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The Cravings Beast: Why Moderation Is Not For Me

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Just last week I was approaching the 80-pounds lost mark, bumping up to it, actually, when I went off the rails and gained three pounds in the past week. Granted, some of that weight is probably water retention, but it’s not the total weight gain or even any weight gain that is troubling. What scares me is how I got here.

I learned that for me to have any control of my weight I have to control my cravings. When I crave, I constantly think about food, particularly sweet foods, and can only be strong for so long, usually caving when overly stressed, frustrated, or sad. I struggled with the cravings beast for years, thinking I lacked willpower, thinking I was weak to obsess over food day in and day out. I also felt agitated on a regular basis. I would feel uncomfortable in social situations and mentally review, blow-by-blow, all the wrong things I said or did. I felt socially inept and anxious and thought it was another character flaw confirming how weak and worthless I already knew I was. I was depressed* for most of my life, running on an emotional roller coaster with the troughs being the norm. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to get control of my internal life. What I never knew, from puberty until last year, was that NONE OF IT WAS MY FAULT!!!

I learned that, for me, sugar is a drug and all those nasty mental struggles were primarily side effects of a diet far too high in easily digestible carbohydrates. I know this might sound crazy, but what if I told you that all of that nastiness virtually vanished (along with a lot of weight) when I gave up certain foods?

My discovery came about when I modified my diet to, hopefully, speed up weight loss. I had a very strong desire to eat junk food every evening after dinner and, generally, to have something sweet with my afternoon coffee. I knew that all my efforts during the day were not going to add up to much if I ate back the calories in the evening. Although I was tracking my food and staying within my daily calorie range on most days, on the days I gave in to my cravings I could easily eat over my cumulative calorie range for the week. To put a stop to this forward-backward progress, I decided that I should set aside the idea of eating sweets in moderation and see if I could more easily stay within my calorie range over the long term by making a black-and-white rule to not eat any sugary foods like cake, candy, ice cream, pastries, etc. No meant No. No slippery slope. No decision-making. No sweets, period!

It was incredibly hard to stick with my plan. I suffered cravings something fierce. But black-and-white doesn’t allow for grey, so I endured and found that my cravings lessened and eventually subsided. On one warm evening, my husband wanted a Magnum ice cream bar. I love those. I had been craving-free for weeks. I thought I could handle eating one little treat so I joined my husband and happily had one delicious ice cream bar. The next day I had to fight sugar cravings all day. By the next day I felt better again, but learned a lesson. A few moments of sensory delight just wasn’t worth feeling lousy and mentally obsessed all the next day. My body obviously could not handle junk food. So I returned to my “No means No” policy and got right back on track.

Strangely, I still wasn’t losing much weight. I think I was making up for the “missing” calories by eating more carb-rich foods like pasta, potatoes, and breads. I was eating within my calorie range consistently, but weight loss was very slow. At least it was finally headed in the right direction, though. But better than finally being on a downward trend weight-wise, was the alleviation of so many other “symptoms.” My agitation and, hence, my “anxiety” was greatly reduced. My mood swings seemed to be less dramatic and less frequent. My self-defeating self-talk was not nearly as prominent. Best of all, my cravings for food were very low. I was no longer obsessing over food 24/7. I barely recognized my internal self. I wondered which parts of “me” really were me and which were driven by the effects of certain foods.

My weight loss stepped up and my other symptoms improved even more when I eliminated carb-dense foods such as bread, pasta, and potatoes from my diet. (More on my diet specifics in a later post). At that point I also noticed that I had no cravings and very little appetite. My appetite only arose when I felt genuine hunger. At other times I really had no interest in food other than knowing intellectually that it would taste good if I did eat it. Without the cravings beast it was easy for me to choose health and a slimmer body over eating food for recreation. No willpower required.

So now to this past week. It started on Valentine’s Day. My husband and I had cake and ice cream after dinner. It was super yummy, of course. The next day we went on an out-of-town trip for four days. Being out of my routine and facing tempting foods while suffering post-deliciousness cravings, I ate fries (x2), hash browns (x3), baked potatoes, toast with jam (x3), cookies (x?), ice cream, candy (x2), chocolates (x4), alcoholic cider (x2), scones with jam and clotted cream (x2), sugared tea, fudge (x2), a meringue, barbeque sauce coated ribs, and onion rings (along with other good food choices). I was beyond obsessed with food. I couldn’t seem to control myself. The cravings were so strong and so constant by the end of the trip that I suffered from cravings for several days after returning home.

