Managing Cravings: Strategies to Stay the Primal Course

CravingsLast week’s “Why Diets Fail” post elicited some great discussion. There was a bit of everything – from wrangling to rallying, appeals to encouragement. It was the kind of conversation that, I feel, really makes the community. People are real. They put their experiences out there. From there the discussion, inquiry, challenge and support get going. It’s spirited and honest – doesn’t get any better than that in my book. I invite you to look back to the conversation yourself. For my part today, I want to address by far the biggest theme of that day – cravings. Your comments explored the issue from all kinds of angles. What do I do with cravings? Can I prevent them – pre-empt them in any way? Is it a bad sign if I have them? Do I need to give it time? Do I need to take a different approach? If I have them, does it mean eating Primally can’t work for me? Let’s take it apart.

First off, let me say this. I get the cravings experience. I truly get it. When I was doing the extreme competitive sports, I was eating more carbohydrates than you could probably imagine. A tub of ice cream in one day was not unheard of, and that was in addition to a whole myriad of grains and fruit and other carb/sugar sources. Yes, I got plenty of meat and veggies in there, but when you push your body that hard every day, you load up on thousands of calories – any way you can get them.

So, when I finally retired from the competitive lifestyle and the diet that fueled it, my body had its own transition to go through. I was never overweight, but the poor diet and overtraining took its toll in numerous other ways, including recurring bouts of fatigue, osteoarthritis in both of my feet, severe tendonitis in my hip joints, and gastrointestinal maladies to name a few. Something had to change. And it did, but it was rocky at times. It didn’t happen overnight. I held onto some things for a while – a bit of bread at restaurants, a helping of this or that at holiday meals. Eventually, I gave it all up. That’s what I found worked for me. With the effects on my body and digestive system, I just couldn’t justify it anymore. That said, I still remember the things I enjoyed back then. Even today I can look at a bananas foster and get a little wistful. Then it passes.

It’s important to say that not everyone has these kinds of cravings. Sure, no one is blind to what the rest of the world is eating. All of us here at one time or another used to enjoy some variety of unhealthy but insanely popular food. In fact, I’d venture to say just about every one of us had some favorite item – some piece of junk food so processed and kitschy that it feels almost unmentionable. (Go ahead, get it off your chest.) Still, not everyone continues to crave said unmentionable or any other old favorites. Some people, once they go Primal find over time that they’re totally satisfied and feel little to no interest in “indulging.” The longer they’ve been at it, the less tempted they are. Call it age, adaptation, whatever, but it’s probably a number of factors: physiological predispositions (or lack thereof), individual histories, personality traits, etc.

If you’ve been fully Primal for a while, the following strategies might not be as useful. Even some veteran Primal folks do, however, end up going through a temporary backslide during random life events or transitions (e.g. pregnancies with strange aversions/cravings, grief/loss with appetite issues, extreme life stresses, etc.). For those who are transitioning to Primal and for those who have been Primal but still experience cravings, these might be helpful.

Thanks to everyone who offered their ideas last week. Some points here echo/dovetail with those suggestions. Some will sound quite logical. Some will seem a little off the wall. I’ve worked with a lot of clients over the years and heard from thousands of MDA readers about their experiences and the paths they took to Primal. Collective strategies show the unusual underbelly of how to get from point A to point B and stay on course. For some, the path is straightforward and sensical. For others, it’s a quirkier, more imaginatively scenic road trip.

Accept that it’s going to be a journey toward personal idiosyncrasy.

Make no mistake: good eating is just as personal as bad eating. Maybe the better way to put that is it needs to be just as personal – if it’s going to stick. If your food line-up becomes a generic meal plan of shoulds instead of wants, you’re going to have a problem on your hands eventually. You need to find food you’re passionate about – that you look forward to eating. No, we don’t live to eat. That said, who wants to give up really great pleasurable eating?

Take radical care of yourself.

Seriously – bigger than life, indulgent care of yourself. So much so that you rest on the edge of guilt and would fall off the other side except it’s so nice for a change. It’s amazing to me how many people take on a new diet and change nothing else about their stressed out, sleep-deprived, unbalanced lifestyles. We’re setting ourselves up for failure if we don’t work with our bodies or if we exhaust our willpower. The hormonal helter-skelter caused by sleep deprivation won’t do you any favors. Likewise, going through 4 caffeine crashes in a day or living a life you have no desire to meet each morning is reason to pause and reassess. Food is powerful stuff, but it’s part of a bigger picture. Do other things to take care of your emotional and physical needs, and you’ll take pressure off your diet to fix things it’s not meant to fix.

Keep a transition food journal – the unrated version.

