How a Change in your Environment can help you Demolish your Cravings

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Change Your EnvironmentPeople sometimes tell me that I ask too many questions.

But so what?

As the old Chinese proverb says:

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

I prefer my foolishness to be temporary.

So I like to ask questions. Good questions. Interesting questions. Questions that make people think and reveal things they typically wouldn’t.

Every now and then I’ll pose a question on the B2F Facebook page in the quest to get a better understanding of how I can serve my readers (you) better with my content.

This stuff helps me gauge what you’re struggling with. What you’re most interested in. Or what you need a little more clarification with to help you along your journey to a better body.

So here was one question I posted recently:

“Which habit do you have that you want to get rid of?”

The answers were somewhat predictable, yet unusually skewed to a common spectrum.

They went something like this…

Eating when I’m not hungry.

Sweets.

Unhealthy snacks ….

Excessive consumption of sugar!

Not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Late night snacking.

Snacking when I am not hungry.

There were plenty more and they were all along the same line of thought. People seem to have a problem with controlling their sugar cravings. Their late night snacking. Their inability to control what they eat and when they eat.

Open all night

So today I wanted to tell you about a few things you can do to prevent sugar cravings and make healthier snack choices.

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Understand Your Cravings

There’s no doubt about it: sugar is addictive.

If you want to read how it affects you on a psychological level, read this.

In the book It Starts with Food, there is a story about a woman who was once heavily addicted to drugs (like Cocaine and stuff). When asked about her eating habits, she said that she found it more difficult to beat her sugar cravings than her addiction to cocaine and heroin.

Let that sink in for a second…

If you’re a sugar fiend, put down those sparkly sugar packs and listen up.

You need to start eliminating sugar from your diet.

Like ASAP.

But I’m not just talking about sweets and sugary drinks.

I’m talking about all forms of carbohydrates.

Why?

Because, at the end of the day, no matter what kind of carbohydrate you consume, whether a lollipop or a bowl of whole grain pasta, it all ends up getting broken down into the same basic sugar molecules.

Eliminating – or at least minimizing – glucose from your diet can literally transform your life, but I’ll save the ridiculously long list of benefits for another post.

The question becomes…

How do we successfully get rid of our sugar cravings?

Change Your Environment

My solution for your sugar cravings and uncontrollable snacking habits is actually quite simple:

Remove them from your environment.

By discarding these nasty elements from your environment, you completely eliminate the possibility of consuming these garbage foods.

A little harsh? Perhaps.

Too simple? Maybe.

Effective? Absolutely!

If you want to successfully get rid of these bad habits, you need to completely revamp your environment.

And you need to take an all-at-once approach.

What does that mean?

It means exactly what it says: we’re going to get rid of everything at once. 

No baby steps or slowly eliminating one thing at a time. That stuff doesn’t work. See what Dallas and Melissa Hartwig had to say in their book It Starts with Food:

Despite what you may believe, habit research shows that dramatic changes are actually easier for us to manage, both physically and psychologically. Conscious decisions are made in the frontal lobe of the brain and require active attention. But habits – automatic behaviors  – take place in other parts of the brain, including the basal ganglia, and require much less cognitive effort.

To establish healthier habits, you need to dedicate yourself to making good decisions until certain behaviors become habits.

And it’s much easier to accomplish that when you completely eliminate the possibility of making bad decisions.

So what constitutes your environment?

Your environment is wherever you spend a good chunk of your time. This means your home. Your workplace. Your car. Your cubicle. Your garage? I don’t know. You get the point.

You need to make sure that these places are completely free of comfort foods.

Not partially clean.

I’m talking about one hundo percent.

This means no snacks in the pantry of your house. No funky jupe-jupes in the glove compartment of your fine ride. No sack of old potato chips in the drawers in your cubicle. No bag of gummy bears sitting next to the remote. 

If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.

By simply removing these things from your environment, you’ll make it much easier for yourself to make healthy and positive food choices. 

And yea sure it will be tough at first. Nothing worth achieving is ever easy.

You’ll still be craving those comfort foods. Your brain will still be looking for that sugar rush and it will tempt you with nice, pulsing releases of dopamine that will have you salivating during every commercial.

And naturally you will try to satisfy those sad, depressing, biologically-driven urges.

But when you reach into your pantry or glove compartment, there won’t be any jupe-jupes or potato chips waiting for you. Sorry. That stuff is long gone. Your brain will be disappointed (it might even cry a little) and it won’t reward you with those same endorphins you used to love so much.

But that’s OK. The brain needs a bit of tough love sometimes. Some good ol’ fashion discipline.

After a few weeks of disappointing experiences, your brain will adjust. It will re-wire its circuitry.

It knows how to do that really well.

Your dopamine levels will normalize. Your receptor sites won’t react the same way at the sight or smell of supernormally tasting, nutrition-depleted foods. 

