Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Dec

The Psychology of Giving Up Junk Food

It’s probably the biggest thing that makes some people hesitate in going Primal. Sure, they appreciate the logic and sensibility of the Blueprint lifestyle. They value the chance to improve their health and effectively lose weight. They love the idea of having more energy. They salivate over the prospect of bacon. But then comes the proverbial wrench in the plan. “What about bread?” they ask. (Sometimes it’s diet soda, pasta, pancakes, pizza, Skittles, etc.; I’ve heard it all.) Against all powers of wisdom, self-interest, and rationality, how is it these isolated, deeply entrenched cravings hold such sway over our lifestyles – and diet decisions? Is a baguette really so enticing that it determines a person’s willingness to live a healthier, more vigorous existence? Is the de-grained life really not worth living?

It’s a common refrain I hear: “Oh, I’d love to go Primal, but I just couldn’t give up my breakfast cereal.” Okay. It’s got me thinking lately: what is it about the psychological power of (non-Primal) favorite foods?

Ever watched “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” (usually featuring the typical junk food categories)? Of course, the guests play it up for the camera, but the expression behind some of their descriptions parallel that famous When Harry Met Sally scene. Really? This level of enthusiasm for a hamburger? (I won’t say it.) Even a few of the most diehard PB converts I know still hold the torch for some pre-Primal item. Some people get attached, I guess.

Yes, there are the obvious factors that apply to most people’s favorites: the ubiquity of these foods, the subsequent convenience, the cheap price (e.g. Pizza Hut’s “Feast for Five” bucks – feast being their word). For some of us, these favorite foods (past or present) are part and parcel of our social landscape or our work environs. Then there are the more complex influences: ethnic, family or community traditions right down to low and lowly marketing forces. Finally, there’s taste. Although, as I’ve said before, most people find these foods all taste the same once they give their taste buds a chance to recover on a Primal diet of naturally-occurring foods.

So, why are some things easier to give up than others? If you told most people tomorrow that the key to good health involved forgoing asparagus, I can’t imagine most folks would consider it a major impediment to their success. Why isn’t giving up bread, diet soda or cereal the same? How does it involve more than a simple switch of intention? Why does giving up a single favorite food feel like serious deprivation for so many people?

It’s true that our tastes are established earlier than we ever thought. Experts have found that a mother’s diet during pregnancy already begin to habituate a baby’s taste. Researchers believe this happens because the habituation early on helps teach children which tastes are “safe.” If the mother has survived eating foods with these flavors, they will, too. If you come from a family in which people routinely ate a lot of pasta, you likely developed the taste for it earlier than you can remember.

We also develop deep-seated emotional associations with certain foods through early and/or recurring memories surrounding them. On a timely note, holiday traditions tend to play into these associations in a big way. Any meaningful experience can create these connections, however. Was there a special dish you always made with a parent or grandparent? Did your extended family all go to the same pizzeria at every visit? Do you and your spouse have a routine from early in your relationship that influences how you enjoy time together today?

These associations can play out in unconscious ways, eliciting cravings or overshadowing your efforts to develop a taste for healthier, Primal fare. If you’re still carrying the torch for old favorites, it can be harder to fully enjoy newer Primal tastes.

Then there are the temptations of the present. Experts say mental imagery – that which we conjure ourselves and that which we’re presented with (in ads, etc.) – plays a sizeable role in our cravings. Have you ever found yourself victim to an ad’s suggestion? Even if you normally wouldn’t touch a particular food, those marketing folks have a fantastic way of making it look good.

Our moods, of course, can influence our vulnerability to old favorites. Many of us have indulged in emotional eating, and carbohydrates figure into this equation all too strongly. There’s a legitimate serotonin boost from a carb binge, but then comes the inevitable crash and then the ongoing habit. Our desire for comfort foods, researchers have found, only increases with additional stress. (On a side note, experts have even found trends of favorite comfort foods (PDF) in men and women and in older and younger folks. Men as a whole tend to crave warm and hearty foods. Women for their part had more of a penchant for sweeter snack foods. Younger groups also tended to choose more snack rather than meal type foods.)

In terms of strategies to lessen the feeling of deprivation and associated cravings, researchers confirm the out of sight, out of mind approach. Proximity matters in a big way. The more of a hassle it is to get to that favorite temptation, the less likely you’ll bother with it. Their study includes the old candy dish at the secretary’s desk scenario. Yet, battling those mental images matters, too. If your favorite food is all over the TV commercials, find something else to do on the days or evenings when you’re more prone to suggestion because of stress or a down mood.

When you do become taken in by a sudden urge to indulge, some research suggests that taking a brief walk can help. If the cravings are more than an occasional inconvenience, you might want to ask whether there’s something hormonal going on or if you have a nutritional deficiency. Particularly if you have a history of disordered eating, you might choose to explore some professional counseling. Finally, some research shows that acupuncture can be an effective complementary measure for reducing ongoing cravings.

You might ask where the 80/20 Principle is in all this. Well, it depends. If your favorite food can be adapted to fit a Primal profile or if you can indulge moderately on an occasional basis, then you might not have to forgo that favorite altogether. If one taste of a non-Primal favorite food sends you on a downward spiral, however, it’s another story. As people get further along in their Primal journey, the slippery slope phenomenon isn’t as powerful, but for some it remains so. Know yourself, first and foremost.

There’s a potential bit of a catch here, however. Even if you know you can always go back and have it, a lot of folks – having been fully Primal for a while – find that the side effects are too great to bother with. They realize that it’s not worth trying anymore, even for special occasions. Nonetheless, some feel a bit of grief with the acknowledgment. In these cases, however, know that the food was destroying your body long before you ever gave it up. You simply know what it feels like to live without the low-grade symptoms now.