Yeah, as a trainer, I know the typical food journal “assignment” can be tedious and boring. I’d suggest taking a different approach here. Try to view this as an exercise in extreme self-honesty. (That’s where it all starts after all.) For the first week, write down everything you eat – and crave. No judgment. Put as many of your food thoughts and responses in there as you have reasonable time for. Let every quirk and odd association shine through. (If nothing else, it will be fun to look back on.) Be sure to include where/when the craving hit – and what spurred it (e.g. T.V. commercial for meat lovers’ pizza, neighbor kid with a fudgsicle, a crappy mood). For the second week, brainstorm responses to cravings, reasonable exits/avoidances from craving-associated situations/triggers and substitutions that sound good or almost as good for each craving. With that in mind…

Discern the real crux of your craving.

What do you really want when you’re craving your coworker’s tuna casserole or mac and cheese? Seriously. Do you want some hot comfort food? Do you want something that reminds you of your childhood lunches? Do you want cheese…salt…creaminess? What will fill that spot? Some really good cream based Primal style soup? Maybe not every single craving will respond to a strict Primal substitute. Do the best you can. If a bowl of buttered and salted peas will get you over the hump, then do it. If a bowl of mashed cauliflower “potatoes” with butter, salt and parmesan can sub for it, even better. Maybe some “meatza” or a grass-fed Polish sausage or hot dog (complete with some homemade ketchup) will give you the same “normal” food vibe.

Keep a major stash – of moderate recipes.

On that same subject, I think it’s crucial for most people to have plenty of recipes/food ideas that reflect some of their old favorite things to eat – just Primalized. That was the heart of the Primal Cravings cookbook concept, and I can’t tell you how many people tell me that book helps keep them on the wagon. When you just have to have a big juicy burger but feel like the meat patty falls flat on its own, try the crispy cooked potato slices as a better bun. The fact is, most of us agree that gluten free buns are a poor substitute, and there’s no nutritional value in them anyway. Crispy potato slices are just different enough to not disappoint but hit on the inevitable taste association most of us have of burger and fries. This is just one example among many in that cookbook and others, but the general point holds.

Keep plenty of substitute ingredients on hand.

Along the same lines, have plenty of ideas and plenty of ingredients to make whatever you might feel inclined to lean on in a craving fit. (Yes, I know it can feel like that – that sudden, intense and irrational mental flare-up.) Keep cocoa powder, stevia, and coconut milk on hand for when your chocolate craving has gone toof far. Or, better yet, some chocolate coconut Primal Fuel with just water and ice can really hit the spot. Keep alternative sweeteners in the cupboard and some fresh fruit and nuts in the house to make an impromptu Primal “fruit crisp.” Keep less starchy root vegetables for when you want healthier fries or chips. Create seasoning blends for said fries or meats that make you crave them even more. (I thought a good grass-fed steak was heaven until I started using a lavender and custom salt seasoning. Now I could eat it every day.)

Make an “eat this, not that” list – and have multiple copies.

Put one on your fridge. Put another in your car. Put yet another in your work desk. Have one saved in a folder on your phone. When cravings strike, don’t trust your memory to recall this information. That’s not how most of us work in those moments. We go into panic, one-track mind mode. A list means we don’t have to think farther than remembering we have the list itself. (You will likely forget the list a couple times, but that’s fine. Eventually, you won’t.)

Psyche yourself out of deprivation thinking.

We can say cutting out wheat or other unhealthy foods is depriving ourselves (as was raised last week), but I think there’s an important distinction to be made between depriving ourselves of things we need/things that are good for us and eschewing those things that don’t serve our well-being. Giving up something doesn’t automatically impose deprivation. Giving up cigarettes isn’t deprivation. While we might miss a French baguette, a smoker likely misses cigarettes. Sure, for most of us (don’t forget about those with Celiac Disease) a baguette isn’t as bad as a cigarette. Nonetheless, we’re still not doing ourselves any favors when we eat it. Sometimes taking certain things off the table entirely is necessary for health. Coca-Cola will tell you their soda can be part of a “balanced diet,” but that’s a b.s. brand of balanced. Intellectually reason with yourself here, but let it work on an emotional level. Picturing the round contours of the baguette and thinking of a bloated wheat belly can be one way to psyche yourself back to reality. Likewise, imagining the massive carb spike playing out in your body sending off inflammation alarms in every cell could do it for some people. It might take a more unsavory image or memory of last time’s fifteen trips to the toilet to make you turn away.

Look into physiological reasons for continued cravings.

Are you getting enough calories in your diet? What about protein? Do you have a history of hormonal issues? If not, it might be worth checking into. Oftentimes, even slight imbalances (on paper) translate into significant issues for the body. Carb cravings can be the result of adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, or yeast overgrowth, for example. Particularly if you experience significant fatigue, insomnia or other ongoing physical symptoms, see an endocrinologist or other specialist who would be willing to look at the hormonal and/or whole health picture.

