How to avoid weight-loss cravings?
August 30, 2007 3:28 AM   Subscribe

Dietfilter: How do YOU deal with cravings?

I love bread to the point of addiction. Sometimes I get cravings for chocolate too, or other sugary things. I'm about to go on a weight-loss diet (I'm vegetarian, borderline vegan, by the way). I'm cutting out bread because even having it in the house is a bad thing. I'll scoff it all. In my case, cold turkey is the only way to go.

From past experience I know that the longing for bread can be pretty bad. But I also know that it's just a form of habit, or perhaps genuine addiction, and it can be broken. The trouble is that I don't know how, and my previous attempts have been largely unsuccessful. I even tried hypnotherapy at one point, and that was effective for about two weeks.

So please tell me how YOU deal with similar cravings.

Polite note: I know we all have opinions on this but I really am looking for practical advice from people who have been through this. Thanks.
posted by deeper red to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, you are me five years ago to a "T."

My first step at coping was to identify myself as a carbohydrate addict. I had all the symptoms -- bread eating, addiction to sweets.

Funny thing is, I don't particularly like sweet foods -- I find them cloying and unpleasant. But I'd eat them anyway.

Getting rid of all bread from the house, like you said, is the first step. Also remove other carbs that you crave, like sweets. Make sure your larder stocks only the basic carbs for survival -- such as potatoes, fruit, and maybe brown rice.

Then, stay away from restaurants as much as you can. Eating out=bad.

Finally, think about rewarding yourself once or twice a week with a dessert. That's what I do. Carb addiction doesn't seem to be a "fall-of-the-wagon-once-and-it's-over" affair. So an occasional reward can help. Psychologically, this might be better for you than complete cold turkey.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:38 AM on August 30, 2007

I deal with similar cravings by ignoring them as best I can but sometimes actually eating the things I want. I'll only live once and some of these foods aren't that bad (bread, for example) and are so nice that my quality of life would suffer if I gave them up.
posted by wackybrit at 3:44 AM on August 30, 2007

The thing about cravings is that they pass. They always pass. A craving is not an emergency. Get into the habit of doing something else and encouraging yourself with positive self-talk when a craving strikes.

"This is only a craving. It will pass. I don't need chocolate or bread at the moment. I'll read instead."

posted by LoriFLA at 4:14 AM on August 30, 2007

Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT keep the things you are trying to avoid in the house. You can talk yourself out of any kind of willpower, so it's best just to make access to the items inconvenient.

Also, moderation is key here. I agree with Gordion Knott. If you want an occasional small slice of bread, have a small slice of bread. That means take the slice out, put it on a plate, put the rest of the bread AWAY, and eat your one slice slowly. Savor it. Enjoy it. Make the experience last. And realize that just because you indulged in that one little craving, you have not fallen off the wagon and you do not have carte blanche to gorge yourself.

If you do "accidentally" gorge yourself, just remember that tomorrow is a new day and a chance to start over again.
posted by Brittanie at 4:17 AM on August 30, 2007

i find that when i eat a lot of fiber, and am feeling full, i can't gorge. i think part of cravings is just that you have low blood sugar and need something, and you gorge on the target food because you can eat it faster than your blood sugar can adjust.

i find that eating a super-high-fiber breakfast and lunch (i mean all bran, with a scoop of soy protein powder and soy milk) helps me feel more full. lunch is high on veggies, protein, and a little complex carbohydrate (like barley or brown rice).

avoiding all refined sugar also helps. stick to artificial sweeteners.

i love bread, too. i don't keep it around (or if i need it for something, i keep it in the freezer and defrost only what i need. i don't have the cravings like i used to--i think eventually they do just go away.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:32 AM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

i find that when i eat a lot of fiber

I'm actually following a modified form of the F-Plan, so this is great news.
posted by deeper red at 4:37 AM on August 30, 2007

Personally, I think that if you really really love bread, you should try to have some bread once a week, because otherwise the first time you get a chance, you'll gorge. Don't keep it in the house is a good idea -- I wonder if you've read Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink. He's a professor at Cornell who researches this kind of thing. He basically says that in terms of snacking, the further food away, and the more difficult to get at, the better. The thought "I should have some of that (whichever snack)" comes up over and over again, and eventually, people give in. It's easier to give in if it's right there, it's difficult to give in if you have to go to the store and buy some.