That’s the final message here, I think. A favorite food offers momentary pleasure and maybe a meaningful bit of nostalgia. But what is your life without that favorite food? More energetic? Less congested? More restful? More even-keeled? Less medicated? Just as happily reminiscent. Just as meaningful. Your taste buds are but one small part of you. If your whole body could vote on each food you put in it, what would it tell you? Learning to live Primally is about learning to listen to your body, recognizing its story, and valuing how our physical habits feed the spirit as well as the body – the vitality – we bring to each day.

Now it’s your turn. Readers, have you had struggles with old favorite foods? Do they still have a hold on you? Does the lingering preference ever trip you up, or have you found your peace with it – maybe by indulging once in a while with moderation? What do you see as the major challenges behind giving up a favorite food?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. For now, I just think I will indulge my liking for pastadishes very occationally, and I do not think it is a bad idea. Every time, I will be reminded why I gave it up in the first place.
    Also, sushi. It’s such a rare and expensive treat, and I don’t feel bad afterwards, so why not.
    I file it under the 80/20 rule, and I just refuse to be a fanatic.

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I totally agree with the sushi falling in the 80/20. But compared to a lot of the processed crap out there I would hardly call sushi junk food.

      Paleohund wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • I don’t know, if you look at how they prepare the rice with all that sugary vinegar, that part is pretty processed, as is the seaweed wrap and the sauces that they put on top.

        But yes, the actual fish and veggies in it are better than eating cheesey poofs, and more importantly, I get more enjoyment out of having lunch with a friend over sushi than eating cheese curls in front of the TV while home alone.

        The food indulgences that I still allow myself are all about the people I have with me. Annual dinner out with the band, lunch with a friend every few weeks, anniversary dinner at a restaurant/microbrewery… they’re worth hitting the 20% for.

        Macha wrote on December 10th, 2010
  2. one word: cheesecake :(

    Chris wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Two word; Primal Cheesecake!

      I have a great recipe, in fact I made it yesterday for Mr Grok’s birthday today :-)

      Provided you aren’t intolerant of dairy, as it includes ricotta cheese, it is a good high fat, high protein option with a small amount of carbs (particularly by dessert standards!).

      See here …, I now use just ricotta rather than a mix and usually just two lemons, but the lemon/orange mix works well too.

      Kelda wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Fantastic recipe, thanks!

        Ulla Lauridsen wrote on December 10th, 2010
      • Looks Wonderful! If anyone translates into U.S. measurements & temperatures, would you post them please?

        Darshana wrote on December 26th, 2010
  3. One difficutly I had when cutting down on processed carbs was in finding a functional replacement for a cracker or a slice of bread. I like pate and other spreads. My answer was “parmesan crisps”. Grated parmesan cheese turns into a great cracker at 350 degrees in the oven.

    Tim Huntley wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • There’s all kind of ways to make your own crackers out of various seeds and nuts. However I have never seen a good substitute for bread.

      Steve wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • I’ve made this recipe several times for bread. Love it:

        Kate wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Substitute for bread: Coconut bread: Mix 3/4 cup coconut flour, 1/2 cup melted butter/ghee/coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 6 eggs in a food processor; preheat oven at 350; grease a loaf pan with fat of your choice, pour mix and bake for 40-50 minutes. It comes out dense – kind of like a pound cake, but it works for sandwiches or is great with butter/spreads

        Kim C. wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • Thanks for this recipe. I am going to see if I can adapt it to make a primal pizza crust. I love almond cheese so could I might be able to have a pizza again. That is the one thing I really miss. Well, that and deep fried onion rings. I never really had much of a sweet tooth so giving up the sugary things hasn’t been hard for me.

          Robin wrote on December 10th, 2010
        • I make a great pizza crust with cauliflower:
          1 c cooked/riced cauliflower, 1 egg, 1 c grated mozzarella, 1/4 c grated parmasan, garlic, basil, thyme, oregano, etc.
          Spread on greased baking sheet, bake 350 for 20 min, let cool. Top with favorite toppings, bake again to heat meats and melt additional cheese.

          grammasmitty wrote on December 16th, 2010
      • Joan Mercantini wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Oooohhhhh! Thank you! I’ve been stumped on that one. I want to eat my sardines but since tomatoes are out of season I’ve been at at loss. I’ve been wanting to get a dehydrator just to make crackers but haven’t yet. I’m so happy you said this I can’t even tell you!

      Amber wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I often use cucumber slices as a cracker substitute. They work well with lots of dip options, and are great for piling on smoked salmon & cream cheese, or whatever you like!

      Fishy wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • have you tried plantane chips and salsa?

      Michael F wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Any idea where to buy those chips?

        mgforthree wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • Spanish markets. I live in an area with a high hispanic population – I can get plantain chips at the gas stations. They are insanely tasty.

          LXV wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • Trader Joes. I try to avoid them because I want to eat the whole bag but I have used those and they are great!

          Amber wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I use an Italian Cheese blend (Parm, Romano and two others I can’t recall) to do the same thing.

      It’s more chewy if you pile the cheese thicker and don’t cook it as long.

      Michael Maier wrote on February 27th, 2011
  4. I found that simply knowing the physio-chemical reactions that ‘bad’ food causes in your body have enabled me to fairly easily cut grains/legumes/vegetable oil out of my diet. Why punish my body with a pizza when I could nourish it with grassfed beef and multiple vegetables? I now see taste as only a fraction of the full life cycle of food consumption.

