As anyone who has ever dieted will know there are times when you will feel weak. There are times when you will feel grumpy. There are even times when you feel like a totally different person to who you normally are. This is mainly caused by the lack of nutrients and drained state your body will be in on a constant basis (except on the epitome of happiness also known as cheat day). In my opinion another large factor in dieting that affects your mood and can make you feel unlike yourself is the horrible cravings that occur. Cravings are not just the feeling of wanting some food. They are the feeling of “needing” a certain specific food. It’s as though this is the only food that will make you feel good again. You feel as though you would do anything for that one piece of food that fills your mind and almost hypnotises you. When on a diet the only thing on your mind is food. You watch the clock and count down the minutes until your next bland and boring meal. All the while daydreaming about food that you aren’t allowed. The taste of something different in your mouth can drive you to near insanity. You start to try and justify having these foods. You will say things to yourself like “it won’t hurt having one thing” and “just one bite won’t affect my fat loss”. However one bite will affect your fat loss because it’s never just one bite. As soon as you allow yourself to believe that cheating on your diet is justified you will do it more and more. My philosophy on dieting is as simple as it gets. Write a diet on a piece of paper. If you want some food, read the paper. If that food isn’t on the paper you DO NOT EAT IT!! That goes for even the smallest of nibbles of the healthiest of foods.
Now cravings are very strange in that you never know what you are going to crave when you start a diet. Cravings change almost daily sometimes and can be food you never even used to like that much. The cravings will ALWAYS be foods that are the total opposite of the diet you are following. If for example you are on a low carb, high protein and fat diet then I guarantee you will crave sweets, ice cream and biscuits. If you are on a relatively high carb diet with really low fats then you may crave things like thick juicy burgers or chocolate.
So now for the important part. How do we control these cravings and avoid succumbing to the temptations of them?
Cheat days. Cheat days are extremely important on dieting as they are responsible for increasing leptin levels back to normal and for boosting the metabolism to burn extra calories. Without cheat days your body would go into starvation mode and hold onto body fat. Cheat days are also the most important factor when dieting for your mental health. Without a cheat day to look forward to I doubt anybody could stick to a diet. The knowledge that you weren’t allowed to consume your cravings for potentially a matter of weeks would be soul destroying and cheating on the diet would become inevitable (remember there’s a difference between cheating and having a cheat day). The cheat day allows you to know that you don’t have long to wait until you can satisfy your cravings. Battling the craving with the knowledge that you only have a few days until you can eat that delicious food is 1000 times easier than trying to battle cravings whilst thinking you have weeks of no bad food. It is such a blessing to have a cheat day that on my last diet I found it hard to sleep the night before. It reminded me of being a kid again on Christmas Eve (though I was more excited about cheat food than I was as a kid about presents).
Pretend cheat food. There are foods and drinks that taste like cheat food but aren’t even remotely bad in regards to affecting your diet. Things like diet coke, sugar free jelly and other treats can satisfy your cravings without affecting fat loss. For a few great foods check my sweet treats article.
My personal craving fighting techniques. When it came to cravings for me personally there are a few things that I do to help.
Firstly if I thought of a delicious treat that I wasn’t allowed I would write it down in my log. Keeping a log of your diet on a forum will be the best thing you will ever do for sticking to a diet. The community on the forum will give you support and tell you not to eat it. Whenever I felt like I needed some cheat food and I had justified it to myself that I should eat it I would post it on fit forum. After several people respond and tell me not to eat it I would realise that I was wrong in justifying it and I won’t eat it. This support is invaluable whilst dieting.
Secondly I would go to Tesco with a fellow dieter every single night. This may seem totally bizarre to most people and for some it will have to opposite effect to me. We would wander round looking at all the nice food that we wanted to buy and just think about putting it in our baskets the night before cheat day. Then instead of buying it we would go get a large bottle of diet cherry coke and sit in the car park feeling good about ourselves for not buying the bad food. This is a risky plan though as being in a situation where you can buy and eat that food for most people will lead to just that.
So to anyone that’s dieting now or about to start on a diet I guarantee at some point you will feel these cravings. Try coming up with some tactics to overcome these cravings. Try the techniques stated above. But most importantly whatever happens DO NOT let yourself give in to the cravings. Stay strong and you will come out the other side a stronger person with willpower that 90% of the population don’t have.