Just eat it, but…

In the end, it might come down to just eating that object of a craving obsession. If you think a Primalized version can get you through, go for it. If not, eat the original. But don’t do it on the spur of the moment. Plan it. Dine with it. Eat other good healthy things with it (e.g. your favorite salad). Enjoy a nice glass of wine with it. Make it an occasion with other healthy foods/pleasurable elements to both fill you and distract you. The 80/20 Principle can work for you here, but be cognizant about how these things go for you. Does one indulgence set off a major backslide? Be prepared for what comes after if you decide to go there. (And try not to go there whenever you can.) Be ready, for example, to make a Primalized substitute of that food the very next day after you have the original. Cravings often come on top of each other. An old food can churn up a whole cycle. Eat the item, but cut off the cycle with all your favorite Primal foods and strategic substitutions over the next few days after that trip into old territory. Avoid the trouble and risk whenever possible by keeping variety and Primal craving-worthy food in your meal circulation.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What’s worked for you? How has knowing yourself – and organizing your strategies around that self-knowledge – helped you over some major humps in the journey? Throw your ideas and challenges into the mix on the board today.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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115 thoughts on “Managing Cravings: Strategies to Stay the Primal Course”

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    1. Yeeaaah….or it could indicate just the opposite (Hypothetical scenario: Someone with a daily CrossFit habit eats, say, 100g of carbs a day, craves carb-dense junk food constantly, reasons that his cravings clearly hint at a supraoptimal intake of “wholefood carbs”, decides to cut his carb intake down to 50g – turns into a zombie. Could it be that doubling the carb intake instead of cutting it in half is a better idea in a situation such as this?). Or a myriad of other things. Context matters. To quote Einstein:”Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

      1. Then that person was not paying attention to something that has been said here, in several posts. Someone who is doing intense work outs may need more carbs on those days….

        1. You are missing the point; the CrossFit-example simply serves the prupose of “fleshing out” my criticism of what I believe Groktimus` remark to be, namely unwarranted causal reductionism; whether or not MDA provides information about “Primal for athletes” is irrelevant in this context.

      2. Great post! A lot of great info, I bookmarked this page and well be using it as my guide.


        Have you ever heard of if it fits your macros movement?

        You combine healthy foods with non healthy foods as long as you don’t go over your macro limit of proteins, carbs, and fats. (Which make up calories)

        What is your take on it if you have heard of it.

        Thank you,

  1. “Do other things to take care of your emotional and physical needs, and you’ll take pressure off your diet to fix things it’s not meant to fix.”


    Seriously. Thank you for that!

    1. Yes!!!!! That makes it sound so darn simple!!!!! Fully agree here! And yes to the t-shirt!

    2. Gwen, well stated. I that when I take better care of my emotional needs and try to find out what it is that really “bugging” me the whole eating thing falls much more easily into place from a primal perspective. BTW you look like Betty White!

    1. +1

      Stress and lack of sleep would do me in badly.

      Also, upping my carbs increased my appetite a bit. however, I don’t see this as a bad thing. I went from feeling I could fast for days, to wanting to eat much more.

      I think there’s nothing wrong with having cravings. It just takes some willpower and mindfulness to realize that you’re only human and it’s natural to feel this way, but the world won’t end if you pass up the indulgences. It’s kind of like a higher-state of thinking, food-wise.

      1. Are we sure it’s natural and only human? Did american indians have this? Maybe they craved berries, honey, root veggies. But I just can’t see them going around most days craving.

        1. American Indians craved those things because those were the best things they could get.

  2. I don’t think I get cravings, but I do have times of the day that just feel like a snack would be tasty (often around 4pm). I’m not actually hungry, but just want to eat something. Now I grab a spoon, dip out some coconut oil, stick a few salted nuts in it and eat it…yum. That usually gets rid of the snack idea. If it doesn’t, I eat a few more nuts. I am trying to stop thinking of sugar and grain products as “treats” and instead think of them as “slow poisons”. So I don’t have a “cheat” day when I happily eat that stuff. The longer you avoid it, the easier it is to keep avoiding it.

    1. I read this article and your comment while eating a cupcake.

      I don’t care — it’s Halloween. All things in moderation.

        1. Actually it would if you eat it instead of injecting it. Heroin was sold as an oral cough medicine for a long time with very few people getting addicted until someone had the idea of injecting the stuff. As I understand it, the slower onset and lower peak effect greatly limit the addictive potential.

          I still agree that “everything in moderation” is bad as a general principle.

        2. I seriously hate both that statement “All things in moderation” and the automated snide, holier than thou response of “Sure, including heroin/cocaine/cigarettes/drain cleaner and rat poison mojitos.”


          [Begin Rant]

          PB is about one thing – INFORMED CHOICE.

          Do what you will with the information. If you want to eat a cupcake, then God Bless. They’re not for me, but as long you understand what it means in the context of your own eating and activity plan and have no problem including it, all cool. At the end of the day, it’s your body and your health outcome.

          Suggesting that a typical cupcake is going to be a beneficial dietary item for most anyone in any context due to portion size, moderate, minuscule or any any form, however, is facetious. In most conceivable scenarios, it is going to cause harm. Minimal harm, to be sure, but harm all the same.

          Don’t cop out of it, accept it. We all do harmful things to ourselves in one form another, that’s just part of living. If you’re aware of the dangers and choose to do it anyway, it’s your call.

