Sorry, crisps, biscuits, carbs: It’s not you, it’s me. Hold on, it’s you

I gave up smoking years ago but my sweet tooth has been harder to stub out, writes Damian Cullen

Strangely enough, the longer you stay away from chocolate and sugar, the less you crave them. Photograph: Getty Images

Strangely enough, the longer you stay away from chocolate and sugar, the less you crave them. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Dear Brain, You’re bored. We don’t need anything. So stop complaining and go outside and play. Yours, etc Body

Ever since our health drive began a few months ago, we’ve been offered much sound advice. Well, all of it had a sound, anyway.

And whenever anyone mentioned the scourge of cravings we listened intently; it’s been one of our toughest opponents.

For many years now, crisps, sweets, chocolate, carbs – in fact, anything guaranteed to make a weighing scales take a deep breath – have been all too familiar. They know me by name. And they call, relentlessly.

I gave up smoking many years ago, but my sweet tooth has been tougher to stub out. While attempting to figure out cravings, it’s easy to become bogged down in endorphins, serotonin, gastric glands and other words that stimulate the release of brain freeze.

So we went back to the fundamentals. Snacks and treats simply taste good. They feel good. And, from the time we were knee-high to a grasshopper, they have been associated with reward and pleasure. So anyone with a plan to battle cravings was entertained.

We listened, we tried, we abandoned. The suggestions included: Advice: Don’t eat low-fat, low-calorie, low-taste snacks. Eat your favourite high-everything bar or sweet thing. Just don’t eat as much, or buy it as often, as you used to. Result: Can you open a bar of chocolate and not eat it all within a couple of minutes? Apparently, I can’t.

Advice: Associate cravings with something else. When you’re focused on one thing, such as getting a chocolate fix, force yourself to do something that requires focus and concentration, such as playing a video game. Result: This didn’t work at all. (As an aside, I also now associate video games with chocolate.)

Advice: If a particular task or hobby usually comes with a side helping of food craving, don’t do it. This might mean, for example, not turning on the TV at night-time. Result: Surely there’s a way of improving your health and fitness that doesn’t require you to make yourself totally miserable. Advice: Eat a different healthy food when craving for a particular snack. Want chocolate? Eat some nuts or seeds. Sweets? Eat some broccoli or cranberries. Result: Initially, at least, this had some positive results – particularly when healthy foods, such as fruit, were within easy reach. But, ultimately, the craving still survived.

Advice: The most bizarre piece of advice was to tap your forehead for 30 seconds during a craving. Apparently, there’s some research to back up this up. Result: Ridiculous (though the pain in our head did distract us for a brief while).

While none of the suggestions worked, the cravings have, undoubtedly, lessened significantly in the past few weeks.

A very strange thing happens when you deny yourself snacks and treats for more than a short time. You forget you’re denying yourself things.

I have, apparently, suddenly lost my taste for rubbish. I’m not sure if I’m happy about it. It was, after all, a defining feature. The less sweets and chocolate you eat, the less you crave them.

Who knew?

It’s all about choice: the treats craved for a whole afternoon, or the healthy body craved for many years.

Damian’s stats

Age: 39 Height: 6ft Weight: 14st 9lb (minus 1st 12lb) BMI: 27.8 (-2.6) Fat: 27.3% (-2.3) Figures in brackets indicate change since March 10th when Damian started to change his diet and exercise habits, and to write this column.

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