Your cravings will vanish.

Poof.

What if I NEED to snack on something??

Alright, alright. Sometimes cravings are simply too powerful to ignore.

Remember – they’re more powerful than drugs.

Elimination > Replacement (but still cool)

If you’re struggling to completely eliminate things from your environment, here’s what you can do.

Instead of completely emptying out your environment, you’re going to replace the garbage foods with healthy alternatives

Load your pantry with beef jerkey and coconut oil. Load your fridge with fresh vegetables, fruits, and nut butters. Load your glove compartment and cubicle drawer with organic nuts and seeds.

You can even make your own protein bars and stash them in secret places.

home-made protein bars

Keep in mind that the idea here is NOT to encourage a snacking habit. Snacking sucks. It’s like constant grazing that never gives your hormones a chance to work their magic. 

But hey, if you’re going to graze, you might as well graze on foods that improve your health instead of ones that deteriorate it.

So if you can’t handle the cravings (yet), simply make the necessary replacements. Just make sure you make those replacements in all of your environments, not just one or two. The all-at-once rule still applies! 

Avoiding Relapse

Ever since I moved out of my parent’s house a year ago, I’ve been eating clean.

Like really, really clean.

Why?

Because now I’m in the driver seat. I get to decide what I’m buying. I get to decide what I’m going to put in my fridge. I get to decide what I’m going to prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The decision is in my hands.

And having the ability to control exactly what I have in my own environment (my fridge, my pantry, my cubicle, my car, etc.) has completely changed my eating habits.

And yes I’ll have a craving from time to time. I’m human too, remember?

But that craving is short-lived because my brain understands that it’s a craving that cannot be fulfilled. Those foods that my brain is looking for every now and then simply don’t exist in my apartment.

Game over.

My brain and I move on.

But the game changes when I go back home on the weekend to visit my parents. As hard as I’ve tried to convince my mom to eliminate ALL garbage foods from the house, they’re still lurking. 

And my brain knows that.

It’s like an elephant. It has a long-lasting memory. It knows, from way back in the day, what those super-stimulating foods have to offer. And I’m pushed to have a little bit. I almost have no choice when it’s front of me.

The same can be said for social occasions like going out to bars or restaurants.

I don’t go out to those places as often as I used to.

Sure this makes things somewhat difficult. And even awkward at times. But I’ll live with that. I’d rather make things awkward for five minutes than put myself in a situation where I’m going to make a bad decision.

It comes down to priorities.

So how do you avoid relapse in these situations?

Realistically, if you’re going to avoid relapse, you have one of two options:

  1. Have a support system that encourages you to make good, healthy choices,
  2. Completely avoid situations that put you in a position to make bad choices.

If having a support system is not an option, then your solution is simple:

Avoid situations that allow for bad decision making.

It’s that simple.

If you know for a fact that you don’t have it in you to avoid the cravings and the temptations in social settings, avoid those social occasions.

Don’t put yourself in that position.

The best thing you can do for yourself, however, is convince your friends and family to support you on your journey to a better body. Help them understand that this is important to you. And when it comes time to go out, they won’t mind going out to a place that would allow you to make healthier decisions. 

I obviously don’t want to stop going back to visit my family.

They’re important to me.

And they are also (part of) my support system. My mom understands this and so she makes sure that on the weekends I’m coming over she makes gluten free muffins, replaces yellow potatoes with sweet potatoes, and provides an environment that allows me to make health(ier) choices.

baked sweet potatoes

(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I know you are – thank you!)

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What you can do Today

Change your environment.

ASAP.

As soon as you finish reading this post (and, of course, after leaving a wonderful comment and sharing it with your friends :)), I want you to head over to your pantry and fridge and get rid of the garbage foods. Empty out your glove compartment. When you get to work (or maybe you’re reading this at work), throw out all the foods that you find on your desk or in your drawers.

If (and only if) you need to replace those foods with healthier alternatives, do so.

I encourage you to maintain this new environment for at least 30 days because that’s how long it takes to develop new habits.

During those 30 days, I want you to fight the urge to satisfy your cravings if the opportunities present themselves. Just do it for me!

If you do, I promise you can say goodbye to those nasty cravings.

Good luck!

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Comments

  1. Neil Gribben says:

    Great Post! A truly immensely great post. I have been fully absorbed into a similar regime for about 6 months now. Check out http://www.metaboliceffect.com/the-metabolic-formula/ it pretty much covers everything you’ve just outlined and they encourge exactly the same sort of replacement stategy you outline here. The focus is the impact of diet AND exercise on your body and how too much sugar, starch or salt can have a catastrophic effect on how your body operates at a base metabolic level.

