If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking or witnessed someone close to you going through it, you know the signs of withdrawal – shaking, crankiness, ups and downs of mania and fatigue. When someone is in the early stages of getting clean of nicotine, the sight or smell of other people smoking can trigger a visceral reaction. Years after I quit smoking, I still vacillate between being offended by the smoke and wanting to grab their cigarette for myself. Old habits die hard (and roll around in their coffin every once in a while just to keep you on your toes).
I know firsthand that quitting is tough dusty work, but I’m here to tell you this: no one has EVER died from resisting a craving! For people stuck in their own personal food fight, the feeling is the same. You see your trigger food and feel your response to it. See or smell, consider or crave - and you’ll have a physical and emotional response. What’s confusing around changing what we eat is that we’ve all got to eat; there’s no going entirely cold turkey on the food front.
Each of us has an animal intelligence that compels us to survive, makes us drink more water when we’re dehydrated, or eat more protein because we’re iron deficient. It’s difficult to figure out when you should pay attention to these signals once you’ve started to binge on food and are overeating for emotional – not physical – reasons.
If this is hitting home for you, I want to ask you right now to not get sad, but to get a little bit mad. Take a moment to design a pair of imaginary boxing gloves. Maybe yours are pink and shiny, or covered with tiger-print fake fur. Leather with spikes? Camouflage print with a button you press to shoot out flames? All good. The point is: get mad enough about the way you’ve been treating yourself with food that you’re ready to fight! Put your boxing gloves on because I am giving you permission to start a FOOD FIGHT!
As I've said: “Addiction is a disease of cravings, obsession and lies.”
First Opponent: Cravings
Your first battle is going to be the toughest: figuring out the difference between hunger – the actual need to eat and nourish your body – and cravings, that addiction response you have, that feeling that you “need to feed.” A major clue is that foods with high levels of sugar, such as chocolate, are more frequently craved than foods with lower sugar glucose, such as broccoli because – FYI – sugar is addictive. Eating sugary foods or nutritionally vacant foods made of refined flour (white bread, crackers, donuts, the majority of non-home baked goods) actually floods you with an initial speedy rush that quickly nosedives, leaving you depleted and craving another fix.
Think back to 150 years ago; most people consumed small amounts of sugar found naturally in fruit. Today it can be challenging to avoid processed foods. They dominate supermarket shelves and advertising, so you want them and buy them. They’re engineered to hook you and deliver a sugar overload that literally crashes your system.
Kicking sugar and other addictive foods to the curb has a physiological and a psychological component. This is going to sound a little odd, perhaps, but many of us rely on food for emotional intimacy. Think about it, don’t you sometimes eat over feelings? We turn to food for comfort when words and people fail us, or we feel like we fail ourselves. Think through what you are doing to your body by rewarding yourself with food that is bad for you. Is this relationship with food sabotaging your life and your future? Are you a mom? A sister? A daughter? Ask yourself how your relationship with food has influenced your relationship with others, and their own relationships to food and love-affirming foods.
Imagine a giant 50-pound bag of white sugar (or if you’re more of a carb addict, make that a bag of white flour). You’ve got the gloves on, so put your fists up and give me 10 punches right out in front of you as hard as you can. You’ve got to ID your opponent to knock him out.
Cravings: Pow-pow-pow x 10!
Second Opponent: Obsession
Here’s a cold, hard fact: Most attempts to change the way you eat fail because we can’t get past that crucial moment when we take the first bite of the food we are literally emotionally glued to. We all have our excuses as to why we should let ourselves have “just a little.”
I call them “justification levers” we pull when we want to give in and give up. It’s a birthday party or a holiday, the bad food was a gift or something someone made special for you (it will take time to get the word out, but loved ones will get you other presents!). Maybe it’s something other people bring into your home or workplace, and you feel like you don’t have time to grab anything else.
All are lame excuses when you think about it in a detached unemotional way. Take a deep breath and ask yourself this: Will you take action to live lighter and better – or not?
Here’s some practical advice because I know it can be tough. When you find yourself obsessing about food that is not self-loving, begin a task that will take at least 15 minutes to complete. Call your best friend. Take a bath. Do a load of laundry, or my favorite - take a stroll. Distract yourself for even a little bit and wait it out. It’s just a feeling you are having and you can walk through it.
As much as possible, don’t have any of your trigger food around you. Put out the word to friends and family that you’ve taken the Just 10 challenge to change what you weigh. Don’t bring any of these trigger foods to your home or to your job. Out of sight, out of mind. Extinction. Let the chocolates go the way of the dodo bird!
In a moment of weakness, you’ve always got your boxing gloves handy. Obessions: Pow-pow-pow x 10! Line up those trigger foods in your mind like opponents. Fists up! Now pop those unhealthy sugary sweets and empty carbs as hard as you can with your custom boxing gloves – right off the edge, into the abyss.
POW-POW-POW-POW x 10!