In terms of cravings for sugary things,what I did was replace cookies and candy and things like that with fruit. It's really easy to eat 200 calories worth of cookies. It is very difficult to eat 200 calories worth of oranges or apples or grapes.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:52 AM on August 30, 2007

My mechanism for coping with cravings is to keep calorie counts and nutritional information (I use fitday, like a bajillion other people). Then when I start craving, I tell myself that I have had enough calories, vitamins etc. for that day, and my body doesn't need any more.

It actually works for me, and it might for you if you too are a big nerd.
posted by gaspode at 5:17 AM on August 30, 2007

I was a bread fiend too. My way of dealing with it was possibly a bit more radical - I fasted for a couple of weeks to get all the cravings for crap out of my system so I could "start all over again" with a more healthy way of eating. As soon as I started eating I concentrated on fruits and vegatables, and didn't have a problem avoiding the things I didn't want to eat any more, which were dairy and bread.
posted by iconomy at 5:20 AM on August 30, 2007

I actually eat couscous when I want bread or pasta. I cook a bunch of plain couscous, and then mix it with lots of vegetables - corn, peas, asparagus, peppers, onions, whatever, raw or cooked, however you like them. Use a little couscous and a lot of vegetables. It seems to satisfy the cravings, plus get me some veggies.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:26 AM on August 30, 2007

Overeaters Anonymous is a program which helps people who are literally addicted to foods - bread (wheat) and sugar are two of the big ones which trigger binges in some people. It's modeled on the AA program, and a lot of it deals with how to handle cravings.

Good luck.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 5:34 AM on August 30, 2007

I was so addicted to bread that at one point in my adolescence I was eating almost a whole loaf a day! Just PBJ sandwich after PBJ sandwich.
I had to swear it off completely, because I tried "cutting down" several times.

I didn't eat it for a few years, and thought I would never eat it for the rest of my life. But it's several years later now and I have it occasionally. I don't crave it like I used to! If I did, I would give it up immediately.

So my advice would be to give it up "for good". Stick to other basic carbs like someone else said. Then one day you may be able to eat it in moderation. But if not, who cares.

Oh, PS, it's really hard to diet passively, by just willing yourself to give stuff up. I'm sure you've heard it before, but you have to take an active role. Concentrate on getting your quota of fruits and veggies (5 veg 2 fruit) and don't even think about other foods until you've had them. That's the best way -- it really does result in you naturally making better decisions.
posted by mjao at 5:38 AM on August 30, 2007

One thing that has helped me, and I discovered by accident: sucking on a lemon wedge. The experience is such a sensory overload that it's often like hitting the reset button. This works particularly well after I eat the carbohydrates that I want to eat, but I still want more more more. I know citrus fruit has carbohydrates, but it's definitely a lesser evil.

As a former vegetarian-bordering-on-omnivore who gained weight from the experience, I will also suggest becoming well-versed in protein options that don't require a lot of preparation. Carbohydrate-based products have convenience as a serious advantage in our food selection process, and that's perhaps even more true in your case.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:16 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding gnomeloaf, though my flavor shock preference is dill pickles. A four inch pickle has maybe 12 calories and maybe two grams of carbs, though they ARE high in sodium.
posted by headspace at 6:39 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

For myself, I find that the more greens I eat (kale, collards, chard, lettuces, broccoli, etc.) the less I desire sweet things. Also, many times you may just be thirsty for water. I found that many people I work with (when I focused with them on nutrition) had cravings for carbs or sweet, when all they needed was water.

You might check out this site on cravings. (Sorry, don't know how to make it a link)
posted by healthyliving at 6:56 AM on August 30, 2007

Low-carbers sometimes use fat to battle cravings like that. I find that anything with a rich mouthfeel - a few ounces of milk, a little yogurt or yogurt dip with vegetables, a boiled egg, etc will help head me off.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:09 AM on August 30, 2007

I'm losing weight right now (Weight Watchers), and what I've found works for me, now and in the past, is to have none of the yummy things I want for several months. Cold turkey--no bread, no pasta, no beef. I focus on eating a lot of fruits and veggies and lean protein. I make sure I avoid getting too hungry, b/c that's when it's so easy to give in to cravings.

Gradually, the cravings go away, and my tastebuds seem to change. Then, I can start eating the yummy things again in moderation. This works for a year or so, but eventually I get complacent about what I'm eating and build back up to being a slave to my cravings. I'm hoping to avoid that this go 'round.
posted by Mavri at 7:38 AM on August 30, 2007

The Beck Diet Solution helped me as I started to diet -- it's not a diet but a plan of attack (a cognitive behavior therapy plan of attack) for handling all the stuff that comes up as you start to make changes -- the plan starts before you even begin to diet.

