Home It's All Mental A Few Thoughts on Cravings, Deprivation and Indulging

A Few Thoughts on Cravings, Deprivation and Indulging

by Erika Nicole Kendall

If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s this: the more I try to deny myself access to something, the more desirable that something becomes. Be it cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, brussel sprouts… whatever. If I deny myself access to it for long enough, the more desirable it becomes.

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person wired that way.

Depriving myself of something, in a sense, means that even though I “reeeeeeeeeally want” something, I’m still saying “no.” This isn’t just a simple “I’d like to have it.” This is an “OMG I WANT IT AND THIS ISNT FAIR DAMN IT!” craving. That kind of compulsion is strange and it means that something else may very well be behind the craving – like a sugar addiction, perhaps? – that needs to be addressed.

Isn’t this part of what makes dieting so silly, though? Not only do you not address the real issue (why the craving exists), and not only do you deprive yourself of something you want, in most cases you’re depriving yourself of lots of the things you need. Like, well, food. C’mon – grapefruit is awesome and all… but I couldn’t imagine eating only grapefruit for breakfast and lunch and then having “a sensible dinner.” Substitute grapefruit for an [insert brand name] shake and, well… the same thing applies.

Deprivation – and by default, dieting – simply don’t work for me. I also have to admit that I, personally, don’t crave things like cookies, cupcakes, pies, donuts… really, I don’t have cravings at all anymore.

I wasn’t always this way, though. I used to be ruled by my cravings. Back when I found myself craving things like the entire bag of goldfish, I never considered why I would have such a ridiculous craving. I mean, really. An entire bag of goldfish?

That’s not a craving. That’s a catastrophe.

But there, I’d stand – I didn’t even sit down for ’em – with the bag in one hand and a ton of goldfish in the other, pouring them down my throat. It was an overall lose-lose situation for me.

For me, my cravings were borne of my emotional eating. I craved something that would “make me feel better” because there were things that I couldn’t/wouldn’t control in my life that were making me feel worse. Mind you, we all have things in our lives that we cannot control that make us feel bad – say, a tough situation at work – but using food to self-medicate has much more harmful side-effects besides “oh, I’m gaining weight.”

As someone who’s still learning about her relationship with food, if I find myself craving something then I have a personal dialogue with myself before and while I’m eating. I think to myself, “Do I really want this?” followed by “Why do I want this?” and if my answer isn’t sufficient or if it’s clearly just a case of me trying to talk myself into doing something I don’t want to do, I notice that.

I mean, even at my most manipulative, I’m still aware of when I’m trying to manipulate myself into doing something when I’m not sure it’s the best decision. It usually sounds something like a commercial for whatever product I’m craving at that time. “C’mon… you deserve…” or “It’s been a long time since you’ve enjoyed…” are two phrases that come to mind, here.

When I catch myself being manipulative, I ask myself… do I really want this? And I won’t lie. Sometimes, the answer is an emphatic “YES!” and I’ll indulge. But knowing that I’m eating because of a craving – no matter the size – and not for something that I’d personally consider to be a legitimate reason…. knowing that? It ruins the indulgence for me. I’m serious.

If I decide that I’m craving a croissant from the bakery around the corner, and I’ve set my mind on it… it does me no personal or mental good to tell myself “no.” I know myself. But knowing that this is simply a craving and not anything substantial makes it hard for me to enjoy the croissant… and it makes it hard to ever crave it again.

But what happens when, after all of that, I still indulge anyway? What happens when I decide to bite into that croissant? I think long and hard about whether or not I’m fueling an addiction. I think – for even longer – about whether or not I’m doing myself a favor by eating this. I think about whether or not, after I’ve thoroughly dissected my logic behind biting into it in the first place, I even really wanted it. Usually, the answers fall in line with the “I should’ve never done this” camp.

Am I shaming myself a bit, here? Of course. But, as I’ve written before:

To me, shame is inevitable. If you’re in a position of learning, you will feel like that same learning – that position of being the student instead of the teacher in regards to something “that should be common sense” – is highlighting a shortcoming.. and you may feel ashamed of that. I know I did. Shame brought on by someone guilting you – and trust me, you know it’s malicious because you can’t identify the person as someone coming from a place of love – is unacceptable.

If I’m in the position of learning about myself and my cravings, I’ll inevitably feel some kind of way about learning when and where I fall short. But since “knowing is half the battle,” this is the best path for me. It’s a path I could never embark upon if I lived a life of continual deprivation.

My cravings for croissants? Gone. Cupcakes? Gone. Cookies? Gone. Realizing the “why” behind my cravings, learning the reasons behind those cravings, addressing those “issues” and accepting the consequences of those indulgences has taught me far more than struggling for years with trying to develop some sense of “will power.”

