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Conquer Your Weight

Episode #42: How to Manage Your Cravings

Show Notes

July 5, 2023

In this week's episode, we'll talk about how to process and manage your cravings.

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Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: This is Dr. Sarah Stombaugh and you are listening to the Conquer Your Weight Podcast, episode number 42. Announcer: Welcome to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, where you will learn to understand your mind and body so you can achieve long-term weight loss. Here's your host, obesity medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining me today. I have been so excited for today's episode. I actually thought of it and recorded it while I was driving to the airport about a month ago, and the sound quality was horrible. I was driving to the airport, it was pouring down rain, it's hitting my windshield like, and then these huge globs of rain are coming off my side view mirrors striking the side of my car, like as I'm driving down the interstate. So I have been thinking about this episode wanting to rerecord it for you all, and I am doing that today. Today we are going to talk about how to manage and process your cravings. This is something I talk about with my patients all of the time and in my own journey around finding freedom around food. Learning how to process a craving without just giving into that craving is honestly one of the most mind blowing things I have to discovered along this journey. Before we get into today's episode though, I want to invite you to join me in my telemedicine based weight loss medical practice. If you have been thinking about starting your weight loss journey, right now is the time and I would love to connect. If you live in Illinois or Virginia where I'm licensed to practice medicine, I'd love to have a free meet and greet visit with you to get to know one another. If you don't live in one of those two states, come on over to my website. Anyway, get signed up for my email list so you can stay in touch, learn about the latest happenings in the weight loss world and get weight loss tips and recipes sent weekly to your inbox. Alright, let's get into today's episode Processing cravings. A lot of times when we think about a food craving, whether we see a food, we see a commercial for a food, someone else's talking about a food or offering it to us, however it is that that food enters into our mind before we know it. Now we're craving it. Usually our cravings are things that are highly processed, something with condensed calories, things that are sugar filled or flour filled. Maybe it's something that's salty and crunchy and reliably. We have cravings for foods that we know are going to provide a huge hit of dopamine in our brains, and we can talk about why we have those cravings, which is another topic for another day. But today I wanna talk about what to do when a craving is happening. How are you going to manage that craving? Because a lot of times we don't even realize that those cravings are optional or we think about a craving and then we have this internal battle that starts coming up. This should I or shouldn't I? And this entire dialogue happens with or about a food item. So let's say you're at work and someone has brought in brownies to the break room. I might have a thought like, oh, those look so good. I should have one, but no, I really shouldn't. Oh, but I bet they taste so good, but I'm honestly not even that hungry. But my patient brought them in, especially for me and my team. I would have this entire dialogue that would go back and forth and sometimes my logical developed brain would win. And other times, my primitive brain, that version of me that was having the craving, the urge to eat, that primitive brain would win. And regardless of the outcome, the whole thing felt like a struggle. There was this resistance and the entire process felt really icky and emotionally draining to be constantly arguing back and forth with myself. When people go into diet plans, a lot of times they have experiences like this. They think back to experiences of the past, and then that's what they imagine for their future diet plan. And the reality is, without intentionally working to change those type of thought patterns, it is going to look like that. So of course we dread the idea of losing weight because we imagine the entire time, whatever strict diet we've decided to follow this time is going to mean that over and over again, we are fighting. We are battling with those cravings, battling with ourselves every time we crave a food that is not on that diet plan. So if you stop and think about it, why would anyone ever want to be on a diet? If you've experienced diets like this in the past, you know that it feels awful. That constant resistance requires a huge amount of emotional energy. And honestly, you can really only grit your teeth and bear it for so long before you decide to say, oh, screw it. It's not like this. It's not worth it to be fighting like this all the time. When you instead just give into the crazy craving, that might be easier, especially if you give in without having to do that back and forth battle beforehand. What I want to offer you today is that there are other options besides those two besides battling, besides giving in. When you have a craving, you can one, give into that craving. You can two resist the craving that back and forth fighting, arguing, which feels really draining. Or three, you can learn how to process that craving. So today we are going to talk about what it means and how to process a craving. When you look at a craving, it is a thought that we have that drives an urge in your body. And when you see this as a thought feeling combination, you can see that this is really no different than any other feeling we experience. I wanna go back and review this. We've talked about it a bit before, how to have emotions to process our emotions and what those mean in our lives. When you have an emotion, whether that is a positive emotion or a negative emotion, it is just a sensation, a vibration that is happening inside of your body. No one else is experiencing that. It is just you having this vibration. It is your body reacting to an event about which you've had a thought and now you're having that emotional reaction, a feeling in response to it. Learning how to name, understand and process our feelings is one of the most valuable tools we have, period. We often have this idea that we should be happy. We say things like, oh, I just wanna be happy. But the reality is, having a happy life is not the full human experience. If you are only experiencing positive emotions, then you are missing the depth that is being a human. And it makes sense if you stop and think about it, that you can and should