I can't say that I've done all 42 days but I know that I'll pick it up again as issues come up. Really solid stuff.

Specifically to your question, days (chapters) 11, 12, and 13 deal with hunger, craving and desire (day 13 is "Overcoming Cravings). I did do those and they really helped.

Good Luck!
posted by nnk at 7:40 AM on August 30, 2007

When I crave sweets, or I just feel snacky and it's after 8 pm, I drink the Get Lost tea from Republic of Tea. It kills my hunger, and claims to "tame your sweet tooth and your urge to indulge."
posted by amro at 8:01 AM on August 30, 2007

Eat the bread. Eat the chocolate.


This is coming from someone who has just lost 60 lbs and is continuing to lose.

In order to lose weight, you dont need to 'diet' - you need to change your relationship with food.

To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. All of your calories, as far as I'm concerned, can come from bread and chocolate. As long as you're consuming fewer than you burn, you're ok. That's it. Also realize that weight loss is not a day-to-day thing - its a lifestyle. You will have to make changes in the way you eat.

Be aware of what you're eating - keep track of your calories - you dont have to count them, but try and get an idea.

My favorite eating and weight loss site, The Lose Weight Diet has great advice, and a very handy BMR calculator, to figure out how many calories you can to consume and still lose weight. Its a very entertaining read; you'll get through it in 10 minutes.

I have a few more weight-loss related articles in my page.
posted by neilkod at 8:09 AM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Keep small, difficult to prepare but luxurious versions of the foods you love at home. For example, keep a bar of extra-super-awesome noticeably expensive dark chocolate, and allow yourself 1 bar a week, 1 square a day. Let yourself have bread, but teach yourself to make a tasty biscuit, and make one individually each time you want some bread. That will allow you to have whatever you want, but slow your rate of consumption.
posted by fermezporte at 8:24 AM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Similar to the lemon advice, try brushing your teeth. Especially with a "tartar control" formula that leaves your mouth coated in teflon or whatever that crap is. It ruins the flavor of everything for a good hour afterward.
posted by Myself at 8:34 AM on August 30, 2007

I keep a bowl of honey-lemon-menthol cough drops in the kitchen and have one after I've had a meal that makes me be like "what's for dessert??" I switched all the bread in the house to whole wheat grainy nut stuff so it's not as good for snacking and I keep a big pitcher of mint iced tea handy when I just want something tasty. I also have a balance in my life with exercise. When I'm exercising more, I'm more relaxed about what I eat (though focusing on getting enough protein and fat to keep from hitting a wall usually means that bread is not on the menu) and I don't get really pedantic when I'm eating out which I do pretty rarely anyhow which I think is a big part of this.

There is a good post about this from earlier in the year: healthier alternatives for non-healthy cravings which might help as well.
posted by jessamyn at 8:57 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fruit, and more fruit. If I have a craving that's what I try to fill it with. If you need something sweeter, Trader Joes has lemon sorbet that's like 100 calories per cup, they've also got these dairy-free soy milk based "ice cream" bars that are 80 calories and absolutely delicious.
posted by exhilaration at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2007

I'm crazy about bread too and I manage cravings by avoiding bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. Here are two recommendations that have eliminated bread cravings for me:

1. Get a book called 'A Week in the Zone' by Barry Sears. He says: "The real cause of our growing epidemic of obesity is excess production of the hormone insulin. It is excess insulin that makes you fat and keeps you fat." Excess insulin is caused by eating too much pasta, bagels, bread, and rice (including whole grain breads and brown rice).

The book explains what is happening when you have a bread craving and it contains a detailed 1-week food plan that will eliminate those cravings. I have noticed that when I follow the plan exactly I not only lose weight but I feel energetic and happy. The book explains how to use whole grains as condiments rather than as the center of a meal. For me it's easier to avoid them as condiments too. More importantly I do not feel hungry for several hours after eating a Zone meal.

Sample breakfast for a woman:
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 turkey bacon strips
1 cup grapes
1/3 cup Mandarin oranges

2. Sugar and bread cravings can be managed by supplementing your diet with approx. 50 mcg. daily of chromium and/or a capsule or two daily of amino acid L-glutamine.
posted by Soda-Da at 10:16 AM on August 30, 2007

If you have a craving, drink a glass of water.