    And even better with this approach, my friends are genuinely interested when I don’t eat something. They ask “what’s unhealthy about ____” and I actually am able to explain to the pizza they’re eating isn’t an ideal energy source. I don’t preach this to someone unless they ask, and I won’t bother if I know the person isn’t really going to listen.

    James P. wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • If you do like pizza, here is a recipe for awesomeness. The crust is made with egg and cream cheese, and while it doesn’t “crust” over on bottom, it does brown nicely and is firm. I usually double my recipe for a thicker “crust” and make it with cheeseburger toppings. Suddenly, pizza is no longer out of the question.

      Estelle T:) wrote on December 10th, 2010
  5. Once I get going on a “diet”, I am pretty militant with how I approach it. Since going Primal (about 2 months ago and lost about 15lbs!), I avoid those foods at all costs. I occasionally get a sushi roll that has rice, but it is rare and I feel the amount of rice is so minuscule it doesn’t really effect me. I have also went straight got sashimi and seaweed salads too.

    I still crave things. There is a pizza place that I grew up on. They have the best pizza I ever had eaten but I won’t go there now. I know if I get a taste for it again it might be that slippery slope we are all so familiar with.

    In all, I try to eliminate as much as I can of the non-Primal foods. Yes, I get tempted, but my will power generally conquers the cravings.

    George wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Also, I have noticed that since I gave up on sugar, I am almost disgusted by it now. I get a taste of something sweet and cringe. For instance, I recently went to dinner with my aunt. She like to make poor man’s lemonade from free water with lemon. She put in sugar packets and I accidentally choose her water over my water. I gagged haha.

      It is amazing how things we didn’t think twice about are now inconceivable. I would have never thought twice about drinking the sugary water, now I can’t stand it.

      George wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • I notice that too. I put lots of lemons in my iced tea or water without any sugar and don’t miss it a bit.

        Michael Maier wrote on February 27th, 2011
    • Pizza was by far my favourite food that I gave up. But having my toe and knee joints in pain when I ate grains convince me I couldn’t cheat with this one anymore. I find the cravings are going a way with time but I don’t know if they will ever disappear. My Uncle quit smoking more than 20 years ago and still gets cravings. If I ever have kids I think I’ll raise them without grains and hopefully save them the headaches.

      Trevor wrote on December 9th, 2010
  6. Honestly, I can see why it is hard to give up something that as a culture you have grown up with. Take Perohys for instance. I practically lived on them as a kid. I miss those like no tomorrow. Perhaps it is rice, or sushi – it is hard to give up that roll.

    For me though, the issue is health. I usually like to think of it like smoking. You may not pay now, but you sure pay later. In my case, it is diabetes, so I like to think that if I eat all the cake, candy that I want, they might have to amputate my leg some day. No thanks!

    Jason Sandeman wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • The whole thing is a lot like smoking to me. In the way you described but also where one can lead me. I know that if I allow myself one cigarette, it’s just a matter of time until I’m up to a pack a day again. I’m like that with non-primal foods as well. I’m so all or nothing. I applaud people who can be 80/20. Better for me to completely abstain.

      Amber wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Not sure about the 80/20 Fad. From what I see plastered all over the Net, it sounds like “The Secret” or some other New Age Manifestation get rich quick scheme. I think chasing happiness can be as addictive as the expectations people place on their favorite foods. I also don’t think the labels attributed to this or that style of diet do us and good either. Not when we see ourselves as “Vegans” “Paleos” “Vegetarians” “Pegans” and so on and on.

        Once I discovered much of the psychology to food as mentioned above, once when I got sick enough, I just decided stop eating the crap that was making me sick. No need to join some club. In fact, I have since discovered joining one group or the other; quite limiting in itself.

        My philosophy is more based on the science of food my make up and medical history. Overall, learning to listen to be body and making decisions for myself. Unfortunately the club mentality withing the various health groups that abound, seem more about the telling for others, than thinking for themselves.

        My food psychology is to stay well away from such ritualism binding “ways” and to continue to eat according to how my body responds. Don’t let the club mentality rule you like the marketers of food.

        Good Luck with whatever you choose.

        Dave wrote on October 11th, 2015
    • What exactly is a Perohys? To myself it doesn’t sound like a common food found in the US.

      Annie wrote on March 28th, 2011
      • I think it’s spelled perogies and they are polish dumplings filled with cheese and onion, or sauerkraut and fried in butter. Oh damn…

        lynn wrote on March 28th, 2011
  7. I used to have a Seinfeld-esque addiction to breakfast cereal! After 3 months of Primal, i bought a few boxes and couldnt remember why i craved it so much. It stuck to my teeth and tasted so bland compared to the heartier food I was eating. The boxes remain in my pantry, going stale…

    Kris wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Go donate them, dude!

      Splurntch wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • donate so that someone else can live unhealthily? Go burn them in a fire!

        Brian Kozmo wrote on December 10th, 2010
  8. Christmas cookies will be hard. I have just begun my primal journey…about 2.5 weeks into it and loving how I feel but am a bit nervous about the holidays because baking Christmas cookies is a big family tradition and certain types are expected. I will need great willpower but plan on making some of the goodies from this site and actually love dates stuffed with walnuts so I will just stick to the good stuff. I am so enjoying seeing the changes in my body , my mood, my energey levels and my happiness that I never could have imagined all the negatives the wrong foods can cause!!