feel negatively at certain times. When someone close to you dies, you want to feel sad about that. You want to feel grief if you are fired from your job, you wanna feel angry if your car breaks down on the way to an important meeting, you wanna feel angry. Having these negative emotions is an important part of having the whole human experience. Learning how to process our feelings, whether they are positive or whether they are negative, is such an important tool. And when we are trying to lose weight or achieve any other goal in our life, that processing is going to help us on that journey. When we stop and allow ourselves to experience that emotion, we tune into how it feels in your body. And if you think back when you have these feelings, especially think of a positive feeling that you're having where you're feeling really elated. It comes in these waves. It may happen for a minute or a minute and a half, and then that intensity of the emotion dissipates. And the same thing happens if we allow it with our negative emotions. They come up in these big sometimes intense waves. We feel them very strongly and then they dissipate. And if you can learn to practice feeling your feelings, then you can work through anything to feel more brave and more confident to move forward in the world. Because you're not afraid of emotions, you realize that emotions are just vibrations in your body. They cannot hurt you and they will pass. So let's bring this back to cravings. So cravings are a thought that we have that drives an urge or an over desire for a food or a drink. This over desire, it's just an emotion. So like any other emotion, you can learn how to process it, you can feel it, let it bubble up inside your body with whatever intensity it's going to, and then it will pass usually within a minute or a minute and a half. We think we'll be craving that brownie forever until we actually eat the brownie and give in, but we won't. It comes up. We experience that emotion and it passes. And later you may have another thought about the brownie that drives another urge, and you may have to do that same process again. But now this is a new series of thought patterns driving the craving. What I want to offer to you is when you have a craving for a food, it is possible to allow yourself to feel the emotion without giving into the craving. Now, what happens often is that we don't allow ourselves to process it and we start to tantrum. We do this back and forth. We have our primitive brain that is what is driving the craving for our brownie. What happens is that our primitive brain is screaming, I want the brownie, I want the brownie, I want the brownie. And honestly, when your brain is just screaming, when you're arguing back and forth, it is easy to just give into that primitive brain. One of the tools that has been most helpful for me is imagining that this primitive brain you have is a toddler. And most of my listeners know I have young children right now, they are five, three and nine months old. And we have a lot of big feelings in our household, and we try to practice positive parenting. We acknowledge and talk to our kids about their feelings and allow them to express their feelings in a safe way. It is a common situation in our household that especially our three-year-old and a five-year-old will have tantrums at times. And if you're a parent or if you're around young children, often you know that sometimes tantrums happen in response to what may seem like the most ridiculous things. So let me give you a fun example or a funny example from our household. Our three-year-old is the most loving and cuddly child. His love language, 100% is physical touch. He's so sweet. And if you have won his affection, you will 100% know it because he is going to respond with all of the hugs and snuggles and kisses, and that is great, but it also has its downsides. For example, he has the urge to walk up to a stranger's dog and give it a hug or walk up to say a wild goose and try to hug it. In our old neighborhood, we had these resident geese that lived in the pond next to our house, and they were mean as geese are. And if you've ever been close to a goose before, you know that those things are mean. Little buggers, they're hissing, they're pretty aggressive. And our three-year-old decided that he loved the geese and he wanted to hug one. So we are out for a walk and he saw a goose and all of the sudden he has his arms spread wide and he is walking intentionally towards the goose. And I stop him and asked him, buddy, do you wanna hug the goose? And he's like, yes. And I say, sweetheart, you can't hug a goose. It's not safe. And you could see his entire face turn upside down, this giant frown, and he starts sobbing, "But I want hug goose" and just uncontrollably sobbing. Quite literally, he laid down on the sidewalk just sobbing. And as a parent, there are a lot of ways in which you can handle that situation. And I'm not going to debate pros and cons of different parenting styles. That is not my area of expertise, but I will share how I chose to manage the situation and how this can apply to you and your cravings. When a child is in full on meltdown mode, there is no way you can try to logic with or reason with your child. If you say it's not safe to hug a goose, he's just going to respond with, but I wanna hug the goose. And if you reply well, it's not safe. You've set yourself up for a conversation in which now you are trying to argue back and forth with this toddler human whose brain is not capable of using logic or reason, especially in this moment in which they're tantruming. So this is like having the resistance to a craving that back and forth that you have about a brownie. No, you can't have a brownie. It's not in your diet plan. Well, it looks so good. Well, I'm on a diet, I can't have it, but I bet it tastes so good. You cannot logic with this tantruming primitive brain, I have learned as a parent that trying to logic with my child who is in emotional distress, it is not going to work. So instead I talk to him like this. Oh buddy, you're feeling really sad. Yeah, you really wanted to hug the goose. Yeah, it's really frustrating when NAMI says no. Yeah. And all of a sudden I can see quite literally before my eyes as this emotional meltdown dissipates, his frown starts to melt away from his face. He has had his feeling, his feelings acknowledged. We've named his feelings, and he gets the opportunity to work through his feelings. And that's it. It's that simple. We don't have to come up with some sort of creative solution. We don't have to find a way to hug a stuffed animal goose or something like that. And I do wanna come back to that later. But coming back to you and your brownie, imagine that your primitive brain is a toddler and it is throwing a tantrum because it wants the brownie, but I want the brownie. And instead of