Deconstructing Cravings: Understanding why you crave things and healthy hunger vs destructive addiction



Some of the biggest roadblocks to weight loss are food cravings. Today, we're going to take apart those cravings to find out what they are, what why we have them and what we should do about them. 

What is a craving? It's basically an intense hunger for a certain food. It can become obsessive and overwhelming. Some cravings can feel like drug addiction, in intensity. This is true especially of refined or processed sugar which acts very much like heroin on the brain. It releases the same pleasure sensations, like dopamine, as certain drugs do. So cravings are bad, right? Well, yes and no. 

Why do we crave things? Not all cravings are created equal. And they are not triggered by the same the same factors. It depends upon the person, situation, duration and the specific craving. There is a difference between craving and addiction. If the person chronically craves a certain thing like chocolate, cannot get enough of it and still longs for it even after consuming a large amount, this a food addiction. If the craving is acute (temporary) it may actually indicate that you are low on and in need of the desired food. 

Is my craving good or bad? Follow these steps to check

--First, decide if it's acute or chronic. If you randomly want pizza today, that's acute. But if you think about sweets all day long, that's chronic. If you had a donut (or three) for breakfast, cookies with lunch, candy for a snack and a piece of cake for dessert and later before bed, that is a sugar addiction. You probably still want more and have developed a tolerance for it, so that you never hit satisfaction. Even half that much, on a daily basis, will lead to insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) as your body cannot process it all. 

--Next, think about what you are craving. Are you really hungry for pasta? It could mean several things. Pasta is typically what we think of as a comfort food. It's warm, nourishing, often homemade and probably in some form, a food we remember from childhood. Are you feeling your age and missing your youth? Are you in need of a hot home-cooked meal? Are you hungering for lasagna or missing your mom? Not that any of those are bad or that eating lasagna won't make your feel better. It's just that you may be missing a bigger picture or using to fill other gaps. 

Decide what you are really craving. Are you lonely? Sometimes food is the friend we long for. Are you tired? Do you really need a nap, or a break or a vacation?  Are you depressed? Eating sugar, for example, can make you feel a little better. For awhile. Then the the spike drops and you may feel even worse than before. Or you feel guilty because you over-indulged and ate the entire package of cookies instead of enjoying just a few. 

--Determine whether you are craving, addicted or hungry. I know that sounds like a no-brainer. Of course I'm hungry, you're thinking, duh. But it's not always that simple. If you are actually lonely, tired or depressed, you're not craving food but something to meet those needs. If you have a food addiction, you are not really hungry. You have a chemical imbalance.  

So what should I do? If you're hungry, you need of nourishment and the "craving" is your body saying what it needs. In the example of pasta, it's comforting partly because it's also the perfect meal. I know, you Keto folk eschew carbs. But the fact remains that it does contain all the food groups and so hits all the nutritional needs: starch for quick energy, protein for sustained energy, vegetables for vitamins and minerals. And since it's so common a craving, the body must know it needs those ingredients. 

If you have a chronic craving you can't satisfy, you have an addiction. These cravings are almost always for processed, chemically enhanced foods with refined sugar and even fake sugar, HFCS, MSG, color or flavor additives, transfat or hydrogenated fat. Like drugs, these chemicals pirate your brain, so it mistakes them as necessary. They manufacture a need for themselves, causing you to overdose yet not get enough. Your body can't handle these chemicals which have now become toxins, and they start taking out your endocrine system, liver, kidneys, circulation, digestion, nerves. Your body tries to protect the organs by storing fat and insulating them with it. Your brain says go, while your body says NO. 

The way to break this addiction cycle is to detox and retrain your brain with a 12 step type program. More on that later. The left image is me at 100+ pounds overweight and right is after weight loss. You can see in the left, how inflamed my face is with stored fat. 


Spectre at the feast, or out, out damn scale!

Hi everyone! Back with another episode of the weight loss blog, summer 2020. I've been working on weight maintenance for 6 years, since I lost 100 pounds in 2014. And to quote (misquote) ZZ Top, "I've been up. I've down. Dallas, Texas, Hollywood. Lord, I'm just looking to avoid some tush." (Get it? Pun! Pause for laughs. What, not funny? Hey, don't judge. You try writing the comedy lines a blog!) Anyhoo, my point being that I've thought and done this diet thing from all angles. I've gained some back and lost it and gained. You get it. 

And lemme just say that what gets really old is having to constantly think weight wherever I go. No matter what I eat, when or where, there's this nagging voice in my head telling me not to overindulge. Oh sure, I can throw caution to the wind. I can eat whatever I want. Sort of. But I know it will come back to bite me sooner or later. The inescapable truth is that I can either watch what I eat for the rest of my life or run the risk of putting all those pounds back on again. 