    Jodi wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I know what you mean! My family always makes peanut butter fudge for the holidays that’s to die for, but somehow, I don’t think marshmallow cream is Primal. Instead, I have a lot of fun inventing my own recipes–I made an orange dark chocolate cheesecake (no sugar needed) with almond/coconut flour crust and topped with raspberries that I think is delicious and I’m going to make that my tradition instead. Why not get attached to healthier fare?

      Calvin wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Do you have the recipe for the orange dark chocolate cheesecake?

        Dennis wrote on December 11th, 2010
    • There are traditional cookies with no grains if the tradition is what you are craving more than the treat. Macaroons are basically shredded coconut, egg white, honey, and salt and totally delicious.

      Bevie wrote on December 16th, 2010
  9. Hey Mark,

    First off well done on this post, it is very well written, to the point, and reads very clearly.

    Secondly I think my food would be cookies, the more chocolate in them the better. I think the out of sight out of mind definitely helped me the most in giving them the final heave ho.

    Steve wrote on December 9th, 2010
  10. It took STRONG coffees and teas to break me of my soda habit. And similar to soda, all the neolithic foods I have given up I do not crave any longer. And having tried many of them since I no longer see their appeal.

    Now if you ask me to stop eating my pastured bacon, I am going to headbutt you!

    Paleohund wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I had to taper soda out of my diet, similar to the way a doctor will take someone off of a drug that can’t be immediately stopped. I was drinking about 2 cans per day, so I went down to 1 can per day and then started skipping days. Once the last can in my final 12-pack was gone, no more soda for me. I had cravings for a few days, but thankfully those went away. Now soda tastes awful to me.

      I agree with your comment about bacon. Nobody’s taking my bacon away! :-)

      Travis wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • I’m on Day 2 of tapering off a serious diet soda habit — one of my lingering bad dietary choices. Headaches, irritability, ugh; I’m praying that, like you folks, I’ll eventually come to dislike the flavor enough to stop craving it! …My main problem with coffee & black tea is that I prefer both with milk and sugar to reduce the acidity. I’m trying to drink green tea now, but it contains much less caffeine, as my aching head will testify….

        Dru wrote on December 10th, 2010
        • I have to recommend white tea. Also a little less caffeine than Green tea, and tastes better, in my opinion.

          Brian Kozmo wrote on December 10th, 2010
        • Speaking as someone who vary much prefers green tea over white — if you have caffeinie worries you can brew it significantly less strong and it can still be good.

          I know they have decaf too but that tastes weirder to me than a mild caffeinated tea.

          Jenny wrote on December 11th, 2010
        • Coffee mixed in equal proportions with warm coconut milk (my current favorite food) tastes like a fancy coffee shop latte and I (former sugar fiend) was able to drink it without any sugar at all while I was dropping some other food habits that I needed to be distracted from.
          If it’s any consolation the headaches will go away after a few caffeine free days.

          Bevie wrote on December 16th, 2010
    • Soda has been insanely hard for me to give up. honestly I haven’t completely phased it out. I still indulge lightly on the weekends. And it is very much a social thing. Saturday night is D&D night – and Mtn Dew is practiacally required gaming fuel. (No tea at the GM’s house because his well water tastes really, really bad.) It’s very similar to being a social smoker. It probably nudges me a little closer to 70/30, but it’s a vast improvement from where I was. A two liter lasts me a week now. I used to have a 2 liter a day habit – embarassing to admit.

      LXV wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Hmm, bring a bottle or thermos of water? Pre brew some tea and if you like it hot, microwave? Gotta be some workaround.

        Or just water. Freeze some in the bottom half of a bottle, fill before you go over, and it will be refreshingly cool for a long time. Or freeze the whole bottle (with expansion room) and si the melt-off, could help you pace it.

        It’s easy to drink a lot as you sit there for hours… Hope you can find a way!

        Jenny wrote on December 11th, 2010
      • I know this is an old post, but my husband is also a D&D player and we recently discovered a soda called Zevia, it’s sweetened with stevia and they have a “mountain” flavor which is amazing.

        Meesha wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  11. I definitely think that advertising holds more sway on us than we realize on a sub-concsious level. But that doesn’t mean we can just blame any shortcomings on the marketers. I think that the 80/20 principle is great for introducing yourself to this style, but it’s true, after time you do want less and less garbage. At the same time when you start eating it, it can have the opposite effect.

    Personally, I will only be able to never give up my Angelo’s pizza. I don’t eat it much (especieally moving away) but if you grew up where I did, you wouldn’t have a choice: This pizza is basically it’s own religion. And then there is some corn on the cob for the 4th of July, and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving! So long as I can keep it to that kind of a minimum…. I’m happy!

    Mlkrone wrote on December 9th, 2010
  12. Our family traditions revolved around good crusty bread. Giving it up has been difficult, but not impossible.

    suzan wrote on December 9th, 2010
  13. I suppose that it’s a lucky thing to have 85% dark chocolate as the most powerful craving. We indulge nightly, and it contributes to our quality of life greatly. Giving up the dark chocolate raisins wasn’t as hard when we knew that we could obtain a high quality dark chocolate bar and enjoy that instead.

    Ashley wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I have not seen 85% dark chocolate. What kind is it and where did you find it? I need something to indulge in on occasion. I end up eating too many cashews.

      Siri wrote on December 9th, 2010

        Target has them – they’re amazing, and only about 6 carbs per serving (lower carb than the 90%, for some reason).

        Kevin wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • The 90% bar has only 3 carbs per serving (four squares). I find the 85% too sweet. It’s amazing to eat chocolate and not have a sugar rush. Walmart also carries Lindt.