The strength of the cravings was not just from eating the initial cake and ice cream. Although I did crave after that, it was giving in to those cravings that caused stronger cravings, which set up a vicious cycle that I gave in to (giving myself mental permission, at first, with the excuse that I was on vacation, deserved it because I had already lost a lot of weight, and would get back on track after returning home).

On my third day home I am finally not craving sweets and feel like my new-old self again. The last few days have been REALLY hard. But I learned a few good lessons. My body still can’t handle sweets, so “No” must still mean “No.” Eating junk is NOT worth the suffering it causes both in weight gain and in feeling lousy mentally and physically. Oh, did I mention that mental symptoms such as food obsession, anxiety, agitation, irritability, depression, self-doubt, and negative self-talk all reared back with a vengeance? By the end of the trip I was a grouchy, irritable, pouty mess. My poor, poor, patient husband. At one point he even pleaded with me not to keep eating cookies, telling me I didn’t really want them, but I really, really did. I caved and he gave up trying to reason with my cravings beast. Now that I am once again out of the clutches of the food fog I really can’t believe how truly compelled I was to eat and eat and eat.

Willpower? More of it would only help until cravings get to be too much. But eliminating the need for willpower? That makes all the difference. Without cravings, I feel sane again.

* I had under- or untreated depression since puberty, but was put on effective antidepressant medication mid-2011. Although generally effective, too much sugar can override the anti-depressive effects, leaving me feeling very low emotionally.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Wow girl, I totally joined the Low Glycemic team and I have found that since I stopped eating mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, subs, potatoes, pasta by the bowl full, I feel fantastic! I have 30lbs to loss but I feel like I'm skinny..all these years the bloat, having sugar or foods that turn to glucose fast only makes the body want more, and more and more. So glad you have found your way back from the depths of sugar hell. Our food manufactures made it perfectly to addict us all...

    Oh ya and what kills me is that all the low fat foods they tell you to eat are a NO NO red food on the Glycemic index e.g., pretzels and rice cakes..anything puffed is not good.....
    1881 days ago

    Comment edited on: 2/25/2013 5:56:25 PM
    Sugar is highly addictive for me also... and alcohol also tends to give me sugar cravings. If you don't already read the blog "300 pounds down" you should check it out. You can find her on google. She is also a sugar addict and writes wonderful blogs about how she is overcoming the daily challenges of living with this issue. So far she has lost over 200 pounds.

    Best to you and YOU CAN DO IT!

    1883 days ago
  • JOYOUS1917
    I KNOW of which you speak for sure. I KNOW I cannot take the sugar demon out of the box and play with it....I LOSE everytime. Freedom from the obsessiveness is really a great feeling. I have basically given up on grains entirely. If I have something in thast line it would be rice or a slice of Ezekiel Bread and only rarely. I basically have protein and veges and fruit and yogurt. With other addictions, people can quit cold turkey. With us we have to take our 'issue' out of the box 3 to 5 times a day, every day. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1884 days ago
    You have perfectly captured my experience with cravings and sweet or starchy foods. Once I have given in once, it triggers a cascade of cravings that leave me regretting so much! Thank you for expressing it so well, I hope this will help me to better resist that "one bite" that leads me on a slippery slope to a binge!
    1885 days ago
  • LAURAB_143
    Wow! This is so honest and eye opening. I find myself very much relating to your story. I crave sweet so much. Like 3 or more times a day. I sill start a plan and try to figure out some way to have my chocolate. 3 times in my life (Lent last year, and 2 times while trying very low carb) I have totally given up chocolate and after a week or so the cravings were gone. I could pass it up. My mouth still wanted it, but I could say no. Maybe it is like a drug. I will be reading more of your blogs and looking forward to new ones. Continued success to you!!!

    1885 days ago
    Thank you for a great blog post! I can relate very well to what you are saying and it makes me want to start a sugar free streak! emoticon
    1885 days ago
    Thank you for sharing! These last few days I've been fighting cravings also. Not so much, to be honest, and I managed to dismiss them. One time I couldn't fight it off, and I had a bite from a candy bar. Wasn't that bad to deal with in the end, but it didn't occur to me that it could be because I previously had some sweets (also a Valentine's weekend...). You made me think about how my body also works. emoticon
    Good luck with your struggle! Keep up the good work. emoticon emoticon
    1885 days ago
    Loved your very honest blog .
    I have eliminated all sugary foods from my eating plan and have felt so much better ...
    I found a article once that talked of Sugar as sweet poison .. and that is just so very true ...
    Sugar and Sugery foods are addictive .. and should be avoided at all costs.
    You will have a hard time to start with, but it will be so worth it ..

