poking holes in some of those thoughts. You have temptations all the time that you don’t take action on.
Let’s say we’re in the grocery store.
We have lots of different thoughts about being in the store. You might be going through the bakery section or the snack aisle and you see food that you like. That you know tastes so good.
- It tastes so good.
- It looks so good.
- Should I buy that?
- I’m going to buy that.
- I want to eat that.
- That’s my favorite.
We eat with our eyes. They say don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry for a reason. We do have a lot of temptations. Sometimes we’re putting those in the cart. The grocery store is like a microcosm for the world. There are other temptations.
- You might be tempted to ram someone with your shopping cart when they open the freezer door, and it hits you.
- You might be tempted to yell at the lady with the 1000 coupons who checked out before you, and it’s taking 45 minutes.
- You might be tempted to run down the freezer aisle when you see the Tom Selleck look-alike. He looks delicious.
We have all kinds of temptations that we don’t take action on. Remind yourself that just because it’s a temptation doesn’t mean anything. We can just enjoy the thought and move on.
Besides you really keying in on what your thoughts and beliefs are as you go through that grocery store. Is one of these actually happening for you more than the others? Is it an urge? Is it a craving? Or is it a temptation? Or is it all of the above?
When I look at urges specifically, I tend to see it is more about feelings.
Feelings that we want to avoid. Like I said with that motivational triad, our brain really is trying to protect us. The idea of fear or danger or feeling bad, the brain quickly wants to redirect. The brain, of course, loves food. It loves sweets and things that light up the dopamine receptors in our heads.
Oftentimes, if you’re noticing a lot of urges, you probably want to check in with yourself. You want to check in to find out:
- What is actually going on?
- What am I feeling?
- What am I trying to avoid feeling?
Our brains are so automated, we have almost a habit loop.
We have a thought, it creates a feeling, and then we start taking action. When it comes to urges, that action is probably eating or drinking something more than what I intended to, or more than my body actually needs. Clients will say, “Oh, it’s just a habit.” Keep this in mind. Habits were feelings that became habituated into actions.
I think we have a lot of habitual thoughts things we think over and over habitually. We have a lot of habitual feelings…things that we go to automatically. I’m so stressed out. I’m so frustrated. I’m so overwhelmed. And it sends us into snacking, picking, grazing, and doing all of the things that have us consuming extra calories and therefore not losing weight.
How can we solve urges, cravings, and temptations?
If you want to lose weight, there are things that you can do. With urges, in particular, I think we want to acknowledge that we need to be able to practice delayed gratification. The more we give in, the more we indulge, the more we have that instant gratification, then the more likely you can count on that urge.
It is going to keep coming back just like that Pavlovian response. Just like feeding the dog at the sound of the bell. Just like every time I go to Target with my kids, they cry and whine for a toy until I give it to them. Practicing delayed gratification is something you can do.
When I feel like I want something, I want to, first of all, check in with myself.
My brain isn’t really that invested in my feelings. It doesn’t really want to go down that road.
Here’s something you can use right away, “I can have it tomorrow.” You could change that to, “I will plan it for tomorrow,” or “I can have it this weekend.”
It literally is the easiest way to practice delayed gratification. I can have it tomorrow and in truth, you can. When we can push off that urge, we can assure our brains that it is going to get what it wants. By the time tomorrow rolls around, you’re not going to want it. In fact, you’re not going to want whatever you’re having an urge for probably within the next 5 to 10 minutes if you can wait it out.
I am also going to give you some other tips you can use for actual urges.
- Urge jars
- List of 100 urges
- Tally marks
- Cravings journal
- Policing your environment
This is where we’re going to start to take action. If the one thing you walk away with today is I can have it tomorrow, and that works for you, that’s a win.
If you want to go a little bit deeper, and you want to decondition that desire you have for eating processed foods, eating after dinner, or eating beyond your caloric needs, there are ways to do that. We’re not born to desire cookies or wine. It’s something that happens over time. We can unlearn that desire. There are a couple of different ways to do that.
An urge jar simply is getting a glass jar.
Something that is see-through. It could be a vase, a mason jar, a large beer stein, or whatever. Then, you get the round glass beads that you see at Home Depot or on Amazon. You could use rocks, coins, small kids’ toys, or anything that would stack up in a jar that you could see. That’s the idea.
Here’s how it works. At night after dinner, I’m watching TV, maybe I’m used to indulging in the urge of getting popcorn or that sleeve of cookies. I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine. We do have to be aware. Instead of getting the cookies, the crackers, or the wine, I am going to allow myself to have the urge. I’m not going to indulge the urge. I’m going to actually be curious about the urge. I want to see what happens if I do not indulge in it.
What happens if my kid is crying over wanting a toy? If I don’t buy the toy, eventually, the kid stops crying. They don’t cry forever. The same thing is true with ourselves. Our brains don’t throw a fit forever. When we can sit with the urge and be curious about it, then we get to put the penny or the bead or the rock or whatever in the jar.
You might have an evening, where you literally have 10 urges, 20 urges, or 30 urges. If you can let the urge pass, and you can put that token in the jar, then your brain will start to see that you’re actually making progress.
It doesn’t mean if you do give in to an urge that it’s a problem and that you lose all of your beads. You just want to keep that jar somewhere visible as a reminder that you can have an urge and that you can let it pass. The more times you do this, you will have less urges.
The list of 100 urges is very similar.
