Eating Urges
October 15, 2017 5:07 PM   Subscribe

I need advice on how to stop my constant desire/urge to eat. What is the best way to do this?

Basically, when I'm not experiencing super high anxiety, I'm kind of depressed. When I'm having days or weeks of intense anxiety the weight falls off. When my stress levels go down, I tend to become lethargic, and find myself constantly traipsing to the fridge. The weight gleefully reattaches itself to my frame. I just want to be able to maintain ONE weight, with, say, no more than two or three pounds of difference from day to day over a long period, not fluctuations of around fifteen pounds from when I'm severely anxious to when I'm gloomy and wanting only to sleep and/or eat all day. Neither sleeping nor eating all day is an option, obviously.

When I took Zoloft a few years ago, I lost some weight initially, but then I gained it all back and then some once my body acclimated to the drugs.

I am a vegetarian with zero interest in meat. Nor inclined to start back up on it. Very occasionally I eat fish. I eat greens, many nuts (nuts yum yum when I'm down, which doesn't help) huge salads with very little (a tablespoon) of dressing, pretty much very healthy food. It's that I eat too damn much of it, and on top of that, after eating a full meal have the urge to "reward" myself with a sweet. I don't feel like the meal is complete unless I've had some sticky gooey chocolatey mess to top it off, and then I feel bad about eating it, so I eat more of it to feel better because, you know, I already had some....

The urge to eat is strongest at night. Doesn't matter if I live alone or not. I get home, and want to eat. I've trained myself to snack on things like carrots but even that adds up when consumed at midnight on top of all the food I already ate that day.

Cutting out alcohol never makes a difference as I don't drink massive quantities of it anyway.

When I juiced a few years ago I lost a bunch of weight, but since I didn't want to live on just juice it crept back on, gradually.

I do cardio and some weights regularly.

My fitnesspal helps but then I mess up and stop using it out of embarrassment to add up just how many calories I ate.

What I am looking for is something to rein in this constant thinking about food, even when I've already eaten.

I want to do like Michael Pollan recommends - eat vegetables and not too many of them. The problem is there are so many tasty treats out there and they get twice as tempting when I feel bad. I do think hormones have a lot to do with it - years ago I took Loestrin, and was literally stopping in front of store windows with my mouth watering at the sight of the pastries inside. I gained ten pounds on that and the cravings only went away when I stopped taking it.

In other words, a constant seesaw and I am looking for tips on how to gain some more control and not automatically start shovelling food in my mouth as a response to whatever's going on inside of me.

posted by Crystal Fox to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Please check your memail.
posted by flourpot at 5:16 PM on October 15, 2017

Well I'll be monitoring this thread for ideas, evening is the toughest hours. A filling meal as early as possible/works can help. Having something you don't love or not even especially like as the convenient or the only thing available.
posted by sammyo at 5:18 PM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wow, that's intense. It sounds like something related to brain chemicals and metabolism, as I also experienced what you are describing while on antidepressants - and still do, especially on long days inside the house.

I can say you can up your fitness, and maybe that will reset the ratio of intake to output. In other words, you could still be eating a lot but using it to build muscle.

I think at an emotional level, you're gonna want to get treatment for depression and anxiety.
posted by karmachameleon at 5:19 PM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you should talk to your doctor about this. It sounds related mainly to mental health and mental chemical imbalances, but also hormonal and metabolism issues. I don't think willpower and lifehacks are going to take care of this; I think it's time to call in the professionals.

My only other suggestions are to only keep food in your house that you are OK eating (so no snack foods, sweets, etc.-- put on pants and go out for it if you must have it)-- and brush your teeth as soon as you decide you're done eating, because you won't want to mess them up and everything tastes weird when you have toothpaste flavor in your mouth.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:43 PM on October 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I’ve actually had a lot of success with this recently by tracking calories with an app. It lets me see what I’ve actually eaten that day, and if I have say 200 calories left and am craving sweets, it’s ok to have 200 calories of sweets as long as I don’t go over. This has helped me lose weight (which is my goal) because I’m satisfying that craving without eating excesse of the sweets. It’s hard, but it’s the only way I’ve found to eat a proper serving of junk food without just letting myself eat 3x what I should have. And for those days I don’t have a lot of calories left, some fruit work pretty well. A baked apple with cinnamon on it is sticky from the natural sugar and filling without being junk food.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:50 PM on October 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like a good first step to see a doctor for an overall checkup and to talk about options for managing your anxiety and depression. Having a reasonably stable mood is going to help you have a reasonably stable diet / weight.