    Thanks for posting ... ( I have liked ) as this blogs needs to be a motivational blog
    Good luck in the future ..
    Hugs Susie

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1885 days ago
    Good for you, for recognizing that sugary junk, no matter how good,
    triggers an insane desire to eat.......anything.......I am on a gluten
    free plan right now and it has worked wonders for me. I no longer
    crave stuff regardless of whatever it is/was....and I also no longer
    have weird mood swings, and no acid reflux anymore.

    Once you quit all the bad stuff, and you realize how bad it was making
    you feel, you realize you would rather skip it.
    WISE YOU..................

    1885 days ago
  • LEASIM1231
    Good blog? Where did you go on vacation? I want to go there for that yummy food! Oops, I guess that wasn't the point of it! It sounds so harsh to say no sugary things, but good that you know what triggers some of those nasty feelings!
    1885 days ago
  • CUPKAKE137
    Wow.... thanks for sharing.
    1885 days ago
    Excellent blog! I am also a sugar addict. I am currently on day 55 of no sweets, (cake, ice cream, etc) or chocolate. The first few days were tough, but I no longer have cravings. Substituting a baked potato with equal, cinnamon and light butter satisfies my need for sweets. A few years ago I went a year without sweets and thought I could handle just a little cake. The cravings immediately returned and, just as you described, I went totally out of control. I am in the process of losing the weight I gained from that and I now realize I must treat this as a true addiction - I will never be able to eat sweets in moderation and so I choose not to eat them at all. The peace of mind I feel is so worth it. emoticon
    1886 days ago
  • DONNA5281
    emoticon blog, it brought things to my attention.
    Most of what you wrote sounds like me. I have many days that I don't want to eat, then at other times I can eat all day long.
    Thank you for sharing.

    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1886 days ago
  • MKELLY72
    Good for you that you have identified a strategy that works for you. Sugar is a binge trigger for me too, and I think of it like a drug at times myself. I want so much to do the moderation thing--and I can most of the time, but every so often, it triggers a binge that leaves me feeling physically like crap and emotionally too.
    Thanks for blogging this.
    1886 days ago
    it's as if you are writing about me...i have those same did you stop?
    1886 days ago
    Wow, it's like I can see myself being all you wrote. I'm definitely a sugar addict! I try to eliminate it completely in every form and then I cave with just a little something and that seems to trigger all over-eating of everything. Portion control is the problem then. Buttered popcorn is a problem then. It just seems to be open-season for everything!! Thanks for a super good blog, well said. It's like you brought to light what has been in the back of my mind for so long, with needing to cut out sugar entirely to conquer all these other triggers. Now I'll try harder to face it more!! emoticon for the extra boost! emoticon
    1886 days ago
    This is very interesting - my mum and I are very similar... if keep off the sugars we are fine, but even a little can set us off on a binge, when I am capable of eating a full pack of cherry bakewells (my current downfall!) but if we stay clear we don't miss it much at all

    I'd not thought about it affecting depression though - that makes a lot of sense to me now I look at my habits and how I feel
    1886 days ago
  • QUAIL75
    Good for you for eliminating the sugar beast! I also struggle with it and I'm able to do pretty well most of the month but around my period all bets are off! I have horrible cravings and all I want to do is eat chocolate, cookies, cake....

    I'm working on it though and am back on track. emoticon
    1886 days ago
    How interesting!
    Similarly, on my 30-day raw challenge last May, I experienced a similar thing: because I had to eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies, all the right types of foods, I didn't have any cravings. When I felt like having something else, though, it meant it was time for me to eat a piece of fruit. Then I was ok.
    I've had an Indian manufactured meal for lunch today, which is very unusual and, boy, do I feel it! I'm sluggish and sleepy this afternoon... Some day I'll remember how this kind of food makes me feel like BEFORE eating it. One lives and learns!
    I'm so glad you're feeling so much better - way to go!
    1886 days ago
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