And that’s another story entirely.

What about you? How do you deal with “deprivation?” How do you handle cravings?

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Milaxx March 17, 2011 - 12:51 PM

For me it was less about emotional eating. I found I had to address what my body wanted. For example I gave up soda and coffee, but increased the amount of fruit I eat. I limited my intake of gluten as well. It has drastically curbed my sweet tooth. I think my body was craving natural sugars and I was feeding it junk.

I used to think I was an emotional eater, but a few weeks ago that changed. I had a bad day. I said whatever to the diet, and went a bought a half pint of ice cream and a big fat brownie. A few month ago I would have been in heaven, like Scoopy Doo getting a scoopy snack. This time, nothing, well worse than nothing. I actually sat back after I ate it and thought about what I could have had instead. A strawberry mango rice milk smoothie would have tasted just as smooth and creamy, yet would have been 2 fruits and a bit of protein. I could have added a bit of flax seed powder and gotten a bit of fiber as well. I realized my juicing and smoothie making was becoming a way of life and I really no longer wanted unhealthy food binges.

I do still on occasion want chocolate or ice cream. The difference is now I can have that without binging. I can eat just one piece of chocolate & be satisfied or instead of an entire container of Ben & Jerry’s I can buy a mini Ciao Bella (or Häagen-Dazs ) and be happy without killing my diet.

Monica June 3, 2013 - 12:12 AM

A couple years ago, I was very committed and lost 35 pounds. I worked out at least 5 days a week and totally changed my eating habits. I noticed that if I just denied myself the things I craved, the cheat would be a big cheat. Then I told myself that I wouldn’t deny myself these things, but would do them in moderation. Although it was taken me a couple years, I put the weight back on…..slowly.

If I wanted some cake, it would be a small slither or bite. If it was fries, it would be only 10. Even if I wanted to “taste” some soda, it would be a swallow and nothing more. My cravings were really high during my PMS cycle, but I recently had a hysterectomy. Right now there are some things going on with me, and my eating is out of control. Trying to get myself motivated to get this weight back off.

Alovelydai March 17, 2011 - 1:05 PM

I’m only 6 wks into my clean eating lifestyle and I admit wholeheartedly that I don’t have cravings anymore either. I thought I couldn’t live w/o cheese crackers…found a 4 ingredient recipe…made them…ate a small handful and although they were delicious they didn’t hit the same spot for me. That was a month ago. I love a great piece of chocolate, but only a piece. I’ve indulged about once a week in the last month & a half.

But the truth is that once I understood that I had a food addiction I tackled it like any other addiction. An alcoholic can’t have a sip and I can’t eat one chip…or fry…or wing…or cookie…or you get the point. LOL!

Chi Chi March 17, 2011 - 1:52 PM

I can honestly say that since I have started clean eating, my craving for chocolate has started and what’s so funny is that I never craved sweets before. I never really had a sweet tooth. Prior to eating cleaning, I ate out almost everyday. My problem was never with sweets, it was with fried foods, heavy on the starch in large portions. Of course the way I eat resembles nothing of what I used to do before, except now I want chocolate. Not the frappacino, the breakfast sandwiches from McDonald’s, Chick-fil-a or strawberry frozen margarita’s, just a piece of chocolate.

I eat a good serving of fruits daily, but that want for chocolate is still there. At work there is a bucket with fun size chocolates, I usually have one every other day. 3 months ago, I never even looked at it.

I kind of attribute it to the junk I used to eat being full of sugar and now that I don’t eat it, there is a sugar craving. What do you think?

milaxx March 17, 2011 - 3:23 PM

I say eat your chocolate. None of that cheap stuff. Get some Godiva dark chocolate squares and put them in the freezer. Plan your daily food intake to allow yourself a few bites. It’s never about deprivation, it’s about eating in moderation.

I love french fries. I’d rather give up bread in order to fit them into my diet. I don’t like ketchup or salt so sometimes I treat myself to an order of fries with no guilt.

Brent Edwards October 18, 2013 - 10:20 AM

There’s an easy way to both have chocolate and be virtuous:

Get cacao nibs — pieces of raw cacao beans. They’re what chocolate is made from.

They’re rather bitter, so they need to be paired with something sweeter. I mix mine with my breakfast oatmeal. If you make smoothies, that works well, too.

Best wishes!

Jeannine March 17, 2011 - 3:19 PM

Hi Erika,

This is my first reply post on your blog. I’ve been devouring your site for the past few weeks. It’s informative, lol funny, inspiring, and I find myself having many ‘ahha’ moments from reading your similar journeys on the path of health and fitness.

