Last week I wrote a post about giving up your “trigger” food, be it coffee, chocolate, popcorn, bread, or catfood. I gave you some tips and info about why you might want to give up that food, namely because our bodies often play nasty tricks on us and make us crave the foods we are sensitive to.
This week, I wanted to break it down even further with a 10-step process to quit eating the thing you crave most, since this is really not an easy thing to do. I’m drawing from my experience with giving up chocolate a few years ago, since it was by far the most monumental food I’ve let go of. It was an emotional, difficult challenge, and here are the steps I took to do it.
1. Decide if it’s worth giving up.
When it occurred to me that chocolate might be giving me acne, I had to take a
moment week to contemplate giving it up. ‘Is it worth it? Would I rather have zits than give up chocolate?’ I easily could’ve said yes, and I encourage you to remember that you can, too, in your situation. I had to acknowledge that it was a choice I was making, and not something I was being forced to do.
2. Have a pity party.
Even though in theory I knew I was making a choice, I still felt like a victim in that moment. My pity party went something like this: “Why me? This is so unfair! Everyone else can eat chocolate! WTF? First it’s grains, dairy, soy, and everything else I love, and now chocolate?? I hate my life.” [Goes and fake drowns self in pool à la Cameron in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"]
3. Embrace the possibilities.
Then I let myself imagine what it would be like to live my life without acne – without the shame and embarrassment of wearing a bathing suit or sports bra. Life without having to wear make-up every day to cover up my unsightly blemishes. Not having to tend to my skin all the time or be afraid to look people in the eye… the possibilities for freedom and confidence were endless!
4. Think in the short term.
I believe I started with one day. I vowed to not eat chocolate for one day because that’s what my brain, willpower, and rebellious nature could handle. While I knew that it could be a forever thing, I just needed to focus on the present and stay hopeful about the possibilities. Then once I realized that I hadn’t died during that one day, I went one more day. No new zits were cropping up. I was encouraged. I went an entire week and still no new zits. My skin was rapidly clearing up, and my boyfriend (now my husband) even noticed.
Fortunately, I was definitely seeing progress, but you may not have such an obvious change after one week. Take a look at yourself, your symptoms, your notes, and your pictures from a week ago and decide if you’ve had any success from this experiment. If you have, then keep going. If you haven’t, I suggest you go another week and then reassess again. If after that second week you’re really not seeing any improvement whatsoever in your symptom, but you’re seeing improvements in OTHER areas of your health, keep going. If you’re seeing absolutely no progress anywhere, then start eating your food again. But be very honest with yourself about what happens when you do.
Also remember that you may detox, especially if you’re giving up caffeine, diet drinks, sugar, or grains. Give yourself at least 3 weeks – a month is even better – in this case, and be sure to watch your progress along the way. You may feel awful – tired, grumpy, a little nauseous – but your eczema or heartburn or bloating might be disappearing despite all that detoxing. Just make note of it all and keep going!
6. Find a substitute.
When you give up your most treasured food, you may need a crutch. I’m a fan of crutches, by the way: I think they help people succeed in the long-term, much like actual crutches do…
Mine was simple: carob. Carob chips and powder are fine substitutes for chocolate chips and cocoa powder, and you can use them instead of chocolate in any recipe. For instance, these grain-free chocolate chip cookies I made for this picture were actually made with carob chips.
Carob is good, but it’s not the addictive powerhouse that chocolate is for me. I don’t sit around thinking about carob all day like I do with chocolate. It helped me because I could still have something fatty and sweet (my favorite combination), but it didn’t feel like I was eating crack.
If your trigger is coffee, maybe drink herbal tea or hot water with lemon, instead. If it’s popcorn, make a big bowl of sliced watermelon or some other bite-sized fruit so you can at least have a bowl in your lap that you can eat from while you’re watching tv. If it’s bread you love, substitute it with Paleo fat bread or banana tapioca crepes. There are good substitutes for every food out there, and we’re not necessarily trying to change your behavior; we’re just trying to remove the offending food.
I think I went a year without eating chocolate, and then I went nutso on a climbing trip with it. My friend had the most exquisite Mexican chocolate I’ve ever smelled, and I could not resist. This stuff, OMG…
I ate a lot of his stash, and then broke down and bought my own, plus some other chocolate goodies. I ate chocolate for about 2 weeks straight, and felt all those old obsessive behaviors come back, plus of course my skin went to hell. I didn’t care – I just wanted my chocolate.
Looking back, it was really good for me to do that, actually. I’d forgotten how all-consuming chocolate was for me, and how it is truly all I ever want to eat when I have it in my life. After a couple weeks, I got tired of my skin being broken out, and I was sick of being so distracted by chocolate, so I decided to give it up again.
I gave it up and got my very first ocular migraine the next day. That was one of the scariest 20 minutes of my life. I don’t know if it was the chocolate for sure, but it certainly reinforced my commitment to not eat it anymore. I haven’t had chocolate since, and that was 2 years ago I believe.
8. The temptation and cravings will pass.
I am a very stubborn person, so when I decide to do something, I can usually put my head down and just do it. Chocolate definitely tested this bull-headedness. I remember having to physically stop myself from grabbing the Chocolove Sea Salt and Almond bar in the checkout lane at the grocery store. And when my friends had chocolate around, I’d grab it from their hands and smell it, look at it longingly, curse my bad luck and then hand it back.
But that all gradually passed. Somehow I have blinders on at this point and I don’t even see the Chocolove in the store. I just don’t think about it anymore, and I don’t feel deprived because I know that if I eat it I will suffer. I even feel relieved and grateful that I finally figured it out. When I think chocolate, all I can think of are zits and weird spiral lights in my eyes creating blind spots (that’s what an ocular migraine looks like).
I think this is what happens to a lot of us after a long hiatus from something we love, whether it be an ex-boyfriend, a childhood home, or a food: We just forget.
9. Smell it sometimes, just for old times’ sake.
My friends think I’m weird for this, but smelling foods really can give me at least part of the sensation of eating them. If there’s chocolate cake, brownies, or chocolate chip cookies in front of me, I’ll stick my nose in close and take a long, luxurious whiff. I don’t know – maybe it’s just me, but I get some pleasure out of it for sure.
10. Have resolve, and know you are worth it.
A major reason that people “break down” or “cheat” – or whatever you want to call it – is that deep down they don’t believe they deserve to be healthy. Especially women, in my experience (obviously I’m no stranger to this phenomenon). We’ve been taught by society our whole lives that we’re the less deserving sex, in general. I won’t go anymore into that, but it really does manifest itself in our tendency to sabotage our health and happiness.
So when you’re faced with the option of eating that thing you know is going to cause you to hurt, ask yourself if you deserve to be healthy and feel good instead. And know that the answer, whether you truly believe it or not, is a resounding, “Yes.”