          By the same token, the snide over response that gets fired at folks who use that maxim annoys me. Perhaps the folks using the “always in moderation” phrase are being a bit lazy with what their thoughts and reverting to a tired cliche. We’ve all done that. Perhaps they genuinely do proscribe to that belief to some extent. Whatever.

          There is absolutely zero helpful or constructive intent to be taken from casually belittling someone like that. It entirely defeats the purpose of what communities like this are meant to achieve – positive choice through logical, constructive argument and a steady flow of information. It’s a pissy little pot shot that really is no better than kicking someone in the balls and smirking about it later.

          If you really want to help, stop being an annoying twat and try to engage someone meaningfully.

          [Rant Over]

        3. I don’t know about heroin in cough syrups, but in Europe and the U.S. the most common form of opium addiction was in the form of Laudanum, a tincture of opium in an alcohol base.

          Digesting opiates, e.g. oxycontin, may SEEM less drastic than injecting them. But people are dying by the thousands anyway.

  3. One trick I use when I’m stressed is to ‘pre-eat’. (Kind of like ‘pre-drinking’ but good for you.) So, if I sense I might break out the Haagen-Dazs, I will eat a large helping of broccoli, cauliflower, a steak, whatever. This tends to change my biochemistry enough.

  4. Good advice. I just did a 24 hour intermittent fast last Saturday and noticed that it really, really helps if you keep busy during the day. If you are just walking around being miserable and thinking about food, it will be really hard

    1. This is SO true! When I am at home, but still have stuff to do I tend to gravitate towards the kitchen more and more. If I am busy out doing things throughout the day I don’t really think about food at all.

  5. Since going Primal I have a new appreciation for fresh homemade guacamole. I crave it and that isn’t bad, it’s just how to get it from the bowl to mouth. Nothing works like tortilla chips. I don’t even like the chips that much but the combination is snacking heavan…

    1. yes! plantain chips! trader joe’s brand is roasted in sunflower oil with sea salt. yum.

    2. Carrot sticks work great as a crunchy substitute, and a good guac masks the carrot taste. Look at me sneaking vegetables into my own diet!

    3. II put quac on my omelets, use sliced mushrooms or cuke slices to scoop it up, it’s great on steaks and there’s always this really great invention called a “spoon” that is a no-brainer for getting the quac from the bowl into the mouth.

      I’ve also been accused of double-dipping by using the same chip over and over and just sucking the quac off the chip and re-using the chip. So now out of courtesy, I just suck the quac off the chip and throw the chip out and get a fresh one. Chips are cheap—–

    4. Personally, I make my own tortilla chips by frying a corn tortilla in butter or coconut oil. It’s still not primal but we can at least avoid the manky vegetable oils.

  6. Sometimes I just have to sit on my hands and say “For the next 5 minutes, I’m not going to eat that candy sitting on my co-workers desk.” The craving passes, and then I’m ok. Until the next one…

  7. Think about hydration as well. Some cravings are actually signs of dehydration. Try some water with lemon, cucumber, and mint. Very refreshing.

  8. Every now and then I get a little reminiscent and long for a big old stack of french toast or eggo waffles covered in aunt jemima butter flavoured maple syrup (maple syrup like product)… and then I remember what’s in that stuff. I think it’s because it reminds me of childhood. Whatever comfort it would temporarily bring me would not be worth how I felt afterwards though!

  9. I know for many people, myself included, it’s impossible to just have one of certain things. Seriously try to have just one chip!

    I think these are the foods that get you in trouble. We feel guilty that we did something wrong and think “why did I eat that.” I’ve worked with a lot if people who when that happens fall completely off and go binge on everything bad. As if one mistake ruined it all.

    I find there are other things if I’m craving I can actually have in an 80/20 context. Sticking with those foods and avoiding the foods that lead to the ultimate collapse is key.

    1. I can eat just one chip. The trick is to have some “real” food available and ready. Then take the single chip and close up and and put away the bag, or leave it with whoever is eating them, throw it away, whatever, but get away from the rest of the chips. Then eat and enjoy the chip. Then go eat the food you have available and ready.

    2. I’m one of those who can’t stop at one anything. I envy people who can. It has taken a long time to be able to pass the “sugar high” offerings people leave in the coffee room. The real test will be Christmas . . . .

  10. The paragraph on taking radical care of yourself is such a lightbulb! I wonder though about the idea of planning and making a real meal out of giving in to the craving. I mean, if I turn my defeat by the meat lovers pizza commercial (for not the first time) into a nice meal, I run the risk of tying healthful emotions to unhealthful food. For me, better to wolf it quick and dirty and add a thick layer of extra shame to that pizza.

  11. Thank you very much for this post; there are several things I can apply to what I’m doing to make things easier for myself (especially the “eating what I should” versus “eating what I want”, and allowing myself to relax on the edge of guilt.

    So steak with lavender and custom seasoned salt. What’s in the custom seasoning????? I am trying to expand my seasoning palate, and have had difficulty finding ways to try to add lavender. Also, I always love to learn of new steak seasonings!