I am in the season of Lent, which is a perfect time to reflect on the ‘why’ I crave something and the ‘hows’ of keeping away from it. I’m a notoriously stubborn person, so I often ask myself how is it that I am so grossly overweight? Well, the answer to that is easy. I am also notoriously LAZY. For Lent I am sacrificing all ‘bad’ carbs and refined sugars. In the first two weeks of Lent I have gone full blown warrior cold turkey and cut out ALL ‘bready’ carbs, and empty sugars. I am eating a very strict ‘clean’ diet. Loosely following South Beach guidelines. I’ve never eaten so many veggies in all my 30+ years, cumulative!

Within the first 48 hours I was on my knees before the Lord saying, ‘Why did I DO this, I don’t think I can make it!’ I quickly realized that so much of my kitchen and pantry were FILLED with the very same things I was giving up. I did a FULL overhaul on my shelves. I pulled out a large black trash bag and went Rambo on my kitchen! When I was done (3 hours later) my kitchen was BARE! Seriously bare! And I was RAVENOUS… I peeked in my overflowing trash bag and was overly tempted to just have one more roll or cereal bar, or personal size pack of microwave popcorn. Instead I tied the bag up and quickly ran in outside before the temptation was too great.

In the first 48 hours I was presented with so many episodes of temptation. After every one, which I successfully overcame, the next was less severe. January, I started this lifestyle change, month by month. Each new month I added a layer; get knowledge about healthy lifestyle choices, reevaluate and slowly change eating habits, hire a personal trainer, etc. Now in my 3rd month of change the cravings are STILL an ever constant battle. This is where my stubbornness shines. I look at whatever I’m craving and I evaluate it. I’ve become very analytical in the process of change. I ask 3 questions: ‘Why do I want this?’ ‘What will happen if I eat it?’ ‘Is it worth it, after all I’ve already sacrificed?’ If I am not happy with ANY of the answers to these questions, I don’t eat it. Usually I’m not happy with 2 of the answers.

I believe there is a difference between a craving and ‘having a taste for something’. Maybe I am fooling myself. But a craving, to me, is potentially dangerous. I’d rather, like you, on occasion allow myself to indulge every now and again, so I don’t binge later. In the season of Lent I am really meditative of my cravings and their meaning. It is a wonderful time of self discovery. But I am not controlled by my craving, I control it.

Be forever blessed, Ms. Erica, and thank you for all you contribute to our lives! =D

jasmine March 17, 2011 - 6:15 PM

i dont always win on my cravings… but i’m doing better. i just try to avoid as long as possible and with my attention span, it will usually go away. if i’m still sitting there dying, i try to get something with the same or a counter acting taste. for instance for sweets- fruit will usually do the trick. i’ve learned i usually only have salty cravings when i’m not up on my water intake for the day. chocolate cravings i havent been able to break yet (i’m already a godiva dark chocolate fiend, so i cant keep it in the house). with those i try to do some physical activity that will make me feel ridiculously guilty for ruining with a brownie or chocolate bar.

like i said, i dont always win & its not always easy (i’ve had a chips & salsa craving every afternoon for the last 3 days) but i’m getting much better at identifying the “why” before i give into “now!”

lova March 18, 2011 - 8:42 AM

great timing! i’m personally dealing with this ‘ret nah’.

as you well know, the monkey on my back is sugar (in all forms). the lesson i’ve taught myself (through much trial and error) is that i am unable — currently — to eat the things that i would normally crave. those things are triggers for…MORE of them. which, is allbaddotcom.

i’m hopeful that the desire for such will disappear forever at some point. interestingly enough, when i’m in the zone and making good choices, i don’t think about my ‘cravings’. it’s only when i’ve allowed myself to ‘have a taste’ that the out-of-control spiral begins. #gahlee

thanks for this post…needed it!

DaniBel March 18, 2011 - 10:03 AM

I can’t say that I really have cravings. I’ve never been a snacker. I’ve passed up chips and candy for years, even before I got serious about my health (which hasn’t been that long). I like gourmet meals. I love to cook. I’ve found that if I plan my meals in advance and spend all Saturday cooking healthy restaurant quality meals to eat during the week, there’s no room for craving unhealthy food. I bring sprouted grain english muffins for breakfast, fruit and yogurt for snacks and I’ve got yummy homemade/gourmet goodies to look forward to for lunch (everybody at work is so super jealous). When I get home, I exercise and then have a salad for dinner. I eat so often that there’s really no room to crave anything. The problem arises when I’m unprepared. That’s when Dunkin Donuts and Popeye’s start calling my name. I still love chocolate but it’s never been a daily habit for me. The last bit of chocolate I had was over a month ago to celebrate a new job.

SB May 17, 2011 - 1:25 PM

My last “craving” was ice cream. And, if I am honest, I didn’t crave ice cream at that moment so much as something to sabotage my weight loss efforts. One of my deepest fears is that I will lose the weight and still be unhappy with my body. So long as I am never “that” thin, I can hold off on resolution of questions like whether my cellulite is here to stay.