          Lolly wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • I find them at Walmart, too. Bought a whole box of them and nibble each evening – LOL

          grammasmitty wrote on December 16th, 2010
        • It’s quite a popular chocolate bar. I like %80 or less. Any more and it tastes like bakers chocolate: gross.

          Annie wrote on March 28th, 2011
  14. Oh how timely an article. Son turned me onto this site a few months ago and I am very gung ho. Not a ridiculous stretch for me as we have always tended to eat ‘healthy’ (lots of fresh veggies, grass fed beef, homemade foods and so on – thanks to MY mother who came well before her time). My probelm IS however, the breads (granted, they are the hearty all natural kind), rice, pasta and so on. I have been tripping, stumbling, crashing, rolling downhill with these types of foods in the past two months of trying to eradicate them from my diet (sigh). To the point of abject disgust and discouragement. I continue to try, try again. Nice to know I am not alone.

    Trish wrote on December 9th, 2010
  15. For me its the occasional bit of sushi, or a tortilla chip or two, a slice of thin-crust pizza, or a gourmet hamburger (though I can do just as well without the bun). Oh yeah, and maybe the odd beer…

    Its rare to eat anything like this anymore, but I’ve found since going fully primal a year ago that I’m not as sensitive as I used to be! The odd bit of gluten doesn’t cause me the same trouble. I’m lucky to have enough discipline to keep it very moderate (like, twice a month, and in small quantities). And really, I only ever do in social situations where’s its expected, and sometimes I still stick to my guns!

    I think when people start out they should be VERY strict, but once you’re body becomes accustomed to primal foods and you have your appetite in check (fasting is key here), the odd bit of grain or sugar is fine – just keep it to special occasions and don’t binge! If you can’t handle that, you’re better off without them at all.

    Graham wrote on December 9th, 2010
  16. My office brings in bagels, muffins and donuts (and some paltry fruit) every Friday for breakfast. When I started Primal it was easy to stay away, but now months later having lost a chunk of weight it seems far too easy to reward myself with a pastry.

    whiteblackred wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Maybe bring in your own treat on Friday’s so that you don’t feel an urge to partake.

      Primal K@ wrote on December 9th, 2010
  17. I found that I have a habit of eating out of boredom. House work is done, little one is in bed, not quite time for me to crash, watching tv/reading.. I start to look for the Peanut M&M’s to munch on. I’m not even hungry.. just bored. LOL

    croí wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • UGH! Peanut M&M’s are like CRACK to me! I don’t even like the taste any more but they were once one of my favorites. If someone at work has a bowl of them and I pop JUST ONE in my mouth, I find myself shoveling them in but never actualy enjoying them. 😛

      Larry wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Peanut M&M’s were also one of my favorite mid-afternoon snacks. I’ve replaced them with a square of dark chocolate and 6 – 8 cashews. The substitute I’ve found for the Dr. Pepper I used to drink with the Peanut M&M’s is a cup of unsweetened Stash Yumberry Blackcurrant tea.

        Nancy wrote on December 9th, 2010
  18. I was having a conversation about this on Monday with a friend that does massage therapy for me. She has converted to Primal over the last six months or so having seen how well I am.

    She has faultered on and off but is now firmly on the wagon. She comes from an Irish family where bread and potatoes and baking for the family has a really strong social tradition.

    However, she has spent years and years with eating disorders and with digestional distress. Cutting out the grains immediately sorted her digestive problems and every time she falls from the wagon she spends the rest of the day in the smallest room!

    I said to her ‘is it really worth that fleeting moment of ‘pleasure’ when the foods is in your mouth compared with the hours of distress that follows?’.

    I think if you suffer fairly immediate physical effects it is easier to quit the grains/carbs. For the emotional/social hooks (especially if you have no obvious physical response) it is much harder.

    My brother found the best way (and he’s just lost 90 lbs going Primal) was to see food as fuel and nothing more. Often at the beginning that meant doing other things when people were eating their ‘regular’ meals and eating Primal alone when he was hungry. Now he can happily join/or not social meals without difficulty and sticks to his Primal foods.

    For me it’s being so well now (mentally/psychologically/emotionally – having recovered from bipolar since becoming Primal). I would never want to go back to where I was, because now I’m calm, happy and sane I can see how insane and how much damage my carb-fuelled behaviour caused before. So it’s easy to keep off the bad stuff.

    It’s really about a psychological shift you need to allow to take hold.

    My 80/20 comes by sometimes eating more Primal food than I actually need!

    Kelda wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • “…compared with the hours of distress that follows?” that’s a very cruel and inappropriate thing to say to someone “…that has spent years and years wih eating disoreders…”

      Annie wrote on March 28th, 2011
  19. Cravings are weird. Every once in a great while I get a strong craving for Coke, like I can almost taste it. The strange thing is that I primarily drink water but if I were to choose to drink a soda, it would be root beer or orange soda. Coke was never a soda that I liked!

    And yet I have these incredibly strong cravings out of the blue. (Maybe once a year, if that.)

    Hayden Tompkins wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I have the same Coke craving too. Maybe once per year my husband and I will buy a can and split it. Just a small taste is good enough for us. There’s definitely nostalgia behind it.

      Primal K@ wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • I used to LOVE pop but decided to quit drinking it a few years before I went primal. Doing this simple thing can help MILLIONS of people out tremendously.

      I don’t get any pop cravings anymore but a few others are still popping up and I have been primal for 8 months now.

      Primal Toad wrote on December 11th, 2010
  20. I’m so glad to see this post! I’m new to the site (I just found it yesterday) and I’m very interested in this “primal” way of life. But this was the one thing making me hesitant. I’m just not sure if I have enough self control to give up some of my old favorite junk foods. I’m hoping if I make a gradual transition and slowly cut out the different types of junk food, that it will stick.

