2

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Head Hunger & Giving up Sugar

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created June 15, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Hi Paleohackers -
I've been on the paleo-primal lifestyle for the past month, albeit not perfectly. My "20%" comes from about 200 calories from dairy a day (full-fat; blue cheese crumble on salad; cheddar shreds in omelette) and 200 calories a day from a KIND bar (coconut and almond). KIND bars are decidedly not paleo per some old paleohacker posts I've looked up, as they have added sugars, soy, and puffed rice. But before starting paleo I made a deal with myself: if I did my walking/sprinting and cross fit as planned, I'd "reward" myself with a KIND bar and a tablespoon of coconut oil. I made this concession because the vast majority of my weight gain was caused by having no "off" button when it came to sweets. It is as if sweets went into a second, bottomless stomach. So I do see sweets as a reward that I'll work for as I enjoy them so much.

Well, as you might expect, this eating plan hasn't not worked well for me. While I have lost a little weight on the paleo diet (along with other improvements, e.g., energy and skin tone), I still experience hunger near constantly. Interestingly, however, this isn't stomach hunger. For example, after eating a high-fat, high-protein, low-carb dinner last night (spinach and mixed green salad with balsamic dressing, small amount of nuts and blue cheese, avocado, tomato, peppers, onion; three eggs with spinach, onion, small amount of cheddar fried in bacon fat; two slices of bacon; for lunch I had some sausage and mixed greens) I still felt hungry. This is what I fear is called "head hunger" because, based on (far too many) past experiences, a sugary treat is the only way to calm the voice/tamp down the type of hunger I was experiencing. So I gave in and had a KIND bar and coconut oil. Still the voice persisted. So I had another. And another. You see the rabbit hole I fell into. While I feel guilty (and bloated) today, I'll admit that at the time, my brain went "ahhhhhhhhh sooooooo niiiiiiiice" after last night's binge. (Which I'm sure was just the dopamine being released post-sugar, but hot damn, I love that dopamine!!)

So here are my questions:
1. Do you think that allowing myself this KIND bar treat daily is causing my persistent "head hunger"?
2. Any tips or tricks on combating head hunger? Do I just have to white-knuckle it without sugar for a period of time to get over it? Will head hunger one day just vanish? I'm worried about fear of sugar - that is, if I do eliminate it completely, then have a bite of it in a few months, will I be back to this rough square one I'm currently standing in?
3. Do you find that fruit contributes to head hunger? I've considered replacing the KIND bar with some berries or apple.
4. This might sound weird....but does anyone conflate "sugar" with "relaxation" or "completeness"? Sometimes I feel like at the end of the day, I can't relax with a "meat" or "veggie" taste in my mouth. (Yes, I brush my teeth - it's more of a mental sensation of ending the day with something....not sweet. Sorry, I don't know how else to explain it. It's sort of like, I'd much rather kiss someone with the faint taste of cookies in my mouth rather than the faint taste of sausage. In general, the sweet taste just feels "better.")
5. Since I am working out relatively hard, should I be replacing the KIND bar carbs with another source, e.g., more sweet potato?

As a general complaint, I find it so frustrating that my mind sees sugar/sweets as such a positive, desirable thing, although logically I know the substance has little nutritional value (besides the short burst of energy via quickly-absorbed carbs) and is associated with a host of health problems. How can I make my ENTIRE mind see how sugar is a devil in an angel costume? I often feel like those research rats who has been trained to be addicted to the substance. I don't overindulge in anything else except this bloody sugar. Now I'm ranting - sorry about that....

I appreciate any help, even if it is tough love :) If you have a similar experience to share, I'd also love to hear about it.

P.S.: If it helps, here are my stats: I'm a 27 year old female with 29% body fat/looking to lose about 40 pounds. I do cross fit four times a week and walk 45 minutes a day, sprinting one day a week. I work standing up, but am mostly still when standings as I have a computer-based job. I aim for 1600 calories a day and 18/6 eating window (which I prefer). I have had zero trouble giving up other carbs, like bread, rice, white potatoes. I'll eat a sweet potato with lots of butter several days a week, but vegetables count for a large portion of my carbs. I like milk-based sweets only, e.g., chocolate; candies, like starburst or gummi bears, are not attractive to me. My macros are generally 25%carb/45%fat/30%protein.