Dulcinea84 November 16, 2011 - 4:14 AM

thank you for sharing this! this self-sabotage is something that seems to affect every part of life, at least in my experience. i don’t even want the cookie (or the ice cream, or the cake, or whatever), i’m just scared of what would happen if i got what i really wanted. who would i be? would i even recognize myself, and would i be truly satisfied? or would i find something else to dislike about myself? it’s so frustrating.

Elona Washington May 30, 2011 - 6:45 PM

I’m struggling with that too. I know how to make a healthier option, but sometimes, I just don’t feel like it. Or, in another post you made, it’s an emotional decision that made me eat the circus cookies as opposed to the 100 Calorie cookies. I’ve learned not to deprive myself; I just need to learn to eat healthy when I’m on that emotional rollercoaster.

Tiera November 4, 2011 - 2:36 PM

My problem is carbs. I’ve always been a sucker for carbs…Sometimes the craving is small enough to ignore…other times, not so much…I have terrible TERRIBLE midnight cravings. The solution? Go to sleep. Sounds simple…not that simple for a night owl like myself. Sometimes I can sleep easily, but other times, I rely on outside sources to help put me to sleep. Mom used to always say “Just close your eyes.” That has never worked for me. My mind is too restless. So often enough, I find myself awake and agitated because I want that damn croissant! I want that sweet, flaky, soft, melt-in-my-mouth goodness. I’m smiling as I type. Mmm! I tell you, those croissants ARE THE DEVIL!!!! So finally, I go to the kitchen, pull out the container with the croissants in it, and stare at it…wondering if I really wanna feel the guilt later :-/. The good thing is that the croissants are homemade using authentic ingredients. The bad thing is that they can still make me fat…So once I realize that I’ve been staring at the container for a long time, I just put it back and go back to bed. The thing is, If I have to deeply think about whether I want a particular type of food (usually because I’m having doubts), then the craving is not bad enough and I don’t really need it. I always felt that “thinking long is thinking wrong” in MOST cases. So, weird as it seems, I beat my cravings by…well…staring at the food and having an all out bloodshed war with my mental. The war almost always ends with “logic and health” as the winner and “emotions” as the loser. That’s when I simply put the food back.

Tiera November 4, 2011 - 2:37 PM

As a side note, I also sometimes just listen to my stomach. I ask myself “Am I really hungry?” If not, then I just leave it alone.

Mary Ann MacKay December 27, 2011 - 4:43 PM

I can definitely relate to the ineffectiveness of trying to power through cravings, feeling deprived and ultimately guilty and like a failure when I do give in to them in the end.

I also have lost over 150 pounds, and still have the occasional sugar lapse or period of time when I revert to unhealthy eating habits.

Fortunately, I now can get myself back on track quickly, and it gets easier every time.

The best way I have found to eliminate cravings is to increase the amount of healthy food I eat, and to be sure I get the proper balance of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats. If I eat enough good calories I find I really don’t crave the sweets in the insatiable manner I would otherwise.

Sister Mary March 20, 2012 - 2:14 AM

But when I get those sugar cravings courtesy of my PMS? Aww man lol. Not all the time but when it’s tiiiime, I be pouring honey on everything lol. And cookies?! Forget about it! I’m too ashamed to say how I scarf down the cookies lol.

Natasha Kimani January 7, 2013 - 7:32 PM

I think I’m the first Kenyan to post here! tee hee (side bar!) anyway, I was just about to indulge in a midnight snack when I saw this…. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! 10kgs down and 30 more to go!!!! Thanks to you I’ve become a gym and weightlifting addict (although I really need to stop skipping leg day!!). Thank you for the good job you’re doing!! God bless!

Shunda January 24, 2014 - 2:01 AM

Enjoyed this very much – I only allow myself 1 or 2 days out of a month to indulge and that’s if I’ve lost weight as well. I’m learning to control my cravings an basically cut out sugar and processed carbs – started in Nov 2013 and it’s Jan 2014 down 17lbs. Every now and again I’ll have a craving for some bread but then I’ll bring some fruit. My willpower is stronger than I thought. Yay me!!!

Amber June 17, 2015 - 9:34 AM

I do what you do, pretty much; ask myself why I want it and if it’s an emotional craving, if it really will make me feel better. I gained over 50 pounds from stress eating in my 20s, and I’m just starting to get rid of it now. I can’t always talk myself out of indulging, but if I do, I modify how I do it; say, wanting to drive to Costco and get a giant bag of kettle chips turns into walking 40 minutes to get tonkatsu ramen, or changing the size of the bowl I put my junk food into(I’m down to a teacup).

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