This is simply keeping a notebook where you just record. This could be Monday night, December 19, I wanted chips. You can record as many as you want. We have found using this tool that getting yourself to record 100 urges works really well.
I have a similar type of tool I call tally marks.
You can use the tally marks in a similar way. You can put them in a notebook, on a poster board, or even your bathroom mirror. I’ve used tally marks to record urges. I’ve used tally marks just to give myself a tally. If I stuck to my plan for the day. If I did not indulge in urges. I did not satisfy the cravings. I did not give into temptations. I give myself a tally mark for doing exactly what I said I was going to do.
Your first tally mark, just like the first bead in the jar, seems kind of like Womp womp womp. One little line on my mirror. It seems like I should just erase it because it looks terrible. When you get to 4, 5, 10, or 15 days, you start to see all those tally marks add up.
Now, what if you have a day that you don’t stick to your plan? That’s okay, I want to get back tomorrow and get another tally mark. I want to get as many tally marks as I can. You can share it with your kids if they want to collect tally marks for cleaning up their room or doing their homework or going to bed on time. I think it’s pretty powerful.
There’s a cravings journal.
Some of you are Journalers and some of you are not and that is okay. I don’t journal regularly. I take lots of notes. You could have a separate cravings journal or you could keep a food journal where you also record cravings. I really think a food journal is very powerful.
You could combine those where you are just recording what you’re eating and then you could make some notes. The cravings journal could also hold your tally marks. What I think is interesting about a cravings journal is that we’re trying to pinpoint triggers. Remember when I talked about that habit loop? We want to figure out when during the day, am I experiencing that thought? That feeling that kicks off eating when I’m not hungry? I’m driven to the carb closet. I’m driven to open the refrigerator. That’s what we want to note.
- Is it every time I open an email from my boss?
- Is it every time I pay the bills?
- Is it every time it’s time to do laundry?
- Is it every time it’s time to clean the kitchen?
- Isn’t every conversation with my mom?
- What are some of the triggers that are setting this off?
We’re not saying the email or the bill is to blame for eating, but it is the trigger. It’s the circumstance that is tripping some habitual thoughts and feelings. If we can get ahead of it, then we can be ready for it.
Another thing that I might put in a journal or I might want to answer is when you can slow all of this down. Now that we are looking at urges, we’re looking at cravings, we’re looking at temptations, we’re shining a light on these. We’re trying to be really curious.
Some questions that have always helped me:
- How will eating this help me?
- How will eating this help me feel less overwhelmed?
- How will eating this help me feel less stressed?
- How will eating this help me towards my goals?
- Will eating this solve my problem?
- What does this solve for me?
Having a go-to question for yourself is very important.
Many times with urges, cravings, and temptations, one of the things that come up is this feeling of no control. I don’t have control. I’m here to tell you that you do have control. You have lots of control. You have a lot of adult thoughts that keep you from doing things just because you want to.
One of the things that we can do as an adult, is taking some control over our environment.
- Do you have cookies laying out?
- Do you bring in a lot of foods that are trigger foods for you?
You can control your environment. If you notice that your brain is telling you that you can’t, QUESTION that. One of the driving factors when it comes to weight loss and the reasons why we let urges, cravings, and temptations derail us is we have a need for certainty. For the feelings of being in control and being able to predict a result.
If I can indulge every urge, craving, and temptation, then I have plenty of certainties. I know how this ends. I know how to do this. I know that I won’t lose weight. It seems much scarier to the brain to not indulge the urges, cravings, and temptations because your brain is going to say, “But what if you don’t overeat? What if you stop following those urges and giving into every temptation? What if you stop all that and you don’t lose weight?”You might notice that you have some thoughts and feelings about why you would want to go ahead and satisfy those urges and why you would not want to.
I am going to tell you 100% that none of us will be perfect with urges, cravings, and all the temptations.
This isn’t about being perfect. This isn’t about all-or-nothing. This isn’t about good foods or bad foods. Because if it is, then we’re always going to struggle.
Let’s take perfection off the table. We can give our brain the comfort and the assuredness that it’s seeking without eating..without giving in to the urge, the craving, the temptation. Check in with yourself. Unwinding urges, cravings, and temptations won’t happen overnight. They also won’t happen if you don’t take action.
I really hope that you can grab onto something that might work for you. Even if it’s as simple as letting your brain know, “I can have that tomorrow” and deciding tomorrow if you are going to plan on that cookie or the wine or the pizza or the candy being in your life.
NOTES IN ANCHOR
Our brain is a very primitive brain. It operates on a very basic level. This is why we have urges, cravings, and temptations. It’s why, as a species, human beings are alive. Our brains are acting on getting a reward all the time. It tells us things like:
“Eat the cookie!”
“Drink the wine!”
“Eat the whole pizza!”
Our brain is also wired to avoid any type of pain, danger, fear, or change. It is literally hardwired to AVOID change altogether. Which is why sometimes your brain can be your worst enemy when it comes to making and sustaining the changes that are necessary for you to lose weight permanently. Your brain is quite frankly a toddler throwing a fit in the middle of the grocery store. Let’s tap into our brains a little more on episode 27 of the Unf*uck Your Weight Loss podcast now! Available for a limited time only use code Bonnie 37 to receive a discount on Self Made Society! This code waives the registration fee and reduces the first month to just $37.
A savings of $160! After the first month, your membership will be $57/mo.
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 unf*ck 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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