584cdd1a2dd83e46b8b76758f4c57b19

(600)

on June 16, 2012
at 12:43 AM

Reading this was like looking at myself in the mirror. I even tried overeaters anon but I couldn't stick to it as it was over the top religious

Eea6a68f5a7190d13c60e1c72417a581

(1376)

on June 16, 2012
at 12:19 AM

Thank you and +1 for a very helpful answer.

03a4ec34751186201a56da298ac843ce

(4100)

on June 15, 2012
at 10:26 PM

Wow, I completely understand. This has lessened for me over the years, but I cannot pinpoint why. I can only tell you it gets easier over time. Hang in there.

03a4ec34751186201a56da298ac843ce

(4100)

on June 15, 2012
at 10:24 PM

What she said! :-)

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on June 15, 2012
at 09:32 PM

Fruit is sweet and is not associated with any health problems that I'm aware of.

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on June 15, 2012
at 04:22 PM

Yes. Fat definitely helps me.

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on June 15, 2012
at 04:21 PM

+1 for "sit with a craving..." uncomfortable but it so works. Thanks for joining Carissa!

D00765f23491e27d913753d608798cad

(130)

on June 15, 2012
at 04:18 PM

<3 Geneen Roth!

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5 Answers

8
D00765f23491e27d913753d608798cad

on June 15, 2012
at 04:14 PM

Hi there! A subject near and dear to my heart. My answer is going to have nothing to do with paleo. I know exactly what you mean by head hunger. I go to group therapy for food addiction and this is something we talk a lot about, except we call it heart hunger. I think many times if we are not experiencing physical hunger but are still having an obsessive desire to eat (usually sugar for me too), then we are actually experiencing an emotional need.

If you are conditioned that sugar is an escape and reward, your brain will automatically go to that when an uncomfortable feeling comes up. That has been your solution probably for your whole life, so it has my experience that it takes a lot of hard work to undo that.

I try and use the HALT strategy as much as possible. Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired?

I take a moment to assess my physical hunger. Do I have a tugging, aching or empty feeling in my stomach? If yes, I can usually handle that with good food choices. If I don't have physical hunger, but still want to eat then it is likely one of the other things. Did something upsetting happen today? Did I take the time to connect with other people in a meaningful way today? Am I exhausted from a long day? Am I giving myself enough credit and permission to be tired from whatever I did that day?

If I can identify the real issue, then I can do something to treat that instead of just medicating with food. Sometimes the best strategy is to just wait it out. Observe what you are feeling, journal through it if you have to. Say to yourself that just for tonight, if the sugar craving comes up after eating, you aren't going to feed it, but listen to it instead. Make a cup of tea and just try and sit quietly and see if you can find out what is really bugging you. I find that if I sit with a craving for 30min-1 hr, it will usually pass.

From personal experience this can be extremely uncomfortable, but it has been very useful. My biggest suggestion is to be gentle with yourself. I believe our bodies give us indications of what we should/should not eat, when we should eat and how much. It's just that we do not listen.

I do not weigh or count calories because I feel that is using external indicators instead of truly getting in touch with my body and responding appropriately. I get lots of evidence that sugar does not agree with me physically even though it makes me feel good mentally. I have to strengthen the muscle of responding to the physical instead of the mental/emotional when it comes to food.

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on June 15, 2012
at 04:21 PM

+1 for "sit with a craving..." uncomfortable but it so works. Thanks for joining Carissa!

Eea6a68f5a7190d13c60e1c72417a581

(1376)

on June 16, 2012
at 12:19 AM

Thank you and +1 for a very helpful answer.

3
3351f6c8ec1ea64435e419f380ca6468

(1255)

on June 15, 2012
at 03:35 PM

Your fat percentage seems low - maybe increasing it into the 60s somewhere would help with the head- or other hunger. I have a fairly hard time with sugar myself, and about the only suggestion I can offer is to get it out of your house and keep it out, so that you have to leave the premises for a "fix".

7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on June 15, 2012
at 04:22 PM

Yes. Fat definitely helps me.

2
7c9f81d68c78de1a31eab9c91c17b4b8

on June 15, 2012
at 03:54 PM

Grace. I can really relate with your story and love of sugar. I have been working on this for the last 2 years and I'm still battling it. I don't know if the below will help you but here is where I am with it.

It's only been recently that I've labeled it "binge eating." I thought you had to be one of those people who go to 8 different drive-through windows and keep eating to be called a binge eater. Mine involves eating to calm myself during work stress or eating well all day and then starting with one bite of chocolate--and then I'm off to the races.