    Lindsay wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • The great thing about the non-primal foods is that they’ll always be there. That bag of m&ms is not the last on Earth. If you want it that bad you can go get some later. It’s the same with birthdays and dinner parties and holidays. There will always be something. Try no junk for a day and see what you think. I bet you’d surprise yourself.

      Amber wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • So, don’t give them up. Just give them up today…and tomorrow… That is, the key with cravings is to say “If I still want it in, say, a week, I’ll have it.” You pretty much never still want it in a week.

      JAlanKatz wrote on February 25th, 2011
  21. Cravings can be really intense. For me, the threat of diabetes and heart disease are a good motivator to keep my cravings in check.

    Hank Garner wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • +1

      Anna wrote on December 27th, 2012
  22. uhhh this was in the UofI pdf, “People in happy moods tended to prefer healthier foods
    such as pizza or steak (32%).” Pizza, healthy eh?

    whiteblackred wrote on December 9th, 2010
  23. I think a big part of temptation for me is convenience–easy to drive through a cheap, authentic Mexican place and get a carne asada taco. (Yeah, I know, I could throw away the tortilla, but once it’s in my hands, that’s rare.) Wouldn’t a primal drive-thru be lovely??

    My favorite Primal snack–those amazing Almond Meal crackers from the Primal Cookbook–yum!!!! That recipe alone makes it worth the price (although there are many other great recipes).

    Catalina wrote on December 9th, 2010
  24. For me, it’s not a specific type of carb that’s killer, but a specific time of the week – the WEEKENDS. That’s when my carb cravings intensify. When I’m working, my diet’s clean, but as soon as the weekend rolls around, primal gets significantly more challenging. However, it is gradually improving by planning for those moments of weakness ahead of time.

    John wrote on December 9th, 2010
  25. The foods I eat now are what I spent years craving, so I am more than willing to trade in pasta, bread and other junk for some steak, venison and coconut. I believe in this diet so much, and have seen enough changes because of it, that it is honestly hard for me to imagine craving junk food.

    Patty wrote on December 9th, 2010
  26. As a fairly young person (I’m 19), and a primal eater for more than two years now, I feel I have an advantage in that those emotional and psychological connections to carb-and-sugar heavy junk or comfort food perhaps aren’t as fully developed as they would be if I were older. Therefore I see a bowl of what used to be my favorite cereal and all I can think about now is how much it looks like cat food. On the other hand, an omelet stuffed to bursting with veggies, bacon, and goat cheese illicits a considerably different response…

    Carson wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Several weeks after I gave up eating wheat, cereal, pasta, bread, etc., I got a craving for cereal. We had Rice Chex in the pantry which is gluten free. I thought to myself “rice is not great, but the Primal diet can accomodate rice occassionally” so I poured myself a big bowl of the stuff.

      I got so sick to my stomach that night and into the next day. It was a great lesson and helped curb that particular craving. :)

      JB wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • By the way, I’m not even saying an occassional small bowl of Rice Chex is going to kill a person. I have much worse vices than Rice Chex. :) Rather I ate that as my main meal for supper, and I had 2-3 large bowls of the stuff. Not a good idea and I won’t be making that mistake again!

        JB wrote on December 9th, 2010
  27. Speaking as a biochemist, I’d have to add into there some info on beta endorphin and dopamine in relation to sugary foods and white carbs- the addictiveness of the hit of endogenous opiates can be really hard to get away from. The work of Bart Hoebels is worth a look, as is Kathleen Desmaisons concept of sugar sensitivity though she advocates wholegrains as the alternative. Cravings are not just psychological, they are also biochemical, and an understanding of what is going on can help to plan effective ways to get free and stick to paleo food. Also it is helpful for us to be aware that some people are more vulnerable than others due to their own natural biochemistry, so what is an easy choice for one person can be a real battle for another, and that’s not about lack of willpower.

    Katherine wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • As one who has dealt with food addiction my entire life I can certainly agree on the willpower thing. Cutting out all grains and sugar, I do eat occasional fruit, has been a great help, but sometimes the cravings are beyond reality. I’ve found eating protein and fat help moderate cravings, but still have to be very careful or it’s off to the races.

      kenp wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • I know what you mean. My craving for grains has more or less disappeared, but sweet still shows up. I try to contain carb creep with very dark chocolate and blueberries with cream, but the size of the serving wants to grow. Holiday goodies are no longer a problem.

        Carol wrote on December 10th, 2010
    • I think that’s what my problem is. I get so mad at myself for compulsively eating something that I don’t even think tastes good anymore! After I’ve eaten everything in sight and determined that, no, I did not get any satisfaction from it, I think, “This has to be biochemical or something.” It feels more like a physical addiction than a psychological craving. I think I will change strategies and treat it like an addiction!

      Renee wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Yep, funny how the 13th doughnut has no taste due to the sugar burn in your mouth, but ya still fuc*in’ eat it!

        The science is solid on addicts having different brain wiring and chemistry and I believe it. I find no difference between sugar cravings and those I had when I still drank. OA has been a great help, btw

        kenp wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • Amen on that 13th doughnut, lol. How about “donette gems”? They are TOTALLY disgusting and NOT tasty, but I always associated them with gas station stops on long road-trips. Which are hard to handle in primal mode, coolers or not.

          Louise D. wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • Louise D…those are my weakness on road trips too! And of course I would have to eat all 6 of them. I am close to growing out of that nostalgic craving.