  12. I’ve never done any “diet” because I’m not into deprivation. Paleo has worked because I never mentally deprived myself of anything. Instead, I mentally framed it as substituting delicious food for things that I should eat sparingly (i.e., eggs & bacon vs. cereal and fake milk; real fruit & nuts vs. dessert or other machine crap). In the beginning I also used primalized versions of old favorites, such as primal pizza. As I have evolved in my journey and understood first hand the effects of grains, dairy, added sugar and bad oils, it has become increasingly easy to visualize the negative effects rather than the pleasure I used to derive from those things. Another discovery I’ve made is that when I crave something unhealthful, my body is usually missing something healthy. If I think about what I have eaten over the past two or three days compared to my activity level, I can generally figure out what I really crave — and it’s not the junk.

  13. In my experience, resisting a fall off the wagon hurts a little for hours, but climbing back on the wagon hurts a lot for days.

    1. Rick, I had to read that twice to get it….reminds me of saying:

      “the pain of discipline weighs ounces, the pain of regret weighs tons”

      Thank you.

  14. The “Primal Cravings” cookbook by the Keatleys has been a Godsend. The ability to occasionally have pizza or baked desserts, particularly without having to use almond flour, brings joy. A life without pizza is its own punishment.

  15. When I sat with my dying father for 7 days, I made sure I ate perfectly Primal. The results were astonishing. Whenever I have perceived stress coming on or am in the process of stress, I make sure my eating gets perfect instead of the opposite. Now I’m trained: Stress = better eating, sleeping. Now it’s become my trigger.

  16. For me it’s all about sleep. I am lucky enough to have a schedule that allows for a quick afternoon nap when needed, but sometimes I get busy or forget to do that and it’s stunning what sort of cr*p I can hoover up instead. (Canned french-fried onions, anyone?) It’s also stunning how on days when I do make sure I’ve had good sleep I don’t even think about eating junk.

  17. This is a great list! I love the idea of carrying a “eat this/not this” list with me at all times. As you said, when a particularly virulent craving hits, it’s easy to just react to it and choose something out of panic. A list would allow me to respond to the craving, not react to it, by offering myself several healthy choices. Thanks for the input!

  18. Damn it! I didn’t know what a bananas foster was so I googled it. Now I’m craving one.

  19. I like the section titled, “Just Eat It, But…”

    Falling off the wagon isn’t the end of the world. Don’t beat yourself up or attach too much importance to it. That can be counterproductive. In fact, it can cause you see yourself as a total failure and give up completely. Just make sure the object of your desire is really worth it. (If you give it some thought beforehand, you’ll realize that it usually isn’t.)

    Meanwhile, keep your goal in sight. Just because you gave in to a day or so of eating junk doesn’t mean the “primal door” has slammed shut and locked you out. There’s no law that says you can’t get back on track. It’s just a case of mind over matter.

  20. I traveled and had a birthday recently. I fell off the primal wagon with just a few cheats: chili with beans, 1/2 piece corn bread, oatmeal, excessive dark chocolate (bars and mocha in coffee), 3 bites of cake, 1/2 apple pie and 1/3 creme brûlée over 5 days. Seemed relatively harmless, but amazingly enough a skin rash and swollen fingers has come back!! That was first thing to disappear going Primal. And my stomach is bloated. Crazy! It is just not worth it. And one cheat leads to another rationalization it seems….In 2 days of healthy eating my skin rash is already healing. It’s PRIMAL for me all the way, all the time!! Love it and even though I have not lost weigh in 2 strict months, I did lose 5 inches off waist and hips. Gotta love it! Thanks Mark- I’m back to drinking the koolaid- LOL!

  21. Some people say that cravings are a sign that your body needs something specific, but most of the time I find that its a result of boredom combined with convenience. Which is why I just don’t keep bad foods in the house. If they aren’t there, I don’t think about them. If I get into one of those cycles where I’m standing in front of the fridge with the door open, or poking through the pantry for something salty and crunchy, I’ll walk away pretty quickly once I realize there’s nothing immediately graze-worthy.

    If I’m busy and active, I don’t get cravings – the exception being a craving for an ice cold beer after a hot day of yard work. I don’t think about things like doughnuts unless someone brings them to the office – it’s only those times that I have to figure out a plan of action, maybe just putting on headphones and diving into a spreadsheet until my co-workers empty the box. The office is really the absolute worst place – jars of candy or “fun size” chocolate bars everywhere, bagels, bags of chips left over from executive lunches, monthly birthday celebrations with cake and ice cream. Sometimes the only way to power through is to get a little self-righteous and just tell myself “I’m better than that!” Being judgmental is not a great way to get through life, but sometimes it’s not a bad way to get past that box of doughnuts.

    1. My office is the same way. The kitchenette looks like a Halloween clearance some days, and they seem to have stock in Panera for all the stuff they use them for catering.