When you describe your diet, it sounds like you may not be getting enough fat and protein, both of which are important for feeling full. If you're tracking in My Fitness Pal, you should be able to check your macro ratios. FWIW, My Fitness Pal significantly underestimated my base metabolic rate; you might also try increasing your daily calories rather than letting yourself get really hungry and then eating all the things.

You also mention "urges to eat" but not "feeling hungry." It's worthwhile to start observing when you're actually hungry and when you're stressed out and want to feel better. Have a list of non-food things you can do to feel better ready, and try one of those if you're not hungry. It's fine to check in with yourself again after and decide you actually were hungry. On the other hand, try to avoid letting yourself get *too* hungry, as that makes it easy to overeat.
posted by momus_window at 6:17 PM on October 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you getting enough micronutrients? Macronutrient ratios? If you body is missing something, and you body knows at least one food that has a little bit of the thing, then you'll have massive cravings and overeating for that thing (because you need to eat a lot of it to get enough of that thing you're missing). If you haven't talked with a dietician/nutritionist(?) or are at least taking vitamins, that would maybe be something to do. IANAD, etc.
posted by zeek321 at 6:20 PM on October 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

talk to your doctor. I talked to mine and she prescribed something that has been very useful. Memail me if you want.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:27 PM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

After you eat the appropriate amount at any meal, brush your teeth and rinse with mouthwash. Sometimes a bad mouth taste will make you want to eat.

Also, carry a 1L water bottle and drink the whole thing every day- twice if you work out. Thirst feels like hunger sometimes.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

My urges to eat uncontrollably diminish a lot when I drink lots of plain water. Chewing ice chips, chewing gum, brushing teeth, eating celery or lettuce also help.
posted by windykites at 8:05 PM on October 15, 2017

Geneen Roth's books have helped me a lot with this problem.
posted by woodvine at 8:35 PM on October 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Four hour body has been very good to me. To be clear, Tim Ferriss grosses me out and he's a terrible writer. But he's right about metabolism.

One of the main mechanisms in that book is eating protein that contains insoluble fiber - as much as you want whenever. But no simple carbs or white/refined carbs. So basically beans and greens with some meat if you want. Rinse and repeat.

I can feel the urge to eat come 90 minutes after a meal, but it's subtle and I can feel my body make other plans once I don't satisfy that urge within 10 mins.

I used that system to lose 25 pounds in 3 months a few years ago and then got bloodwork done to make sure I wasn't wrecking myself. Everything was ideal. YMMV, but it makes a clear, testable case you can try and make your own decision on.
posted by windowbr8r at 8:39 PM on October 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

