How to Vanquish Food Cravings, Part 4

concentration while painting

It appears that the origins of cravings are both physical and psychological. Laboratory research strongly indicates a chemical basis for at least some food cravings. Additional conclusions have been drawn by scientists in other fields, who observe human behavior through their own lenses. The subjects who are studied often have their own points of view, too, like people involved with the Size Acceptance movement, which seems to present a conflict between fat acceptance and the will to fight childhood obesity.

The bad news about a chemical basis for cravings is that a vicious cycle can be created. Eating sugar, for instance, makes a person desire more sugar, so they eat more sugar, and that sets up a longing for even more… But the good news is, at least some of these self-imposed vicious cycles can be interrupted. The craving will soon go away — if you just stop eating sugar…

But how, when that is the very thing a person craves? Now, the mental and emotional areas become important. Dr. Pretlow has found that young people who are determined to reach a healthy weight are successful when they acknowledge that cutting down on the foods they are hooked on will include a period of withdrawal. There will probably, temporarily, be “intense cravings, feeling antsy, feeling stressed, even depressed.” He says:

Plain willpower is rarely enough to get them through withdrawal. Kids need lots and lots of support and distracting fun activities to get through it.

Adults have control over the home food environment and need to be conscious of such things, especially if a child is asking for cooperation and a change in shopping habits. It really helps a lot if people in the environment take care to not provide the triggers that will set off addictive behavior. Still, the world will not always be so considerate, and kids who succeed come to accept this.

In Chapter 15 of Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow writes of successful kids:

They realize that the urges for great tasting foods are like a bad back. Similar to chronic back pain, the urges will always be there, even though they will get better. The kids learn to go about their lives ignoring the urges, even though they will never totally go away. The more they can ignore the urges, the less the urges grate on them. They read a book, work on a hobby, or shoot hoops to distract from the urges. Just relaxing also helps.

Childhood Obesity News has alerted readers to Melinda Beck’s Wall Street Journal article, “Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?,” where the writer says:

People who feel chronically stressed often use food for energy and comfort and rationalize that they’ve earned it… And almost anything that pampers, distracts or relaxes you can serve as a reward…

Distraction works. Entire books have been written about things a person can do to distract from self-destructive impulses. Overweight: What Kids Say quotes a 14-year-old named Carlie who throws a monkey wrench into the craving process by repeating, “Taste is temporary, weight is forever,” kind of like a mantra. It’s a good idea as far as it goes, and if it works for her, that’s great. It might be even more effective to drop the negative, “weight is forever” part, because that isn’t really a useful idea to impress on the mind and keep reinforcing.

Fortunately, counselors have discovered the usefulness of affirmations in creating a helpful distraction and in carving new mental pathways. Here, from Moya Mulray, are a few examples, and the source page includes explanations of why each one has power:

I make healthy eating choices.
I enjoy exercise and appreciate what it does for my body.
I am healthy and full of energy.
Weight loss is easy and effortless for me.
I do not overeat. I leave food on my plate when I am full.
I practice good portion control.
Body fat falls off of me fast.
I maintain a healthy weight.
My body is beautiful, and it is more beautiful each day.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?,” The Wall Street Journal, 01/10/12
Source: “9 Inspiring Weight Loss Affirmations,” Inspirational Quotes and Thoughts
Image by thomas pix (Thomas Kriese), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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