Yes, the spectre at the feast is annoying. Sometimes I wish she'd just shut up and leave me alone. But then she reminds me that she has my best interests at heart. She knows how hard I worked to get to a healthy weight. And she doesn't want me to backslide just for a bit of indulgence that I really didn't enjoy that much anyway. 

Cuz yeah, truth is, it's not worth it. The candy, cookies, chips, etc really don't taste as good as I think they're going to (except seafoam and marzipan, lol those always meet expectations!) But most everything else lets me down. That's not just head talk. Try it sometime for yourself. Visualize some treat or other that you love. Anticipate it. Notice how after the first bite it's not as satisfying as you thought it would be? That's what I call saturation theory (more on that later). 

So while I would sometimes like to pull a Lady Macbeth and wash that scale right out of my life, I realize that having just the right amount of guilt over eating the wrong things and fear of getting back into old habits is not a bad thing.  They are reality checks, intended to help me stay strong. So I've decided to make friends with the spectre at the feast and be grateful for her. 


Not to say that I will always make perfect food choices. Sometimes, honestly, I don't always know what those are. Sometimes my body feels better after a handful of M&Ms. Like it knows what it needs. It's as if it was designed intelligently by a Higher Power who knows what He's doing (ya think?) But I'm glad to have that still, small voice encouraging me to make mindful choices. I feel very confident and powerful when I see that I control food and it doesn't control me. All part of the Divine Plan, I'm thinking. I wish the very best for all of you, my dear friends. Thank you for reading these little markings of mine. Drop me a line to say hello <3 (PS we are smiling under out masks. And I don't know what my husband is looking at, lol)

Covid 19 weight loss update: Accepting ch-ch-changes and getting back to work


In today's episode of my weight loss journey, Covid 19, sooner vs. later or wake up and smell the coffee (long, painful occasionally digressive story to follow, but with happy resolution)

Backstory: I've always had (or been told I had) weight issues but as a teen, this meant something very different. People in general weighed less in 1982. 135 pounds was overweight. But I still felt fat and in college, I basically didn't eat. I began my first pregnancy at 110 pounds and always shed pounds quickly after 4 babies.

Odyssey Begins: In 2001 and 2004, I lost stillborn daughters, experienced insane anxiety and depression, took Paxil, was at times suicidal, was diagnosed at Pine Rest with Bi-polar 2. Yes, that's a thing apparently. It means you alternate between happy and sad, but not as happy or sad as Bi-polar. So pretty much normal? I declined the offer of DepaKote. Turns out my suicidal thoughts, which prompted me to check myself into Pine Rest were PMS driven. My husband called this and tried to tell the psychiatrist but was ignored. I gained 120 pounds.

Dark Passage: Fast forward to 2011 (I say fast forward because much of time between '04 and then is a Paxil-inducing near-comatose blur. I was an emotional leper, numbed and not comfortably.) I don't recall exactly what woke me up, but when I did, it wasn't the debatable 10 pounds overweight of the 80s. I was clinically and morbidly obese.

Tunnel Lightens: By 2014, I had lost 100 pounds. You see me at my biggest and after weight loss in these pictures. I did it while being a sedentary at-home worker (a fact I'm rather proud of). It was thanks to my higher power whom I choose to call God, AA type legwork, calorie counting, supplements and mental resets.

Ch-ch-changes or what the hell just happened?? By the pricking of my thumbs, something...well, not wicked, but certainly weird this way comes. Here am thinking I'm doing great, maintaining weight loss but then I start to feel bigger. Clothes fit a little differently. Tummy (which has always plagued me) seems bigger. What changed? Quite a bit and not much. Lemme splain. After losing weight, it was easy to start cutting  diet corners. I got lazier with portion control, calorie counting and eating what is, for me, kryptonite (the 4C--cheese, chocolate, chips, crackers) Also, our schedule has changed and not for the better. I'm working till 9-10 p, not going to bed till 1am, back up at 4:30 and sometimes napping. Days off, we don't go to bed till 4 am because that's how husband has to do it when he works (5pm to 5 am). And let me tell you, lack of sleep and a wonky nocturnal schedule plays hell with your biorhythms and weight gain. What's not changed is that I'm not really eating that much more, and in some cases less, because we aren't going out to eat. And I'm exercising more doing Shipt rather than being stuck behind a desk 6 ft from the fridge. Go figure. I think it's the screwed up sleep and when I'm eating (late at night).

Covid 19 = Rona 20. So, 2020 and I'm doing a reality check again. I've for sure put on weight. Not a lot as you can see by <--this Feb 2020 pic. Some of it is probably due to building muscle doing Shipt rather than being desk-bound.  But last summer's clothes are tighter and that's a wake-up klaxon. Cuz while I don't want to be a 'rona stat, I also don't want to gain the Covid 20.

