4 simple steps you can use to conquer uncontrollable cravings

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • My friend said she has an uncontrollable desire to drink wine every night: two glasses only, but never one.

  • I recall evenings during heavy physical training where I’d ravenously polish off two pieces of fruit and half a pound of chocolate covered almonds.

  • A client told me she had uncontrollable ice cream cravings every evening: a pint at a time. She gave up ever being thin because she had no self-control, “it didn’t matter anyway”.

What do these things have in common?

Some observers might suggest an addiction is at play. This could be true if the eater or drinker agrees the habit is causing problems in their life. It may be worthwhile to invite someone like this to a 12-step meeting.

Alternatively, especially where food binging is involved, I’ve also learned to look one more place.

Beautiful hamburger and home fries. Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash
Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

Short-term fasting (starvation) can cause overwhelming cravings

When we undereat by a large margin early in the day (maybe by skipping breakfast and lunch), our hypoglycemic, semi-starved metabolisms and hind-brain will reflexively drive us to make up the caloric deficit with an uncontrollable binge.

This might also be the reason some drinkers can’t stop at one in the evening, and six drinks is just getting started.

Caution: I’m not arguing that an alcoholic can “fix” their condition by eating breakfast. This is something they should explore with help from their sponsor or an addiction specialist.

I AM saying there are people who over-indulge in the evening simply because they starve themselves all day long.

Could this be you?

How to test if this is the case with you

Assess your BMR compliance:

  1. Go here and calculate your BMR. This is the amount of calories you’d use in a day if you were in a coma, totally sedentary, and it’s about the number most people should eat in a day if they live a typically sedentary office lifestyle. We gain weight over time because we routinely overeat our metabolic caloric need.
  2. Estimate the number of calories you eat on a typical day. You can use food calorie estimation charts like this one, or MyFitnesspal, or SparkPeople, or any other diet tracking tool of your choice.
  3. Estimate the number of calories you burn in a day due to work and/or exercise using a web page or a wearable device.
  4. If your daily deficit is greater than 500 calories (after you account for more calories burned from exercise), you are running a risk of hypoglycemic cravings. See the equation below for an example.

The equation

  • Calories Consumed in a day –
  • BMR (calories needed for survival) –
  • Calories burned through activity =
  • Surplus or (Deficit)

Example before

  • Maria is always in a hurry and believes consistently restricting calories helps her lose weight, so she rarely eats breakfast or lunch. She is a self-described “Oreo addict”, regularly polishing off a tray of Oreos in the evening after a light dinner, for a total daily calories about 2,200.
  • Despite her ability to go without food for most of every day, she doesn’t understand why she has uncontrollable cravings in the evening.
  • As a 205 pound woman at 5’4″ and 39 years old, her BMR = 1,908 calories daily.
  • Maria hates to exercise, so she doesn’t (0 calories burned daily).

2,200 – 1,908 is a calorie surplus about 300 daily, which will yield weight gain of about 2 pounds a month.

Example after

  • When she began eating a small breakfast of 300 calories, containing a macro-nutrient mix of protein, fats, and carbs, plus
  • Lunch about 500 calories containing a mix of protein, fats, and carbs, plus
  • Snack of about 300 calories of fruit, veggies, and a little oily sauce, dip, or nut butter, plus
  • Dinner of 500 calories daily, also containing a mix of protein, fats, carbs, and veggies, her ravenous “Oreo addiction” went away almost immediately. She no longer “needed” the Oreos.
  • With her 1,600 daily caloric intake, still with no activity to speak of, she had a daily deficit around 300 calories, and
  • She began to lose about 2 pounds a month, without suffering.

How to address cravings

  1. Craft a daily eating plan that puts you within 500 calories of your BMR by dinner time (or the time your cravings and ravenous bingeing begins, if it starts before dinner time).
  2. Eat according to your plan.
  3. Notice whether this eating plan severely dents your cravings.
    1. Do the cravings return when you don’t eat according to plan?
    2. Do the cravings return during stressful periods?
  4. Just get back on plan if you get off track.

Failure is only permanent when you quit permanently!

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Hi, I’m Dylan Cornelius.
I was passed over for promotions four times in three years, every time passed over by a peer. My marriage was a wreck. I was obese and my doctor threatened to medicate me if I didn’t lose weight.
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