Hunger, Cravings, and the Desire to Eat: Linda

During our diet group today, we talked a lot about differentiating among hunger, cravings, and the desire to eat.  The rule of thumb is that true hunger is what you feel when you’ve fasted for several hours and your stomach is empty; a craving is a physiological and emotionally intense urge to eat; and the desire to eat comes when you are not particularly hungry but eating because there is food around (discussed on Day 11 of The Beck Diet Solution).  For most dieters these three things can be difficult to tell apart, especially if they have a lifetime of confusing cravings and desire with hunger.

Linda has been having trouble with this lately. She reported today that she has been feeling very hungry lately, even though her eating has generally been the same.  We asked her whether she often feels hungry an hour or two after a meal; she thought about it and said yes.  Chances are Linda is confusing hunger at these times with either cravings or the desire to eat.  We discussed with Linda an experiment she can try which will help her get a better understanding of what true hunger really feels like.  One day this week she will skip lunch (if her doctor okays it) and rate every hour, between breakfast and dinner, how hungry she feels (Day 12).  This is an important experiment because it will prove to Linda three very important things:

1. What true hunger feels like.

2. That hunger comes and goes

3. That she CAN tolerate being hungry

Learning this about hunger will be invaluable for Linda and is one of the many tools that will help her keep the weight off for the rest of her life.

Lemon Cake: Carolyn

Carolyn has pretty much mastered the skill of working any food into her diet.  Unlike a lot of dieters, she doesn’t have foods that are completely off-limits, and she doesn’t have certain foods that she labels either, “good” or “bad.”  Instead, she has come to realize that any food can be eaten, as long as it’s worked into a daily plan (discussed on Day 2 of The Beck Diet Solution). 

lemon-cake.jpgOne of Carolyn’s favorite desserts is a special lemon cake she only buys at one store that she doesn’t get to very often.  Carolyn had thought she would go to this store on Friday and then plan the cake into her meal plan for Saturday, as a weekend treat.  However, Carolyn instead ended up going to the store and purchasing her lemon cake on Thursday, not Friday.  When she got home with the cake, Carolyn knew both that she would be very tempted by it and that she hadn’t planned to eat it until Saturday.  That night she was having all sorts of sabotaging thoughts that were urging her to eat the cake, “It’s ok to have just a small piece; it won’t really matter; it’s so good I can hardly resist.” (Day 25) Carolyn recognized, however, that even though she was craving it, it was important to not eat the cake, and not just because it would put her over her calorie limit for the day.  If she gave in and ate the cake, she would weaken her resolve to resist cravings in the future. However, if she answered back to her sabotaging thoughts and didn’t give into her craving, she would build both her resolve to resist future cravings and the confidence to know that she can withstand them (Day 13). 

Carolyn went immediately into the kitchen and put the cake on top of the refrigerator where she wouldn’t easily see it.  She also went and read her Advantages List and reminded herself why it was so important for her to resist the cake and lose weight.  She firmly told herself, “No choice, I am not going to eat the cake,” and within in minutes, her craving diminished.  After Carolyn used these techniques to strengthen her resolve, it was no problem for her to resist the cake on Friday as well.  She ate a piece on Saturday exactly as she had planned, and felt extremely happy and proud about it.

Standing Firm: Maria

It was Maria’s daughter’s birthday last week, so over the weekend Maria threw a sleepover party for her and her friends.  Maria knew that there would be a lot of tempting food around all evening and night and so she sat down ahead of time and planned out what and how much she would eat (discussed on Day 16 of The Beck Diet Solution).  Maria decided that the best way to approach this situation was to make sure she had lower calorie versions of the regular party food.  For herself she bought fat free hotdogs to eat instead of regular ones, a snack size bag of microwave popcorn instead of a buttery full-size bag, and 100-calorie packs of the same kind of cookies. 

For the most part everything went according to plan during the party.  Maria was able to enjoy her scaled-down version of the party food and didn’t feel deprived because she had prepared for the situation so well (Day 30).  However, there was one snag when Maria came face to face with a big bowl of gummy bears – a food she hadn’t anticipated wanting at all.  She suddenly developed a strong craving to eat them, and all at once the struggle started in her mind.  “It went back and forth,” Maria said, “like an angel and a devil on each shoulder.”  She had thoughts like, “It’s ok to eat the [unplanned] gummy bears because it’s a celebration; I really want it; it will just be one.”  She countered those sabotaging thoughts by telling herself, “It’s not ok to eat unplanned food.  Every time I eat something I’m not supposed to, it reinforces that bad habit.  Every time I resist unplanned food, it reinforces the good habit and increases the chance I will resist in the future.”  (Day 13). 

After a long struggle, Maria finally made the firm decision that she was absolutely not going to eat any gummy bears.  She went immediately to her refrigerator where she had posted her Advantages List (Day 1) and read it to remind herself of just why it was so important to her not to eat unplanned food.  As soon as the decision not to eat was made, Maria said that her craving immediately began to diminish and the urge to eat gummy bears eventually subsided.  This was an incredibly important experience for Maria because it showed her that cravings eventually pass and she doesn’t need to eat to get rid of them, and that she is strong and can be confident in the future of her ability to withstand uncomfortable cravings.