This almost sounds like a slow motion starve/binge cycle, where you start having non-ignoreable cravings because you've been restricting for long enough that your body starts to panic. You mention eating veggies and fruits and then having intense cravings for stuff like pastries or chocolate cake-- are you eating any carbs in your regular diet? Taking supplements for stuff you might be getting from meat? You were right about the juice cleanse not being something you can sustain permanently, and nuts and salads aren't either-- the vast majority of people who exclusively eat "clean" like that aren't doing it because it's the healthiest thing that makes their body happiest, but because they have a calorie restriction based eating disorder. I don't think being healthy means being orthorexic, but you might want to try integrating things like more healthy carbs into your regular meals, or check out zeek321's macro/micronutrient tip. The urges you're talking about might be emotional eating, but they also might be a nutritional deficiency you can calibrate.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:32 PM on October 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was on metformin briefly for reasons that are still unclear to me but unrelated to diabetes. My Doctor thinks he is House sometimes and I have a weird neurological thing that comes and goes. Anyway...... my appetite is closely tied to my hormonal cycle and always has been. I joke that I eat two weeks a month and not the other two. Birth contorl has always made my appetite change to more steady. And that's been fine. However on the metformin I stopped eating completely. Like no appetite at all. It was weird and I lost 10 pounds in two weeks and I stopped taking it. But that convinced me that appetite and hormones are inextricably entertwined. I have noticed that when I gain a little weight there is a tipping point where my periods get odd and my appetite gets odd and so I assume it is something to do with estrogen but I don't know what. Anyway- maybe try a good PCOS doc or a good endo-ob-gyn and see because being a slave to your hormones is miserable. I do think you are right that staying at a single weight is much easier on your system and if you can stay there a while it'll settle down. For me and my siblings and my Mom's side of the family carrying any extra weight at all is just super detrimental to our health*, which it isn't for most people. I believe someday we will find that we have some genetic variant.

* curiously, spending 65 years drinking gin like you're being paid to seems to be have had no ill effects on my Mom's older siblings and cousins. But sugar is a definite no.
posted by fshgrl at 10:40 PM on October 15, 2017

Ugh, too late to edit, but on reread that comment sounds like I am basically accusing you of having an ED, not my intent at all. Sorry.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:46 PM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I eat pickles at night which isn’t the healthiest thing but they’re one of my favorite foods and 0 calories so it helps. I genuinely love cucumbers and celery and bell peppers and such so I will often make myself a huge veggie salad with no dressing, just a handful of olives or something, and eat that slowly through the eve. Keeps me hydrated too.

Finding a REALLY delicious tea or another ritual at night also helps me. Having a pleasant ritual, tea or lotion or candles or something, gives me something to focus my pleasure sensors on so I feel indulgent without eating.

I read recently that exercise can improve your overall impulse control. Also I know this sounds crazy, but lying slightly on MyFitnessPal when I screw it up so I feel like I still “kind of” complies makes me succeed more in the long run... not sure why but probably the same principle behind YNAB and other budgeting advice, where if you fail you take it out of a surplus somewhere else and move on instead of giving up in shame. Helps you stick with it? As long as I put all my food on there, even if I’m not super honest about the servings, I feel better.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:47 PM on October 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

My first thought was to get an endocrine work up. That intense craving for sugar might be purely metabolic and you’re over there flagellating yourself over something you really can’t control. Go have a thorough physical, if that doesn’t show anything amiss, talk to your mental health folks about it and see what they suggest. THEN start looking at behavioral changes you can make. You can diet or meal plan all you want, but if body or brain chemistry are working against you, you’ll just end up miserable.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:49 AM on October 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Seconding PorcineWithMe. This could be emotional/behavioral, but I was clumsily trying to say those regularly alternating periods of high-energy weight loss, then low-energy-omg I'm-starving sound like it could something physical about the way your body is able to process nutrients and energy rather than psychosomatic or psychological.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:06 AM on October 16, 2017

Based on my own experiences with food urges and your description of your diet, I'd venture to guess you're not eating enough fat. Fat = satiety. Of course, try to get more monounsaturated (olive oil, avocados, and yes, nuts - maybe that's part of the reason you love them so much?) and polyunsaturated fats than other types of fats. I think the current guidelines are about 30% of your daily calories should come from fats. Take a look at your MyFitnessPal macros to see how you're doing.
posted by gakiko at 6:43 AM on October 16, 2017

Thanks for all the advice. Upon reflection part of the problem might indeed be related to not getting enough/variety of nutrients. About a year ago bloodwork came back low on Vitamin D, which I corrected with supplements. But for a while a few months back I had an urge to chew on sand. (I refrained.) I also get strong cravings for portabella mushrooms. When I've had a lot of mushrooms in a week, though, the idea of eating any more seems gross. So my body does communicate when it wants something specific. Googling seemed to indicate the pica urge means something is missing from my diet. Maybe I should just eat more fish. Need to consult a dietician, I guess. Thanks.
posted by Crystal Fox at 8:26 AM on October 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