    Now I’ve had to be a little more robust in my personal approach than you Srdjan as my wife and my daughter are largely eating a ‘regular’ diet so temptations are still about the house, but I am succeeding in implementing small dietary changes and I think through leading by example the changes I have effected on myself are now, as they are being adopted, starting to have a positive impact on us all.

    You are right in that there cannot be a half-arsed approach if you want to make big changes then you must embrace the concept fully. Millenia of evolution has not prepared us for our modern lifestyle and it take determination and courage to change things. With escalting waistlines, bollooning BMIs and increasing risks from preventable diseases (diabetes, heart conditions, hypertension etc) it is important that we all take responsibilities for our own health anf that of our loved ones. I did, I just only wish I did it decades ago.

    • Hey Neil, glad you liked the post. I just checked out the metabolic formula (never heard of it before) and it seems like it follows the same principles I believe in.

      I know it can be difficult when you have other parties involved because the “you can’t eat it if it’s not there” principle doesn’t apply anymore. But I think you’re on the right track. Your persistent actions are definitely being noticed and you’re inspiring others with your healthy choices. You’re spreading the virus.

      “It is important that we all take responsibilities for our own health and that of our loved ones.”

      Absolutely! And it’s better now than never, right?

  2. David Cano Riesgo says:

    Fantastic post.

    I had already cleaned my apartment from garbage food long ago, but it is pretty difficult for me to do so in other “spaces”: office, where snack machines cry at you everywhere, parties, social occasions, and so on.

    I do admire your commitment, hope it catches lol

    Cheers David

    • Hey David, some environments are definitely easier to clean up than others. I work in an office where it’s common for people to bring in desserts/treats on special occasions. As hard as it is to resist sometimes, I really try to commit myself to making the right choice. I ask myself if my health is worth the temporary pleasure. I ask myself if I’m satisfying my hunger or if if I’m satisfying a craving. My answers usually lead me in the right direction :)

  3. Love the post, and I can relate to it big time as I just moved back in with the parents after graduating. There are so many temptations now that I am not buying my own groceries and completely cooking for myself. A support system is big as well. I started ordering broccoli as a side instead of fries when going out with friends, and of course there’s one or two buddies who will make fun of me for this, but a minute of verbal abuse compared to a better body/life is nothing.

    Are sweet potatoes okay or just a better alternative to yellow potatoes? And what about quinoa? It is tough to eliminate all carbs from the diet because when I sit down to a dinner of meat and lots of veggies, it feels like something is missing. But I guess that is the bad habit/addiction talking. Thanks and keep it up!

    • Eric, a good support system is key, but it seems like you’re handling it the right way. A minute of verbal abuse for a better body is a good deal in my books. I think many people are intimidated by those who make healthy choices. Subconsciously they know they should be doing the same, but they prefer to put others down instead to make themselves feel better. I brush off the haters and do what I know is best for me and my body.

      I’ll be discussing carbs in much greater detail over the next few months. Technically, it’s not possible to eliminate “all” carbs from your diet (you’ll find them in fruits, vegetables, etc.), but it is possible to eliminate all harmful forms of carbohydrates (which is the goal). Sweet potatoes have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels than regular potatoes, which is why I prefer them. Quinoa can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. I’ll talk more about it in an upcoming post.

      To be honest, a plate of of meat and veggies fills me up like nothing else. It just takes a bit of time for your body to adjust from a sugar-burning state to a fat-burning state.

  4. Helena de Waal says:

    I was just lying on my bed and suffering from headache because of my 16:30 addition :-)
    Now I only have one thing left to do: Quite my job! Or hope my colleagues read this on fb! :-D
    In my experience it is sometimes best to keep things a secret: when I was trying to quite smoking my “friends” even bought me smokes! Well today I’m a nonesmoker and have new nonesmoker friends! But they’re all chocoholics! Time for new friend! Lol!

    • Haha maybe it’s better you let them read it on FB before you quit your job Helena :)

      Keeping things a secret can be an effective strategy if pulled off right. Good point!

  5. Fabien SÉVIN says:

    Sugar ravings… My nightmare. My family’s nightmare too. All day long, I’m fighting the urge to get junk food, but when it’s to powerful, it drives me as crazy as a junkie without his hit, sometimes I could even clap someone… So, since I changed my food habits, I totally understand how the sugar addiction can be strong and that’s insane.
    I’m still waiting the first impacts of my new way of life on my parents’ cupboards and habits… I think they still need few months.
    In the meantime, I buy my own fruits, vegetables, nuts and goji berries :)

    • Sugar addiction is more powerful than people understand. And companies use this to their advantage by loading their products with this garbage to perpetuate the problem (and their profits).

      Your actions are inspiring Fabien. Keep spreading the virus!

  6. Hi!
    A teaspoon of peanut butter does wonders for late night cravings.
    Best wishes,
    B
    Great job on this post!!!