          Amanda wrote on December 10th, 2010
    • Thanks for pointing this out, Katherine.

      I totally agree on the biochemical component to cravings and individual variances in their intensity.

      Alison Golden wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Thank you! As chief Christmas cookie baker in the household, I’ve likened it to asking an alcoholic to mix the drinks at the party! A nip here and there, and you’re a goner!

      However, I spent some time yesterday researching alternatives (thank you Elana!), and I think I”m good to go for next year, and subsequent years as I slowly phase out the toxic ones.

      Herbwifemama wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • From my own experience with addiction (alcoholism) I can attest to the biochemical nature of addiction. The work of Dr. John David Sinclair in the field of the opioidergic system/alcoholism/addictive behavior connection changed- nay- SAVED my life. I was skeptical but desperate so I tried the Sinclair Method of alcoholism treatment and to my surprise it worked beautifully.
      His research also shows a link between the opoid system and food cravings. A lot of which, I believe to be influenced by a genetic predisposition for certain addictions. It has been postulated that the Sinclair Method may have some use in the area of food addiction as well.

      Trav wrote on December 10th, 2010
      • I’ll check it out. I cut sugar and grain cold turkey at the beginning of this (back on both now, aiming to get off again), and I found that I drank a lot more alcohol while sugar free (only cane sugar, not honey or other sweeteners). It was a bit disconcerting, to be honest. (And I’m not much of a drinker, I”ll have maybe one or two cups of wine a week, I was easily doubling the wine, and throwing in a beer or two while sugar free, and I don’t like beer that much (and yes, I know it’s a grain…)

        Herbwifemama wrote on December 11th, 2010
  28. What worked for me was a four week elimination diet to make sure I didn’t have any food sensitivities. That was a powerful enough reason for me to get through the first tough 10 days or so of cravings. I didn’t want to have to start this all over so I was 100% on board.

    Now six week in, I still haven’t had any grains, yeast, or nuts, and have found no sensitivity to eggs or dairy. I will eventually try wheat again, but since I don’t miss it so far I am in no rush. I now make my own ice cream and have only had one small scoop at Thanksgiving, without the typical desire to eat a sink-full immediately after the first bite.

    Progress, but not perfection! That actually is perfect for me!!

    Rodney wrote on December 9th, 2010
  29. Everyone is different of course… which this post covered. But assuming that “breakfast cereal” or one can of “Coke” per day is the hold up, I’ll argue that it’s much better to switch to a primal diet and keep the one vice. For example, eat healthy all day long, but have your can of Coke.

    Obviously that’s not the ideal situation, and even just drinking one can of Coke every day has consequences. Yet it’s undoutably better than having that can of Coke plus eating unhealthy during all the day’s meals.

    Plus if you can say to someone “fine, drink your can of Coke, but go Primal in every other aspect of your life” chances are better they’ll give it a go. And chances are good they might just give up that Coke eventually after experiencing the benefits associated with the rest of their conversion to Primal living.

    JB wrote on December 9th, 2010
  30. I think there’s a huge variety in people and their reactions to food. Some of us are “supertasters” and for us, food is an overwhelming sensory and sensual experience. For such people, giving up part of this experience can obviously be very difficult. Some of us are “subtasters”, people who barely have enough tastebuds to register the difference between an asparagus and a pizza. They probably have a much easier time. My husband is a subtaster. He says he wishes he didn’t even have to eat, if he could just get nutrition through an IV he’d be dine. For him, going Primal is a no-brainer and a non-struggle. I’m a supertaster, and the textures, temperature, and subtle flavor differences are all part of a wonderful sensory experience when it comes to food. Not surprisingly, I miss a lot of the non-primal foods a LOT more than my husband does.

    Then again, even though I only smoked cigarettes for 6 months when I was a teenager and haven’t smoked one in over 25 years, and even though I know how terrible they are for the body (way worse than a baguette), I still crave them sometimes. The whole sensory experience of smoking is something I’m not sure I’ll ever get past wanting. So I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope that the non-Primal food cravings will ever go away for me. They have definitely lessened though, at least for many things. Bread and pasta are no longer an issue. Breakfast cereal is what I definitely miss the most. Especially since it’s so quick and easy in the morning!

    Robin wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Spot-on reply Robin…I wonder if more women (than men)fall into the “supersensoral” taster category? My husband and I have the same relationships toward foods…I still miss the sensoral experience of the cigarette a only smoked during a year of my life…and I still miss CRUNCH …specifically in a crunchy granola …yet the bread/pasta “soft”carb cravings have waned considerably…

      Donna wrote on July 8th, 2011
  31. Great post Mark! As a ‘primal’ nutritionist working with individuals and groups, this is the toughest bit of my job. Convincing people to eat more vegetables and bacon – easy. Giving up margarine & legumes – easy. No longer having breads, cereals, and sweets – bloody hard!

    Along with all the points you made, people have to acknowledge that to give up those foods, they are dealing with an physiological addiction in many instances. It is getting shown time & again that substances such as gluten and sugar are hard-wiring themselves into people’s nervous systems. It can be hard going.

    Jamie wrote on December 9th, 2010
  32. interested that you point out the “grief” that goes with giving up the foods you crave. I am a sugar addict, pure and simple. I find it HARD to give it up, it’s what i always “fall off the wagon” for. I feel enormously better when I don’t eat it – and I adore berries and thick cream as a treat instead. I doon’t even miss bread and pasta and rice. BUT – I do have a sense of loss, almost like a bereavement. Something I have clung to for comfort all my life turns out to have been a deceptive and deadly traitor. But I miss it. Bacon is great, butter on my veggies is fantastic, but they are not sources of emotional comfort on a bad day. I know sugar would kill me if I let it – but I so miss it!!

    denise wrote on December 9th, 2010
  33. Almost every Friday for the past 15 years has been pizza night. Oh boy!