      Some days, I just say “screw it” and will eat a donut (I’m a sucker for eclairs), but nowadays, if I eat even that, one is enough, and even on the verge of being too much sugar. It’s a far cry from how I used to be, where I’d not only eat something every time it was offered, I’d go back for more. The sick feeling I get after the sugar overdose is a nice reminder that it’s simply not worth it most of the time. Remembering how I feel after eating the junk helps keep me from “giving in” to the cravings.

      That said, extensive exercise requirements aside, I agree with Groktimus Primal – if you’ve got a lot of cravings, it might be worth decreasing your carb intake. I know a number of people for whom that works, and they’ve verified it by attempting to increase their carbs, only to have cravings return that they hadn’t had for months.

    2. So true! I can pretty much self-righteous my way through the bakery at the grocery store every time now. I just focus on my cart and what I see in other carts and stand a little taller. I swish my skinny butt past the baguettes with a smug smile. (and run like crazy for the door, before I change my mind 🙂

  22. Best thing I heard, especially when adapthing to fasting was that hunger comes in waves, then goes. It doesn’t build and build and get stronger as time persists. It helped me

  23. Thankfully my cravings for things I don’t eat have mostly disappeared, but what I used, when the talons of “I WANT THAT” had me in their grip, was to remind myself that eating it was “just not worth it” and it helped.

    Unfortunately my cravings haven’t disappeared completely, they’ve just moved to things I can eat 🙂 like heavy cream, nuts and certain fruits.

    Since I’m still in the process of getting used to listening to my body dictate it’s requirements – rather than my mind encouraging excess – I’m letting those cravings happen and weirdly enough, they’re getting less and less.

    But I really like the idea of taking very good care of myself… Good Point!

  24. My comfort, binge, food was always Cheez-Its with Pepsi. My favorite thing was to get a bowl full of Cheez-Its and a tankard or Pepsi and play computer games. One day I noticed that my pants had shrunk (damn dryer!) but didn’t do anything about it. Fast forward 20 years later and still being overweight by 15 lbs. and running marathons but never ever seeming to get my weight to drop. Along comes someone telling me about the Paleo/Primal life and voila! weight lose! Effortless, like Mark says, I only had to stop eating grains and nothing else. I may miss my Cheez-its but I know now how much work it takes to lose my Cheez-Its weight!

  25. yeah I find that once I feel the cravings, if I can get over the initial cravings, then I’m fine for a while. But that first 5 min window is tough to overcome.

  26. I’m nearly to “day 100” mark of my complete lifestyle change, that I began earlier this summer, and yeah, I get a craving here and there. Doughnuts, cheesecake, whatever. But I haven’t given in, because as silly as it might sound – it scares me to death that I’ll immediately regain the 40lbs I’ve dropped. As irrational as that sounds, it keeps me from going to the dark (and sweet) side.

    Listen, I don’t think people give themselves as much credit as they should. People are stronger than they think they are. So you get a craving – come on guys and gals! It’s not your first rodeo…you know within a few minutes you’ll be fine. Be a warrior and power through it! Don’t let junk-food make you its bitch again.

    Great piece here.

    1. “…as silly as it might sound – it scares me to death that I’ll immediately regain the 40lbs I’ve dropped.”

      Me too!

  27. I don’t usually consider myself one for cravings, but discovering the Primal Blueprint has in some ways set me up for some serious psychological battles with food. Framing all non-Primal foods as something I “can’t” eat has definitely been part of the problem, and I’ll find myself saying, “But I’m choosing not to eat it” and then arguing “But you don’t WANT to choose not to eat it!”

    The stricter I try to be, the worse the conversation gets. Sometimes, just eating the damn cookie or pizza takes care of it.

    Other times, if I have a super-strong craving for something junk-y, it’s probably because I worked out really hard and need some carbs. There is no eating only 50g carbs a day and training hard, at least not for me. That’s a surefire recipe to feel like crap. Today, I ended up indulging in Clif protein bars for breakfast because after my workout, I had zero desire to eat any kind of meat protein. They aren’t primal in the least, but in the end, I felt better. So that’s that.

  28. Tonight I watched my kids empty out their Halloween haul onto the carpet. In amongst the chocolate and other things I’ve been able to avoid for nearly a month now was a little packet of parma violets. You probably don’t have those in America. They are tiny. You could probably inhale one and breathe relatively normally. My nan used to buy them for me when I was very small and I’ve always loved them.

    I was stupid enough to try to replace the craving with a rice cake. Nuclear meltdown of a power plant is probably quieter than my stomach right now and it really aches. Should have just eaten the sweet!

      1. We call those fizzers, although you’ll more often hear them called Swizzels because they are made by Swizzels Matlow.

        Parma violets are the purple ones, but they have a stronger flavour, kind of like a lavender flavour.

        Smarties are something else entirely – chocolate.

  29. I find that if I eat a lot of protein, more than I ever thought I should, that I simply cannot stand the thought of eating anything when I’m not particularly hungry.