You actually just sound... hungry.
Try eating more carbs, more fat, and more protein. Put eggs, tuna, avocado, and cheese on those salads, and have some buttered whole wheat bread on the side.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:47 AM on October 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fluids and protein/fat will help you not feel as hungry. Make sure you're drinking water throughout the day so you don't get dehydrated at night. Add protein & fat to your diet, too. Doesn't have to be meat, could be beans, dairy, fish, eggs. Veggies are well and good, but you need a complete/balanced diet.
posted by jhope71 at 11:22 AM on October 16, 2017

Hiya, vegan here who has a similar issue. I came to say what someone above has said, that teas and pickles are great additions to this equation.

I went to see a registered dietitian in college. I have a gastrointestinal disorder and tend to put on weight, and my RD helped me get a good understanding of how my brain seeks cues from my body that I've eaten more often than it should. A simple way to give my brain those cues is to trigger my stomach's I'm-Full sensors, which is remarkably easy to do with watery liquids--they're dense and heavy and can be as strongly or neutrally flavored as you like.

I tend to make 2-3 pots of tea per day. The first pot is black tea, all subsequent pots are caffeine-free herbal teas like peppermint or mugicha or kukicha or hibiscus or... you get the idea. My first response when I have an EAT EAT EAT sensation outside of a regular meal time is to have at least a cup, maybe two, of tea before "agreeing" to eat. Nine times out of ten, the EAT EAT EAT urge passes before I've finished my tea and I move about my day until the next urge passes.

If the urge doesn't go away, I have a pickle or two. Pickled veggies are great, and our fridge is FULL of them: beets with fennel, cauliflower, green beans, okra, red peppers, mustard greens, you name it. Some are fermented, some are vinegared, some are salt cured. The variety helps me feel like I'm rewarding myself (and not just eating another Vlasic kosher dill out of desperation).

When it comes to Pollan's advice, I've liked the notion that (paraphrasing) if I'm not hungry enough to eat an apple (or other fruit/veg), then I'm not hungry. I talk to myself every day about making sure I can tell the difference between hunger and a craving.

Another tip from the dietitian was to spend some time getting comfortable with feeling hungry. It's a natural state, right? It's not something to be avoided at all costs. It's a good point, and one that we don't often heed in the U.S. Sometimes, instead of going for that cup of tea or pickle (or, you know, gooey chocolate thing), when I have the time to be really mindful about it (i.e. not in the middle of my work day), I'll take a moment to sit still, focus on the sensation of being hungry, and simply not eat or drink in response to it. I'll be one with my growling belly, as it were. It's always a little odd, but honestly it freaked me out a little bit the first time I tried this and realized how mentally uncomfortable it felt to not immediately UNDO being hungry.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've often wondered if my own eating patterns (either always or never) are somehow related to undiagnosed ADHD, and you remind me of me. When I'm busy/working, I can go all day without remembering to eat. When I'm not fully mentally engaged, I think food just serves as something to occupy me - input into an empty system. The more I like the food, the more engaging it is. And I gain or lose weight in that same pattern - based on whether or not I have something other than food to occupy me. Basically - I need constant input to feel good, and if work isn't providing it, food does.

Maybe worth exploring with a therapist? (maybe for both of us!)
posted by invincible summer at 10:36 PM on October 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Upon reflection part of the problem might indeed be related to not getting enough/variety of nutrients

Returning to read this thread and very glad to see this self observation! Finding balance, so tricky in this wacky world of extremes. Remember the not discounted or disproven "balanced diet" has everything included but at (take a beat) the right amounts. A little fat is not a bad thing, and can satiate, a *little* carb is good, essential even.

One thing a nurse emphasized is the satiation occurs after 20 minuets. Thus the curse of nibbling. I don't have an answer but awareness that if I wait after a bite sometimes I skip the next nibble.
posted by sammyo at 7:34 AM on October 17, 2017

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