What I learned on my summer vacation: To boil this down to brass tacks (My husband's AKA Mr. Malaprop's famous line) while it sucks to have a sucky schedule and Covid 19 sucks in general, I've discovered that I CAN lose weight again, if I want to. All the things that worked still work. And what's really great is that it will be so much easier. I won't have to shed 100 pounds because I caught it in time. Ergo, the title of this post...Sooner vs. Later.


What not to do (and a bit of what to do): If you're like me, you default to excuse-making rather than acceptance. You blame your clothes (they shrunk) your scale (damn thing's busted) your mirror (it came from a carnival fun house). You justify the weight gain (it's only a few pounds). And you may be right about all those things. But do you really want to ride the denial train till it crashes? I would rather derail it now when it is so much easier. So it's back on the bandwagon for me. I'll be sharing some tips and tricks on this but in the meantime, feel 

My How-to-lose 100 pounds Diet: Fasting, religious diets, food swaps and more

In 2014, I lost 100 pounds and a lot of people have asked me, "so how'd ya get from <--- to ---->?"  I don't follow a specific weight loss diet because there's no one meal plan that hits everything I'm looking for.  Here are the basic tenets of my "how to lose 100 pounds" plan.

TAKE WHAT YOU CAN USE AND LEAVE THE REST

Al-Anon says "take what you like and leave the rest." My eating strategies are culled from a variety of weight loss programs. The Ketogenic (Keto) Diet, South Beach, hypertension DASH diet, paleo, Mediterranean Diet, Weight Watchers and more.

FOOD SWAPS

Some of my favorite weight loss tricks are food swaps. Using the "eat this, not that" and "hungry girl" concepts, I create recipes that trade fatty, sugary, salty, junky ingredients for healthier, low-calorie ones.

RELIGIOUS FASTS

I also follow many of the dietary fasts and restrictions of other religions. I'm not a Muslim, but Islam's halal foods are typically healthier. So are Jewish kosher foods. I am Catholic and observe Lent, but I try to do it all year-long. I try to live and eat simpler as Buddhists and Hindus do.

Even doctors recommend some fasting (I say "even" because I got very little help with weight loss from the medical community, aside from advice to get gastric bypass surgery. So I don't put much faith in traditional medicine.

VEGAN AND DIABETIC
Arguably, vegan or at least vegetarian is how we should all be eating. I'm by no means vegan, but I have tried to reduce processed foods. And I'm not diabetic but before I lost weight my glucose number was getting higher. I was tentatively diagnosed with pre-diabetes (aka insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome). So I try to avoid refined sugar as if I had Type 2 diabetes.

SUPERBOWL FOODS

"Bowling" is not only a sport but a trendy eating style just now. It just means eating food in bowls, typically based on salad and soup. I've begun eating less starch-based meals and foods on bread and swapped with vegetables. Our best meals feature high protein and lots of veggie varieties. And we love to make big pots of warm, nourishing soups bursting with herbs and low in sodium.


Exercise is good but diet is crucial in weight loss

A few years ago, a major carbonated bevvie manufacturer (Coca-Cola, I'm talkin' to you) tried to feed us line that diet wasn't the key to weight loss. No, no, they said. You don't  have to count calories (sic) stop drinking our pop, you just have to exercise. Well, I don't know how many execs at Coke are overweight but I was...over 100 pounds so. The image on the left is me in 2008.

And I'm here to tell you that I could have exercised all day but without amending my food intake, it would have done no good. I'd still be tipping the scales at over 200 pounds instead of the healthier 140 I am now (see pic on right). In fact, I might be heavier because all that exercise would make me hungrier and without the food limiting part, I would gain.

Where they found "scientists" to back up this malarky, I don't know. But I think we can see that Coke had a clear agenda to keep us drinking their sugary drinks. What is harder to accept is that their findings might not be true. Because I think most of want to believe in a plan that lets us keep eating the way we want and still lose weight. And many of us don't care that we are getting fat and fatter.

At this juncture, I'm going to digress for a moment. I know I said earlier that I hate the word "fat" when applied to people and that we shouldn't use it. But there's the reality component too: ya gotta look the issue in the eye and be honest before you can see what needs to be done. You can change the cadre: overweight, plus-size, large, heavy etc., but you can't change the problem. Obesity is a pandemic more dangerous than any we've ever seen. It took me looking in the mirror and accepting how fat I was, before I could begin the healing process.

Okay, so back to changing eating habits. Yes, I said that many of us don't care how fat we're getting. I'm talking to myself here too. There are many reasons for the downward spiral-- feelings of failure, despair, inability to see the problem, to name just a few. In my case, the cause of the apathy was that I was on an antidepressant after losing two stillborn daughters. It didn't make me less depressed. It made me emotionally deaf, dumb and blind. My senses were so dulled by the drug that I was unaware of my ballooning body. Or maybe not unaware. I knew I was gaining but I couldn't seem to stop it and I felt defeated. I knew what I needed to do but I just lacked the something-or-other to do it. The antidepressant pirated my mind to such an extent that I felt like a prisoner to it.