I realized awhile back it's going to take something other than self-control or a change in my food choices. See my question on dopamine and over-eating

Melissa's comments headed me into the "self-help" arena--which I normally loathe but has been very helpful. I'm reading Geneen Roth books, listening to Kay Shepherd audio on food addiction and seeking out whatever online resources I can find. I have not taken the jump to over-eater's 12 step (denial) but I have not ruled it out.

Some things that are working for me so far...

  1. Coconut oil and heavy cream in my coffee in the morning. Calms me and keeps me from being hungry for hours.
  2. Not eating at night at home. I try to get all my eating done before I leave work. As soon as I get home stress hits me while trying to be mom and wife after being exhausted from work. I have found if I just IF until the next morning I have better luck.
  3. Fatty/meaty meals for breakfast and lunch. Grassfed beef, eggs, chicken apple sausage, bacon, homemade chicken broth and some veggies are pretty much my mainstays with some variation. I do eat liver, smoked oysters, sardines during the week too.
  4. 30-60 minute walk/stairs each day at work no matter how busy I am. This calms me and since I'm a stress-eater that is what I'm going for. It also decreases my appetite.
  5. If I feel a binge coming on...and I can always feel it ahead of time...then I drink hot tea with coconut oil and try to stave it off.
  6. For now...if I still end up eating a crap load of ice cream in the kitchen while standing up I forget about it and go on the next day. I don't beat myself up. These eating episodes are fewer but not gone.

On the "ahhhhhhhhh sooooooo niiiiiiiice." THAT made me laugh because that is exactly how I feel. My stress is gone and I'm full up to the brim. I just ate my stress/troubles away. It's great. I have not found anything that replicates that and I don't expect I will.
I'm not giving up as I think the solution for this sugar hit I'm addicted to is out there. The first step for me was when it dawned on me...oh...I'm a binge eater. When Melissa suggested a 12 step I thought...well I'm not downing mountains of food and I'm not really overweight. It's something else. Much to my dismay it is NOT something else. Melissa was dead-on. I have all the classic symptoms and everything I read suggests it will only get worse as I age not better. And...I'm only not overweight right NOW...I have weighed much more than I should in the past.

Anyway...I don't think the answer for you is about KIND bars. If you are anything like me the answer you are looking for lies somewhere else in the form of some sort of journey. Don't give up. Good luck.

D00765f23491e27d913753d608798cad

(130)

on June 15, 2012
at 04:18 PM

<3 Geneen Roth!

03a4ec34751186201a56da298ac843ce

(4100)

on June 15, 2012
at 10:24 PM

What she said! :-)

0
A9060c656599eafcebf4b6759b3959bb

on June 15, 2012
at 11:42 PM

I have a killer sweet tooth too, and I have found that chocolate as dark as you can stand (88% for me) satisfies the "decadent treat" craving, and since the chocolate is so strong, more than an oz would be pretty darn hard to eat. And a baked sweet potato with cinnamon is petty awesome for a treat too. :) Good luck!

0
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on June 15, 2012
at 09:28 PM

If you can stick to the no grains, no legumes, no dairy (okay probably just no casein. Butter seems to be awesome.) even when you cheat, you may very likely find the problem sort of takes care of itself. Stay away from lab created artificial sweeteners too.

When I made the commitment to drop Splenda from my coffee I unexpectedly found wheat-based foods stopped being appealing. This was about two weeks of no sweets. Then it became possible to have a dark chocolate bar, fruits- whatever made the cut after I read the label. Indeed, when I read you were eating KIND bars I immediately thought you should switch to Larabars. The are definitely better than KIND bars, though best would be to avoid processed foods altogether. Sometimes though, by just picking something better, you can make great progress. Read the labels and try to cultivate your sense of pickiness.

I still have behaviors I don't like. I went blueberry picking recently, picked a gallon of blueberries and ate them all in two days, but the cool thing is, it doesn't effect my weight. Obviously, to actually lose weight you usually have to limit the sweets a bit more, but not as much as I imagined the first time around. Look at the sugar content of some of the fruits; you can have some pretty decent amounts and still stay on the low side in terms of carbohydrates.

I also think you are exercising too much. You are increasing you appetite AND not giving your muscles enough recovery time. This is a recipe for an injury, which is usually immediately followed by sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons, and feeling sorry for oneself.

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