We know that in order to achieve and maintain weight loss, we need to adhere to an eating plan as prescribed by our nutritionists. With bariatric patients, this is typically a low-fat and low-carb diet. We know that slipping up and allowing a little bit of our old habits back in starts the cycle of regain. We can quickly find ourselves stuck in the cycle of EAT > REGAIN > FEEL BAD > EAT > REPEAT. It seems like we will never learn conquer food cravings.
So how do we break free from this cycle forever? Why is it so hard to maintain a healthy relationship with food? I have been pondering this very thing for months.
For my own personal reference, I made a list of benefits to losing weight, and I added to it every day as I thought of new things. My list included the big things like having the healthy pregnancy I wanted, to the little things, like sitting in a movie theater seat with plenty of room to spare. Every day, this list grew and grew, with the intention of having it as a reminder as to why I am doing this. However, even with my super long list of benefits, I was completely puzzled as to why it wasn’t ever reason enough to stick to my diet plan.
Here’s the thing: It’s actually not about the food. The cravings and obsessions are merely symptoms of what is really going on.
I experienced regain after having my third baby. While nursing my baby for the past nine months, I find myself hungry all the time. I also haven’t had much time to cook, or the energy to workout, thanks to the lack of sleep. Therefore, it has been super easy for me to give into those cravings.
I realize this is but a short season in my life, so what about those times of regain not from having just had a baby?
I have noticed in my various support groups a big pattern. Many of us — not necessarily all, but indeed many — became overweight because we were hurt. Somewhere in our past, someone hurt us. We used food as a coping mechanism because when we eat, we activate the pleasure centers in our brain, instantly giving us a euphoric rush of pleasure hormones such as dopamine. This is why it feels so good to eat when we are stressed! This is the same reason people turn to other vices such as alcohol, drugs, and pornography as they, too, cause the release of dopamine. Food just happens to be our drug of choice. It’s a quick and effective escape. Instant gratification and being able to escape our problems instead of working out the real reasons for feeling the anxiety in the first place.
But we have to learn to not turn to food, or other vices, to solve our problems, because they won’t.
Eliminating Food Shame
Have you ever said when eating something off-plan, “I’m just going to have this one little cheat,”? or, “You are/I am so bad!”? The words “cheat” and “bad” imply shame around food. Even my own wording of “off-plan” in the first part of this paragraph gave me pause because it also suggests shame and guilt. As if by eating cake, I am betraying myself, my surgeon, my family, my community, etc.
But why is any food bad or good? Foods do not have morals. If you can take away the shame of food, you will not obsess over it.
If you say, “I am going to abstain 100% from all carbs,” guess what? You are going to obsess about carbs!
You are setting yourself up for failure by making it a game of all or nothing.
Make It a Date With Food
If you can write special occasions into your meal plan, and know you are going to indulge on those specific days, it will help you realize that you don’t want the cookies you helped your kids bake on a spontaneous Wednesday afternoon, because you are waiting for the birthday party on the weekend to really enjoy the piece of cake waiting for you. And you will eat that cake with zero guilt, I hope, because after waiting for it, it is going to taste all the better!
Food is often part of an experience! Think of all the times food is a central part of a specific activity. Birthday parties, traveling to a faraway destination for vacation, weddings, date night with your spouse… it would make you feel completely miserable to abstain from enjoying a perfectly normal portion of a special occasion food, possibly causing you enough stress to go on a crazed binge immediately after the event. So long as this is a special occasion, the one slice of birthday cake is NOT going to hinder your progress! It is not going to make one bit of difference to your waistline.
The point is to schedule it. If you find the temptation to eat an impulsive one, skip the treat. Save the calories for the scheduled treat you intend to have during a special occasion.
Eat it slowly, savor it, really BE with it, and the satisfaction will be enough to carry you through to the next special occasion.
Conquering Those Late Night Power Cravings
Late nights are the hardest for me, because my willpower is gone, and I’m stressed and tired from a long day with my three kids. This is the time when I feel I could eat just about anything with zero restriction from my pouch and experience a much smaller chance of experiencing dumping syndrome.
But I know that these urges are not true hunger, they are “head hunger”. So instead of giving in to this, I take to my journal to write out my feelings. Or I take a hot shower and imagine my stress flowing down my body and down the drain. I “close down” the kitchen for the night, and that signals me that it is closed for the rest of the night. If after doing all these things — journaling being the very most important one — and I am still physically hungry, then I will eat something with protein and carbs, such as almond butter on celery, or a protein shake blended with a frozen banana, as this protein/carb combo is going to be the most satiating. Carbs alone will only make you crave more carbs, so always pair with a protein and/or fat.
I hope this has been the pep talk you needed to conquer food cravings. I know that I have felt such confusion as to why I couldn’t just realize that I love all that this surgery has gifted me over the old eating habits. By eliminating shame around special occasion foods, and genuinely waiting for those special occasions, it makes my normal days of no sugar much more relaxed.