  30. If you don’t already crave chocolate and can control portions of it, a nice piece or two of the dark stuff can really curb your appetite and manage cravings for other food.

    I find this a good tool to suppress my hunger and allow myself to focus on other areas of my life. Works great!

  31. I’ve been doing the paleo/primal thing for about four years, and I have a few observations from my own experience:

    -When I spend extended periods of time avoiding any cheats, with my diet dialed in, I feel great! My mind is sharp and clear, I have seemingly unlimited energy, I sleep better, my digestion is good, etc. This in and of itself is very helpful in convincing my brain to ignore random cravings for bad things when I get them.

    -Many times when I have gone back to old foods that sounded good, they were a huge disappointment. My conclusion was that my pre-primal associations with those foods were related to hyperactive food rewards triggers, and when I go back and compare them with the rewards from whole real foods that are genuinely nourishing, my brain has re-tuned my perception of the experience. Last year I went to Pancake Pantry and had a big sloppy plate of buttermilk pancakes drenched in maple syrup. It sounded so good. But they actually tasted to me like the ingredients that make them up, (mostly a gritty, powdery flour filler) with a sickening amount of sugar added. I haven’t craved them since…

    -This is a big one: I find that the more time that has gone by since I started eating a primal diet, I am much more sensitive to the bad side effects of non-primal foods. The bad side effects happen more quickly, and with more intensity than ever before. Gas and bloating, achy joints, pain in random weird places, foggy brain, bad digestion, churning/burning stomach, skin rashes, acne (I’m a 48 year old male, and yes it’s mild but still acne), headaches, and on and on. All my primal-lifestyle family members are the same way — my wife has found that she’s extremely gluten-sensitive, even to the point of excruciating abdominal pain from a small amount. Needless to say, we have to be very careful with her eating anything with unknown ingredients. (It’s amazing how many foods contain gluten!)

    -Excessively high carb intake does have some correlation with a sugary/carby craving. But for me, this is a distinctly different effect depending on the type of carbs consumed. Processed carbs, like processed sugars, flours (even if “primal” substitutes), etc create this effect very strongly. Whole foods like white rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, etc are not nearly as strong with this effect, and are even less of a problem if mixed with high fat or high protein foods. It seems like with processed carbs, the effect is most pronounced “the morning after” consuming them, and as long as you don’t keep feeding the craving with more and more processed carbs, it fades within a day or two. If you give in and keep feeding it, the craving will continue.

    Everyone’s experiences are different, so my observations may or may not apply to others.

    1. I totally agree with you. Been primal for almost 4 years now (3 months to go) and it’s been tough at times.
      What seems to trigger cravings and weight gain for me is milk. I do not drink milk from the store (feedlot crap), I only purchase Raw Milk from a goat farmer.
      Although I was tested for allergies and nothing came back bad, I bloat and cramp every time I drink it. Milk also triggers cookies/cake/pastry cravings …. so the next week-end farmer’s market I end up buying a rhubarb pie with the excuse that it’s made in a farm kitchen by some little old lady with lots of warmth and love.

      I’ve gained about 12 lbs because of my excuses. I am so sick of bacon and meat in general.

      3 years ago I felt like I found the fountain of life…then I obsessed about nutrition…then I obsessed about weight loss…then I missed the milk…then 6 months later introduced the milk back, gained a lot of chub and haven’t been able to get rid of it since.

      Atm, I am quite unhappy, wish it was the summer of 2010 again. I feel tired, exhausted daily, unmotivated and find no enthusiasm in anything.

      Several things have happened outside the diet since, maybe they have something to do with it.
      Now I have to obey the primal laws because otherwise I’ll be so sick and uncomfortable that I’d wanna strangle someone.
      Sure feel a bit imprisoned …. wish I’d know how to get out of this rutt and lose the extra chub.

      Thanks for your post and sorry for my vent, felt good though:)

  32. I like the Primal Blueprint in general because even though there are foods you avoid there are relatively simple (although not always easy or quick) ways to make the thing you are craving in a way that is far less negatively impactful on your body. I have only been eating this way for about a month now, but I have had a version of pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, pizza and cupcakes now that are almost 100% on plan. They are higher in carbs to a degree- but I find I don’t need as much of them and just the fact that I can have them is a comfort if I really want them. I am not one who does well with the “You can’t eat that.” I never have been- the rebel in me wants to cram as much of it in my mouth as possible in order to prove that I can. The nice thing about this is that it is something I can have, but I no longer need. Makes me feel better about myself in the long run, actually.

    When I am craving something, I make it in the most primal way possible, pure and simple. By the way, the idea of doing potato rounds as buns has gotten me really excited to try turkey burgers again (never really been a fan of the beef kind). I was sure that I would have to make an uber expensive paleo bread recipe to do something like that! Potato rounds as buns sounds much easier and much less expensive. Good times!

  33. After a while, I actually started to crave the primal foods instead.
    Just yesterday I got a craving for canned mackerel and boiled eggs.
    About a year ago that would have been granola bars or sandwiches calling!

