3 ways to control food cravings and stop sabotaging your weight loss

3 ways to control food cravings and stop sabotaging your weight loss

Recently I started asking new members of my Group what they really need to know when it comes to losing weight and getting healthy. The most common response is “how to control food cravings.” Whether for sweets or salty, the desire is to crave those foods less, and eat more of the healthy stuff.

And it’s the issue that most of my coaching clients wrestle with when they first hire me.

And it’s the issue that will continue to challenge you without an intentional plan of action.

Let’s start with a basic truth about cravings. The more you give into them, the stronger they become. And the more you resist them, the stronger they become.

“Well great” I can hear you saying.

But knowing this gives you power to control food cravings and I’ll share three ways to do that:

1. Be prepared: Food is designed to be uber palatable. Manufacturers use sugar, fat, salt and chemicals to create foods that previously didn’t exist. The better it tastes, the more you eat (and the more profit they make).

Our ancient ancestors didn’t crave foods like we do. They needed to eat to stay alive. So when they had a taste of something they liked, a little dopamine was released into the brain to motivate them to seek more of it.

But today these super palatable foods use your physiology against you by releasing more dopamine, which drives you to want more. Notice how a few strawberries are sufficient, but one chip/cookie never is?

3 ways to control food cravings and stop sabotaging your weight loss
Photo by Conor Brown on Unsplash

2. Be the observer: Notice the craving when it comes, like you’re watching a movie. You can say something to yourself like, “Oh, I see my brain really wants something sweet (salty) while watching a movie.”

Then normalize it, like “Of course I want that…Nabisco has spent a lot of money to make sure I do. And, it’s something I’ve been eating for a long time.” In this way you logically poke a bit of fun at the craving and don’t make it such a big deal.

3. Be honest, kind and firm: Acknowledge there is part of you that wants to eat the thing and part of you that doesn’t. And that’s okay. You’re figuring it out.

Pay close attention to what you make it mean when you have a craving. If you start to blame yourself for being weak, for having no willpower, notice how those thoughts feel. Hint, like $h!t. So, not helpful.

At this point you let your brain know, “Hey, I see you craving chocolate and I get it. But we’re not doing that right now.” Each time you do this, you not only control food cravings…you reduce future cravings.

Each time you go through this process, ask yourself what you really want. What you’re really craving. Yes, the dopamine in your brain wants the food, but the you underneath it all wants something else. Something better.

Learn to crave that.

3 ways to move the needle when you hit a weight loss plateau

When you don’t get the result you expect fast enough, or you hit a weight loss plateau, you likely make some observations. Things like “I must be doing something wrong” or “this isn’t working.”

Be careful. These insidious thoughts lead to something worse. 

Next thing you know you’ll justify skipping a workout, having seconds, or snacking on jelly bellies. After all, it’s not working so why bother? 

Can you see how asking the wrong questions ensures you don’t lose weight or, you gain back what you’ve lost?

Photo by mali maeder: https://www.pexels.com/photo/yellow-analog-meter-50634/

You want to delve into why you’re at a weight loss plateau in a way that keeps you on track and motivated to continue. Here are three ways to do that:

1. Ask useful questions. Like: 

  • What, if I was consistent, would have a big impact on my results?
  • What am I doing well that I can capitalize on?
  • Is there something I was doing previously that made a difference, but I’ve gotten out of the habit?

The key is recognizing where you’re winning and how you can build on that. And to see where you might need to shift or re-engage. Once you identify those areas, take a close look at food and movement…

2. Food assessment. Sometimes what you’re eating got you to where you are, but it won’t get you further. Let’s say you were drinking a sugary coffee most afternoons and having dessert every night and, after cutting it in half you lost weight. It may be that reducing half the sugar gets you this far, but not the rest of the way. In what areas might this be the case for you?

Another consideration is, are you consistent with your eating habits or have you let some things slide? Maybe in the beginning you were mindful of not snacking while preparing dinner or while watching TV, but those habits have creeped back in. Or you eat a bit too much, not to the point of stuffed but more than sufficient. Find where you need to get back to what was working. 

3. Exercise progression. Do you know a woman who after years of walking almost everyday, laments that her body doesn’t look any different?  I asked this while speaking at a women’s conference and one audience member said, “I know who you’re talking about. That’s me!”

Our bodies need new and different exercise options to continue changing. You can challenge your body in several ways, such as:

  • Exercise longer and/or more frequently
  • Up your aerobic exercise intensity (see ways to measure it here)
  • Get variety. If you walk, add biking, dancing, running…anything. 
  • If you don’t already, add strength training (it’s a must!)
  • Lift heavier weights 
  • Shake up your strength exercises

I’ve had several clients who, after making changes like these, were able to workout less and start losing weight again.

Reaching a weight loss plateau is common. The key is to respond with curiosity and compassion. Take credit for the progress you’ve made. Then, determine what needs to change and decide what you’ll do about it.  You got this.

Can positive thinking really help you lose weight?

I’ve seen positive thinking bring about amazing results in my life and that of my clients. I’ve also seen it produce feelings of guilt and anxiety, yielding the exact opposite of one’s desired outcome.

Why such dramatically different results? Because it all depends on what you believe. That’s the main problem with negative thoughts: you believe them. And when you believe them, you fulfill them (i.e. self-fulfilling prophecy). 

In her book, How Emotions are Made, the Secret Life of the Brain, Lisa Feldman Barrett says that we look to past experiences that guide our actions. For example, you create a concept of weight loss, by categorizing past weight loss attempts. When you see that they “don’t work” or “I failed” you essentially predict failure the next time. You literally plan to fail.

Even if you gather up enough motivation to try again, your first skipped workout or trip through the drive-thru, builds on the case against your ability to lose weight. 

(You may have similar experience in business or relationships…can you see the parallels?)

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Now you might say, “but Heather, I believe my positive thoughts. Don’t they balance out the negative?” 

It depends. If your belief in the negative feels really true, simply pasting on a happy face and insisting that “I know I can do anything I put my mind to…” will feel fake. And then it takes a lot of energy to pretend to yourself that you feel good about it. I also see positive thinking invoke guilt or shame for someone when her negative thoughts are persistent. 

If you want positive thinking to work for you, use these 3 techniques:

  1. Gradually inch towards the positive. Take a persistent negative thought that you have and make it less negative. Like “I can never stick with an exercise plan” becomes “sometimes I’m consistent with exercise and sometimes I’m not.” Find something that feels just as true as your automatic thought and replace it when it pops up. Slowly move this negative thought towards neutral. Practice it enough and you’ll be ready to move it to positive. 
  2. Notice how you feel. Just because a statement appears positive does not mean it will make you feel good. To be effective, a positive thought needs to invoke the feelings you want. Is it motivation, determination, confidence, excitement, calm? How do you need to feel to drive the actions you want to take? Find one key positive thought that feels genuinely good to you and practice it throughout each day.
  3. Track your daily wins. Especially the small ones. Helping your brain acknowledge that small successes are relevant to your long-term goals makes it more likely that you’ll be consistent. Because small steps lead to big results.

It’s okay – and totally normal – to feel negative. Like, when you don’t follow through on your healthy habits you probably want to feel disappointed. But don’t wallow in disappointment. Use these three techniques to move from negative to positive in a way that really works for you.  

Hey, want to watch my video on how to change from a negative to positive mindset? You can watch it at my Facebook Group, here.

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