  7. Good text. I have been now half a year not eating candies, pizzas, hamburgers, coke, cakes, beer etc. Last week was a exception, because there was so many parties. So I ate some, but not much. You have to be polite to your hosts :D On this Monday I started my diet again. Yesterday we were on movies watching a new Star Trek. My friend had some chips and coke. I had soda and quark :D It worked fine. It was also good that I broke my diet for couple of days, because I found that I was getting too proud of what I had done. Now I can’t say that I was one year without all this :D

    After eight weeks when I started this, my body was screaming sugar. I felt myself even little bit violent. I didn’t do anything bad, but I was angry. I needed my sugar. I started this diet, because I noticed that I try to escape some negative feelings with eating. Now I have learn just to face all kind of situations. I feel stronger and more free myself in my decisions and in all that kind of things. I’m happy about this change.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Pauli. I guess you’ve seen first hand how powerful a sugar addiction can be. And you’ve conquered it. What was the new diet you followed?

      • Nothing special. Home made food. No added sugar. No candies, lemonades or beers etc. More full grain stuff, vegetables, fruits etc. Eating regularly about after every four hours. Not eating snacks between mealtimes. Sleeping enough.

        I changed my lifestyle, because I had worked from 55 to 83 hours per week for four years, also night times. I got 20 extra kilos. I ate to cheer up myself. I ate, because I felt bad. I didn’t have time to train and even if I had I felt myself too tired. By this change I have lost those 20kg and like I have told I have also trained with kettlebell and jumprope.

        Beginning of June my motto is “less work more life”. I chose part time job instead of a good full time job, because I want to live :D I want to feel good and have more time with my family and friends. That costs money, but I value more people and health than material. I’m happy that I have had courage to be brave.

        I wish that everyone could have opportunity to choose what they really want to.

  8. Lynne M says:

    I could relate to snacking and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. It is a good thing that I could be able to incorporate fruits to snacks so that I could get healthy snacks. I do not have much cravings on sweets and junk foods. And it is good that I stopped craving for sugary stuffs too.

    • Lynne, I’m happy you brought up fruits because fruits are loaded with natural sugars. I know it’s a common trend that when people decide to “start eating healthy” they replace all their sugary foods with fruit. It’s a good start, but it’s important to understand that this does not effectively defeat the craving. You are still satisfying it (although, now you are providing your body with nutrients instead of empty calories). You are still essentially giving in to the sugar cravings.

      The next step in your approach should be to replace your fruits with vegetables until your sugar cravings are completely gone. There is no vitamin or mineral in fruit that can’t be found in vegetables.

  9. If I understand everything you throw off the carbohydrates foods or only the junk foods. It ‘s might look like anabolic diet or paleo isn’t it ? No oats at all or buckweaht ? Could you be more accurate because you talk about sweet potatoes or yams which are carbohydrates’ foods…

    • Rinat Tagirov says:

      I deem the point is to MINIMIZE the consumption of carbohydrates and completely strike out junk food, naturally. Of course one cannot eliminate carbohydrates flat out, it’s impossible, they are in almost every product in any grocery store, roughly speaking, but if you have a choice between rice or pasta and sweet potatoes as a side dish, for instance, better go with the latter. That’s about the size of it. Sweet potatoes indeed contain a bit more carbohydrates and a little less protein than common potatoes, but according to Wikipedia their overall nutritional value is nevertheless much better (I guess because Vitamin A and Beta-carotene are way off the charts). I’m no nutritionist and Wikipedia is not a very reliable source of information, so what I stated is just my conjecture. Nothing more.

    • Hey Jerome, Rinat said it well. The goal is to minimize your overall consumption of carbohydrates. When I say eliminate, I’m referring to refined carbs and sugary foods. It’s impossible to completely eliminate carbs because they’re found in fruits, vegetables, etc.

      Sweet potatoes, from my research, have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels than regular potatoes which is why I prefer them. But I only try to consume them post-workout (when they can be best utilized).

      And yes, I follow a Paleo style diet where I’ve eliminated consumption of all grains. I’ll be putting together some more in-depth posts on this topic in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

  10. Loving the breadth of your topics. Berardi’s first rule: If it’s in your house, you will eat it. (From Precision Nutrition)

  11. Srdjan,

    I’m in a similar situation where I now control all the food that’s in my house, which I keep pretty healthy. When I go to visit my parents, they have some chips and cookies and stuff lying around but I actually don’t go out of my way to avoid these foods because I use the vacation as a mental break from strict dieting which I need every once in a while.

    Since I visit them more like once every two to three months and not every week, I find it doesn’t really impact my long-term goals. I do agree that if you have a tendency to relapse, though, to just cut out the junk completely. But I’ve found I can easily get back to my normal routine when I return home and I’m actually more refreshed and ready to eat clean again when I do.

    Alykhan

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