fighting with yourself, creating all of that resistance to actually allow your emotion and talk through yourself, talk through that feeling. I see you're having a craving. It's just a craving. You really want that brownie. You are sad because your food plan doesn't include brownies. To use your kind, gentle, loving voice the way you would talk to another human being, the way you would talk to your child and just acknowledge it's okay, you're having a craving, you're really upset. It's amazing how talking to yourself in that way can help you to process the emotion. I do this all the time pretty frequently, sometimes even out loud. I'm sure that walking through the grocery store, there are people who have heard me talking to myself and thought that woman is mentally ill. Usually it will stay inside my head as internal dialogue. But if in state, if it's staying inside her head, you need to be really intentional to have those thoughts as if you were speaking them so that you are actually taking a moment to process, to allow yourself to acknowledge the feeling and process the feeling. And this can be such a beautiful and loving tool to help yourself through the craving. Now, what I want to warn you is that you need to be really careful about the voice with which you use. Many of us have an inner mean girl or an inner mean boy who tries to motivate us through negativity. And this might look like shame name calling, beating yourself up. You might think that this works because you've done this before and you've gotten results. And I will warn you, getting results. The short term is not the goal. The goal is getting long-term results. And if your goal is to have long-term results, learning how to talk yourself or talk to yourself in a way that is loving and kind in a way that you would want to talk to yourself for the rest of your life and feel good about it, that is going to be the key. Because when you're mean and nasty to yourself, it feels really terrible and it sets you up to fail because why would you ever want to be in a diet if it means feeling shame and being called awful names all the time by yourself nonetheless, of course you would call it quits. So if that inner voice starts to speak really negatively, I want you to check yourself. If your inner voice is saying things like, you're so fat, you don't deserve a brownie, you are on a diet, you need to stop it. Why would you even be thinking about that? You have no self-control. Hold on. Many of us I'm sure have had these moments, I cer, I certainly have. And whether that's in the context of dieting or playing a sports game or on a work project, it doesn't matter that negative voice is not helping you and it is certainly not helping you to get the long-term results that you are looking for. If you disagree with me on this, that is totally fine. I have debated this point with countless people, and in my experience with hundreds of patients I have seen that when people can work past that inner mean girl voice to start using their gentle, loving voice, that believe it or not, they actually start to enjoy the weight loss process. Losing weight no longer feels terrible, but actually wonderful and loving and kind. When your inner voice is this kind gentle voice, you can talk to yourself in a nurturing way, right? Like the way you would talk to any other human, the way you would talk to a child, to learn how to talk yourself through a craving. Now, I do wanna talk about other ways to process the craving. Whether we are talking about parents trying to reason with their tantruming, toddlers, or whether you're talking about ourselves trying to work through that craving. Sometimes we try to compromise to distract ourselves, and it sounds like a really great solution, but the reality is it doesn't actually help us to learn so that we can meet our goals. So back to the example of my toddler wanting to hug a goose when we let we talk about letting him process his emotion, letting him have his moment when he's really sad because he wants to hug the goose and I won't let him. An alternative is trying to compromise to say, if I said to my toddler, okay, we'll just go and buy you a stuffed animal goose and you can hug that goose whenever you want to. Well, that sounds like a reasonable solution. It actually doesn't help at all. Because what happens instead is that you don't teach your toddler how to process the emotion. You're just diverting attention away from the problem. If you want your toddler to be happy all the time and you try to distract them rather than dealing with their feelings, you are setting them up for really having challenges lifelong. And if every time you set them up to feel a negative emotion and instead distract them, redirect them, you were teaching them, it's not okay to feel negative emotions and you're gonna end up with a house full of stuffed animals or random toys or things that you bought to try to distract them. Or worse, maybe you're distracting them with a cookie or a piece of candy and you teach them to eat when they feel a negative emotion, which ironically is one of the most common things I talk to with my patients. And just notice if this type of behavior is happening, you don't have to beat yourself up about it. If you're offering food to your child when they're feeling sad, it's likely because you were taught to use food when you were feeling sad. So let's go back to you. You're craving a brownie. You know that's not on your food plan. Instead of processing the emotion, you decide to distract yourself. So instead of eating the brownie, you start Googling how to make a healthy brownie. And now when you're in the kitchen, you're making black bean brownies or pumpkin brownies or whatever. And I wanna caution you, that doesn't get you any closer to learning how to process your emotions, how to take charge, how to feel like you're not at the mercy of your cravings, like you have this sweet tooth that runs your body and you must bow down to the almighty sweet tooth regardless of what your goals are for yourself. Notice if these type of thoughts are coming up for you. If you are prickling right now, can you use us instead as an opportunity to get curious to ask yourself, what if cravings are optional? Is it possible I could learn how to process my cravings if this is something that interests you? If you've been on a dozen different diets, feeling at the mercy of your cravings, this is the work you need. If you live in Illinois or Virginia where I am licensed to practice medicine, I would love to see you as a patient in my telemedicine based weight loss practice. Please visit my website at That's www S-A-R-A-H-S-T-O-M-B-A-U-G-H-M-D dot com, and fill out the form on the individual visits page to get in touch with me. Thanks so much for joining me today. I'll see you all soon. Bye-bye.
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