My old diet was that I would eat muesli and yogurt for breakfast (which is like a rock), would skip lunch and exercise instead, and then eat whatever I wanted for dinner.
posted by xammerboy at 11:17 AM on August 30, 2007

There was an article in Prevention magazine a few years ago that really worked for me. The author essentially asked her clients to talk about what they associated with the food they were craving - warmth, security, home, competence, etc.

So do I want the sopapilla, or do I want Summer afternoons in my grandmother's kitchen, rolling out the dough and getting ready for a family get-togehter? I can still have a sopapilla - or a substitute, but now that I know what I'm really after (connection, not being so lonely) I can work on getting that, and whether or not I get the treat is less relevant.

And, not keeping the stuff in the house is a big factor, too. You can still have it, you just have to plan to get it.

Now this is a little out there, but I've seen the granola-types (I HATE the term 'crunchy') ask people who are asking your question if they might have a gluten allergy, saying that sometimes you crave what you're allergic to. Then they recommend gluten free bread. FWIW.

Oh, and Carob isn't a bad sub for chocolate. It's at the better health nut stores.
posted by lysdexic at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to have a HUGE sweet/bread tooth. Honestly, it took a while (many months.... er.. years) to get a hold over the cravings. The turning point for me was realizing that it was easy for me to avoid bread and candy binges when I wasn't pmsing. Taking large doses (3 g) of Evening Primrose Oil for the past few months has really put an end to that problem.

This may or may not apply to you, but I read somewhere that some people who have severe cravings for bread and sweets may have a yeast overgrowth in their body (which I believe is different from a yeast infection, however both are exacerbated by overeating sweets and simple carbohydrates in general).

Also, as for the suggestion to suck on a lemon wedge to fight cravings, I would highly recommend against this. The acids from the lemon will cause decalcification and erode the enamel from your teeth.


This is slightly beyond the question asked, but something that's really helped me control my cravings and stop my weight from fluctuating was reading this book and following the plan it offered : Mastering Leptin. It's a slightly long read but it has tons of information regarding effective weight loss (some key advice from the book: eating many mini-meals and avoiding carbohydrates actually makes things worse).

FWIW I can eat bread daily without wanting to ingest the entire loaf (impossible back in the day!) and I hardly crave sweets anymore (and when I do have some, that switch doesn't flick on in my head where I suddenly must have all the candy in the world). I also managed to lose my low-carbohydrate diet rebound weight too. YMMV of course. My apologies if this post was too off-topic.

One last bit of advice; don't listen to any advice that says you have no control over your "addiction" to these foods, and that the only way to get over your cravings is to completely eliminate sugar/refined flour from your diet. This kind of thinking will only bring you a lot of unnecessary anxiety when it comes to eating.

Good luck deeper red!
posted by zippity at 12:09 PM on August 30, 2007

The way I cut back on bread was to stop eating "squishy" bread. You know, the prepackaged, pillow-soft bagged bread you get in the grocery store. I switched to "pioneer" bread which has no yeast and no wheat, and is very dense and grainy, and firm and chewy to the bite. Every morning I would have a slice of toasted pioneer bread with an egg and some fruit. Then I didn't have bread for the rest of the day. It suited me fine and I stopped craving breads or any other bread-like foods (rolls, cakes, etc).

Due to my decreased grocery budget I've been eating squishy bread again, but only one slice at a time or two if the meal is a sandwich. I find that now, after a good 7-8 month stretch of not eating processed breads I find I don't even really want to eat them at all unless I'm really hungry.
posted by SassHat at 12:46 PM on August 30, 2007

Let yourself have bread, but teach yourself to make a tasty biscuit, and make one individually each time you want some bread.

*nod* Biscuit recipes are very splittable, since they don't use eggs and the baking time/temperature isn't affected by making fewer at a time. If you can't split up the 1/4 teaspoon baking soda enough, you could probably mix together the dry ingredients beforehand--enough for a half or quarter recipe--and keep it in a bag or something. Then you can just use 1/6 cup of that mixture every time you make a biscuit. The first thing you do when you make them is combine the dry ingredients, anyway, so it wouldn't be cutting out much of the actual effort, just the potential inaccuracy involved in trying to measure out 1/48 of a teaspoon.
posted by Many bubbles at 7:01 PM on August 30, 2007

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