    Helene wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • Make a Primal Pizza … recipes on this website.

      Kelda wrote on December 9th, 2010
  34. For me it’s all about the family/childhood connections. My mother was a good cook, and there are definitely many great memories bound up for me with the foods she made or bought for us and the times of the year. I am especially susceptible to desserts; I really don’t miss or crave bread/rice/potatoes all that much.

    Generally speaking, if I am “on” for a good while, my desire to eat most bad stuff goes away entirely. I am not even tempted by the junk food at work. But if I break for a favorite homemade food, suddenly those cheap Hershey bars become appealing again.

    I don’t really struggle with any issues with weight or health, but I do notice my performance in CrossFit going down when I’m eating poorly. That said, while my commitment is to be more 80 than 20 next year than this year, I fully know that I will not be able to (nor want to) be 100%. Not everything we enjoy is good for us, but if we know the true impact of our choices that is the best we can ask, and it helps us make the right one more often than not.

    Kris wrote on December 9th, 2010
  35. This describes every experience we’ve had in telling people about eating Primal, “What about bread?” Great article.

    Primal Palette wrote on December 9th, 2010
  36. My mantra – that has gotten me down 20 + pounds and still counting (2 lbs/week) is


    Pass it on!

    Bethany Belton wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • You might want to be careful with the quote.

      It was said by a woman who is 6 inches taller, and 10 sizes smaller than the average woman. I don’t think Kate Moss should be a good role model for going primal. I doubt she could even do one air squat without feeling faint!

      Like I said, just because careful!

      Caitlin wrote on December 9th, 2010
    • You might want to be careful with the quote.

      It was said by a woman who is 6 inches taller, and 10 sizes smaller than the average woman. I don’t think Kate Moss should be a good role model for going primal. I doubt she could even do one air squat without feeling faint!

      Like I said, just be careful!

      Caitlin wrote on December 9th, 2010
      • Whoops, my bad for posting twice!

        Sorry gang!

        Caitlin wrote on December 9th, 2010
        • Hmm, how about “nothing tastes as good as HEALTHY feels” as a variation, then…

          Jenny wrote on December 11th, 2010
    • Watch out with that mantra….This is the rallying cry of any anorectic…and is well-known…Think health, not thin as the ultimate motor behind the Paleo lifestyle…Paleo HELPS me to turn my back on unhealthy food restrictions…to embrace taste, mouth-feel and nourishment…One can lose weight on any restrictive diet…only Paleo seems to propagate perpetual physical and mental health in very positive, life-affirming ways…

      Donna wrote on July 7th, 2011
  37. Some of this is about the very human tendency to ignore long term consequences in favor of short term pleasure. It’s the same reason why people smoke cigarettes, don’t wear seat belts, or don’t buy life insurance. We’d rather please the “Present Me” than take care of the “Future Me” since the future seems to never come. So you’re not just battling culture, advertising, your upbringing, prevalence, and habit. You’re also fighting your human nature a bit.

    For me, I’ve been trying to place awareness in between my choice to eat something non-Primal and actually eating it. I’m trying to remind myself of just how sick I always feel afterward BEFORE I taste that slice of pizza. Nine times out of 10 that does the trick. I’ll chalk up that other one time to being human.

    Natalie wrote on December 9th, 2010
  38. Before going primal/paleo in my eating, I loved bread in all of its forms. I had a bread machine, tons of recipes for breads, etc. I could never pass up the bread basket at my favorite Greek and Italian restaurants. I always ordered thick crust pizza. Bread had many happy memories for me since my grandmother and I often shared it when I was a child, especially her amazing homemade biscuits.

    I now can’t stand the smell of bread baking. I used to love that smell and now it produces a slight nausea. Coupled with eating what’s right for humans and retraining my biochemical responses to food, knowing what eating all of those carbs does to my body’s chemistry killed the bread craving.

    Feeling good and being stronger and lighter is powerful medicine and a message I can’t ever ignore. Over time, my desire for processed sugar and carbs has gone away. Eating primally has changed my taste buds for the better. For sure, there are stressful days when a big slice of chocolate cake looks good, but then I think about what that stuff was doing to my body. Thinking about old blood work results is enough to stop me.

    It’s interesting to try to explain to family why I don’t eat this or that anymore.

    Travis wrote on December 9th, 2010
  39. I find that smells can trigger cravings for me more that the sight of food. Like today, one of the banks brought our office a tin of popcorn for the holidays. Inside the tin is a bag of plain, one of cheese, and one of caramel. I opened the tin, and was overwhelmed by the smell. Now, every time I look at the tin, I think about that popcorn. And it’s not even one of my favorite foods, it’s just that sweet smell of the caramel corn which triggered a craving. (I do not plan to eat any of it, either.) I heard one time that stores put duct work in so that the smell of the bakery wafts to the front doors of the store, to get you hungry, which means you’ll spend more money. There’s big bucks in food styling, making that hamburger or pizza look so tempting. They never look that good in reality!

    D wrote on December 9th, 2010
  40. For me it’s not really a “junk” food. It’s oatmeal. I’ve been eating it twice a day so it doesn’t really fit into the 80/20. I’m biting the bullet and giving it up, but boy it’s hard!

    Lisa wrote on December 9th, 2010

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