Food Cravings: The Real Deal

05/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Okay, I admit it, I am a big 'ole baby. As my adored sister in law once pointed out to me about herself, completely without shame: "I want what I want, when I want it!"

Hmm, I thought. Am I any different? Somehow I had been able to pretend to myself for some of my adult life, that I was not in fact a big ole' baby. (Those who know me well were never fooled.) Faced with Carolyn's matter of fact attitude about her true self, I felt less ashamed to face the truth about myself. I realized that in fact, there are times when I am not very mature and totally "want what I want when I want it!"

What I do with that impulse and intensity is another story. As I say to my "people," you get to think and feel whatever you want in the privacy of your own head. It is your behavior that counts. Might as well think through the result of said behavior and pick the negative you prefer to live with. No benefit in getting 'all unconscious', acting as though the consequences live on another planet since they land on you whether you think about them or not.

I mused on this all day yesterday after I saw Kirstie Alley on the Today Show, speaking about the weight loss supplement she is touting on her new reality show as we get to watch her lose weight. Again.

Not that I love vindication, but I predicted that she would have trouble maintaining her weight loss in 2005 when I was interviewed for InTouch Weekly. Only because of the high statistic that indicates the difficulty people have maintaining weight loss. It is much easier to lose weight, than to make the necessary psychological and behavioral shifts that make it last.

Ms. Alley was saying on the show that her natural supplement takes away CRAVINGS. Of course that is fantastic. However, what concerns me is that we are always trying to figure out ways to eradicate the WANT, THE CRAVING and are unrealistic about expecting cravings or the wish for a particular food, drug, cigarette, etc., you fill in the blank with something you know you wish for that you can't have, or probably if you have it, should have in minimal doses. We are set up for failure, because there is an underlying wish/promise: This time, with this plan, it will be EASY. You won't be uncomfortable because you won't CRAVE what you can't have. Oh yeah, you are thinking appropriately, on what planet does that exist? It is human nature to want what we can't have!

I don't want to minimize the physiological aspects of certain addictions and cravings. There are real biological aspects to this, and they are not to be ignored. But we do know that if food only had physiological pathways, without any emotional and behavioral aspects, we would 'fill up' and be on our merry way.

The psychological aspect of cravings has to be approached head on. To expect that one will never have cravings is totally unrealistic and sets Kirstie and the rest of the dieting community up for failure.

After all, if you are supposed to not crave what you love the most, what does that say about you?

So I propose a different way to think about cravings. Expect them. Try to minimize them by making sure you are certainly physically not hungry. But don't feel ashamed of wanting them intensely. That is the first step. IF you can come to terms with the intensity of the wish, the desire and the impulse without any shame, you may give yourself some other options. Most dieters relapse because they have one slip. Then they feel frustrated and incompetent and have difficulty going back to the structure they were using that was helping them to lose weight. You never regain weight from one time that you gave yourself what you totally crave. If you ignore it and feel like you failed, you are less likely to be able to handle the next craving that comes along. Allow for the intensity of the want, without any negativity associated with it. Just let it be. Think of other things that you want that you don't give yourself. Approach this similarly. The intensity of the feeling will shift by tomorrow. I promise you. If you choose to give in to your craving, think it through, pick the end result you want to sit with, and move on. DON'T' EXPECT TO NOT WANT WHAT YOU HAVE TOLD YOURSELF DOESN'T' WORK WELL FOR YOU.

Complete deprivation never works. But to pretend that you won't sometimes want what you can't or shouldn't have, is not life. Let's get real.

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