Overcoming Cravings: Diana

vendingmachine012.gifThis afternoon Diana had a really strong craving for something sweet.  She knew it was a craving and not hunger because she had just finished eating her usual lunch (discussed on Day 11 of The Beck Diet Solution).  Labeling this strong urge as a “craving” helped Diana to realize that she didn’t need to eat, and that in fact it was important for her not to eat so she could prove to herself that she didn’t have to give in to cravings (Day 13). 

The first thing Diana did was to eliminate the struggle over whether or not she would go to the vending machine and buy some candy.  She firmly told herself, “NO CHOICE, I am not going to eat.”  She imagined what it would feel like five minutes later if she did give in.  She pictured herself feeling guilty and weak, and saw herself stepping on the scale and gaining weight.  She then thought about how she would feel five minutes later if she didn’t give in – and she saw herself feeling happy and in control, and losing weight this week.  To ensure that the latter happened, Diana also pulled out her card that listed all of the reasons she wanted to lose weight (Day 1). She realized that getting all the benefits of weight loss that were listed on the card was much more important to her than the momentary pleasure of eating something sweet.  She then immediately immersed herself in work and after several minutes, she realized that the craving had passed.

We discussed with Diana how great it was that she had this craving and didn’t give into it.  Because she was able to stand firm, Diana proved to herself that while cravings can be uncomfortable, they certainly won’t kill her and she doesn’t need to eat to get rid of them.  Diana is extremely proud that she didn’t give in and realizes that each time she withstands cravings, it will become easier and easier to do so next time.

Movie Theater Popcorn: Brenda

popcorn.gifBrenda loves going to the movies, partly because she loves movie theater popcorn.  In the past, she would get a large tub of popcorn every time she went – even when she was trying to diet.  Brenda would say to herself,  “It’s ok to eat this because I’m at the movies. Everyone is eating popcorn.”  Just as people give themselves permission to overeat at parties or on special occasions (“It’s ok to eat this. Everyone else is, and besides, I’m celebrating”), Brenda was fooling herself in thinking it was ok to eat popcorn just because she was at the movies (discussed on Day 19 of The Beck Diet Solution).  After she joined our group, Brenda realized that she had just been fooling herself and that there doesn’t have to be a connection between the movie theater and eating popcorn (Day 26).  

A few weeks after Brenda started carefully planning and monitoring her eating (Day 15), she went again to the movies but didn’t plan to eat any popcorn. However, when she got there, she found herself overwhelmed by the smell and the sound of people eating one of her favorite foods, so she gave into her craving and bought popcorn.  We looked at this experience to see what Brenda could learn from it and decided that next time she went to the movies, she would plan in advance to have popcorn, knowing that when she got there she would really want it (Day 16). 

Brenda went to the movies again and she indeed had planned in advance to have some popcorn.  But because it is so caloric, she didn’t get to eat as much as she wanted and still felt vaguely unsatisfied.  Brenda realized that she either had to come to terms with the limited amount she could eat, or give it up.  Brenda decided on the latter, knowing she’d rather spend her calories on something more satisfying.  The next time Brenda went to the movies, she read her Advantages List (Day 1) and although she was tempted by the smell, once she firmly told herself “NO CHOICE” (Day 13) the craving for popcorn passed and Brenda watched the movie in peace. 

Brenda was extremely proud of herself for resisting popcorn and gave herself lots of credit for her ability to withstand the craving (Day 4).  She has now been to the movies three more times and has easily passed on popcorn each time. 

Getting Through Hard Times: Maria

Week 27 of our Diet Group and our dieters are finally returning to a normal schedule and putting the holiday season firmly behind them.  In our meeting on Monday we talked about the importance of preparing for the hard times.  Most of the time dieting is pretty easy and doesn’t take much effort.  But every once in a while it can get very difficult, due to a particularly strong craving (discussed in Day 13 of The Beck Diet Solution), a situation in which you can’t control the food, such as while traveling (Day 32), or being surrounded by tempting food, such as at a party or restaurant (Day 30).  It is for such times we are trying to prepare our dieters, so that they can be in these situations and handle them with relative ease.

cheese.jpgMaria had a very hard week.  Her daughter was ill and so Maria has been up many nights tending to her. In addition to the stress of a sick child, Maria has also been very sleep-deprived.  Consequently, she found herself again having cravings for foods like cheese (a problem food for her in the past), which she hasn’t craved in a quite a while (Day 33).  “The cheese was literally calling out to me,” Maria says.  But did she answer the calling? “No, I knew it was just a craving and that I didn’t have to give into it,” Maria answered.  By labeling it a “craving” and differentiating it from actual hunger, Maria, even stressed and tired, was able to see that her desire wasn’t an emergency and she didn’t have to give into it (Day 11).  Maria reports that she held firm and didn’t eat any cheese, and is so happy that she kept her eating under control even in these stressful circumstances.  Maria lost 3 pounds this week.