I had to quit the Paxil before I could make any significant change. I will blog more on that process and how horrendous it WASN'T later. Once I came out of the drug-induced fog, the path became a lot clearer. I discovered that I did have the whatever-it-is to shed the weight. It wasn't easy but it was nowhere near as difficult as I'd believed it would be.

I love you guys! Be well


Body Shaming Dangers, Why You Should Be Body Positive and How to Do It

<--This is me in 2013, 65# overweight. --> is me in 2020. In 7 years, I've spent a lot of time thinking and writing about body size. Body-shaming, fat-shaming, body image...these terms have gotten a lot of media attention in recent years. This is down to several issues in our culture. First, more people are getting fat and fatter. So more attention is put on weight. Second, it is becoming more socially acceptable to call out, shame and harass fat people. Third, this bullying is finally getting recognized as such. People who used to tolerate and expect shaming and even self-shame (raises hand) are now realizing how damaging it is. They (we) are fighting back.

We are trying to teach ourselves to be kinder to our bodies. And part of that is learning to love it the way it is. Because before you try to change something, you have to accept it. Al-Anon has shown us that (along with many other self-care tools). Do some people go overboard with the body positivity, asking us to accept that being 200 pounds is just fine, even beautiful? Sure. But it's a pendulum process...social norms that have been extreme in one direction must swing far in the other direction before coming to land somewhere in a happy medium.

The ultimate goal, then, must be to first love ourselves and our bodies as they are...precious gifts from our Heavenly Father. Then and only then can we begin the process of getting them to healthier places, e.g. with weight loss, fitness initiatives, etc. And let me just pause to mention here that it's not just folks who are overweight who struggle with body issues. Being underweight can be just as difficult, perhaps moreso. For some people, it's easier to lose weight than put it on, believe it or not. But still healthy body image is the essential first step.

If you read my post from a few days ago, you'll remember that I promised some homework to practice body positivity skills. A lot of negativity exists in our heads. We imagine that people are thinking or saying things about us. Whether they are or aren't doesn't really matter. We become paranoid and begin to see ourselves as we believe they see us. So we start by changing our minds, literally. Here's how.

1) Start analyzing negative thoughts and feelings. Figure out where they are coming from. Was someone rude to you? Did they give you a funny look? Are you feeling vulnerable today? Are you unhappy with the way you look?
2) HALT: That's an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired: are you any of those? Then you will not be at your best. Everything will look bleaker. Don't put too much emphasis on negative feelings and thoughts but do work to correct hunger, anger, loneliness and exhaustion.
3) Fix your tape recorder. Erase negative messages playing in your head: "I'm fat." "I'm ugly." "I'm a loser." "People don't like me." "I don't like me." (you know the kind). Make new, healthier messages. "I'm pretty (handsome)" "I'm a winner." etc. Yes, you'll feel silly at first. You'll live...do it anyway! No, you may not really mean it...you will in time. Fake it till you make it. Practice doesn't make perfect but it does make things a lot better.

Herein ends part one of the lesson. Love you all bunches!! 

I think fat, therefore I am...or not?

Seen on Facebook recently, a post which makes excellent food for thought (oh I do love my puns) about body image and fat. The question was asked why we say we (or others) ARE fat or thin. It was noted that we don't say "I am brown hair" or "I am beard." We say "I HAVE brown hair or a beard." These are physical attributes and so are body sizes and shapes. Isn't it bad enough that we fault ourselves for being overweight (or underweight)? Must we also let the scale tell us who we are?

I've worked very hard for several years to shed some excess pounds and keep them off. I'm proud of this weight loss. But the inside core has not changed, now that I am smaller. I may look and feel different, better, healthier, etc. but Marilisa is no different. I am still kind, friendly, easily annoyed, loving, somewhat lazy. Arguably I'm happier and less self-conscious but my me-ness remains. And it is TONS bigger and more important that a scale number.


Why do we let our body size become us? It stems from plus-size negativity regarding bigger bodies. Unkind words, shaming, social stigma, bullying, media messages all focus heavily on weight, more than any other physical feature. And it has become socially acceptable, even encouraged, to shame people who are fat...oops, see, even I said it...I mean who have extra fat. It's as if fat negates every other aspect of us.


Some people feel it's their duty to call attention to someone's weight problems. Hilariously,, it's often people who themselves could stand to lose 10 or 90 pounds! And overweight people come to expect it and sometimes even mock themselves! This is a deadly vicious circle. Are you caught in this cycle? Do you shame yourself and/or allow others to?  I'm going to assign some homework to help you break it. I'll blog more on that shortly.



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