    It’s amazing how the body just adapts to “know” what it needs instead of assuming it “wants” junk.

    Just keep grocking on you’ll get there!

    1. I woke up with a strange craving for eggs this morning…
      Made a massive omelet!!!

    2. After eating mostly primal for a few years, last year my husband and I decided to lower our fat intake and track our diet for a couple of months to drop a few pounds. The weight came off easily when I simply cut down my 1/2 cup of whipping cream a day and used a lighter hand with ghee and olive oil – strong support for the ‘fat-burner’ principle – my body had less fat coming in as fuel, so I burned my reserves instead. But the really weird thing was that out of the blue, I had an intense craving for…. Liver. VERY strange, given that to this point in my life, I despised liver, and would never have dreamed of ordering it in a restaurant, let alone cooking it myself. After 2 or three days of this continual craving, I marched into the butcher’s store (we still have them in Germany :)) and bought some liver, went directly home, fried it up in ghee with some onions, and literally wolfed it down with a small glass of red wine. Delicious! That happened twice more, and that was it for about 9 months. Then the craving returned briefly and was similarly dealt with. I also get cravings for paté… we eat masses of freshly made organic leberwurst, but that is nothing new.

      I would have to say that I rarely crave things like I used to when I was eating a lot of grains. I do sometimes simply want to treat myself to a couple of scoops of gelato, but I refuse to beat myself up about it. I eat it, actively skipping the guilt trip, and then move on. Potato chips are a weak spot when I get together with family, but I know that as soon as we’re home again there’ll be no chips in sight. I think having a relaxed and healthy attitude about these exceptions allows me to move on instead of castigating myself and spiraling into a bad emotional/food-guilt place. At the risk of sounding self righteous, I think we should be congratulating ourselves on the 90% we are doing to promote our health rather than getting down about the 10% that might be sub optimal.

      1. Liver is very nutritious, so maybe you were lacking something 🙂 Eating it regularly is a good idea.

  34. Damn!!! Why did you have to give that last “just eat it” option!!!

    I have been battling a craving that I only have this time of the year. Only in this season with have these specific sweets available for on of the Dutch holidays. Chocolate covered cookies….
    And I have been doing good so far but the craving doesn’t go away. Actually I crave all sorts of chocolate related things now I think of it… (I know it’s an addiction) but now the idea of those sweet with my nice Mead, a good book and tons of candles makes me crave it even more

    I did give into a craving and had a bing day last weekend when I was having a girls only weekend… it resulted in two days of feeling so sick!!! I think I can manage cravings for a while, thanks to that..

    One thing that has stopped with eating primal is the craving of sweets in general (it’s only chocolate)… I found that they started to taste too sweet and too chemical..

    My solution to cravings:
    – always have dark chocolate at hand (I prefer the 72 or 76% chocolate)
    – Have dried fruits at hand (they are so sweet that just one or two pieces is enough)
    – mix melted coconut oil, coconut rasp, raw cacao powder, sweetner like maple syrup to taste and place it in the freezer for a while. It results in a heavy on the stomach bounty like candy…

  35. There should be two different words, but for now I’ll describe the term high cravings as those caused by hormones, blood sugar fluctuation, or deficiencies. When I switched to a low carb diet I was getting lots of high cravings, the kind that would cause you to down a tub of ice cream in a single sitting. What I did for a week or two was if I got an inkling of a craving, or thought I might get one, no matter what it was for I would just overeat on fats and meats, sometimes tell I felt sick.

    Now I just get low cravings, which I can either ignore or do any of the tricks listed in this article. But for high cravings substituting a primal version just doesn’t cut. My experiences I need to exert extreme will power or overeat like I did. I really didn’t know it at the time but I may have been reseting leptin or ghrelin levels or something like that, but my body did adjust so I didn’t get high cravings anymore.

  36. I am a licensed counselor and practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. A major part of the treatment for most psychological problems is exposure and response prevention. That is, exposure to a feared trigger and resisting urges to do something that would provide momentary relief through avoidance. It has been scientifically determined that cravings are time limited; typically a single bout of craving lasts no longer than 7 minutes. This includes hunger pangs, urges to have a drink. The most important first step is developing awareness of the beginnings of a craving, then the ability to sit with the feelings/sensations involved, without reflexively moving to get relief. There needs to be an underlying motivation to improve one’s quality of life, since the work is not easy, especially not at first.

    1. Just returned home from dinner with a friend and funnily enough – there’s another timely and astute article from my friend Mark S – before I went to have dinner I resolved not to abandon my primal principles – but you know, I just didn’t have the willpower – I didnt go mental, but looking back i had paella (rice), beer (grains) and shared a knickerbocker glory (ice cream, disgraceful!). Shocking, I know my primal bro’s and sisters, i oughta be ashamed. But perhaps the stress relief of a good meal outweighs the bad behaviour! Either way – i can’t really imagine being able to resist this stuff on a dinner date with a good friend.

  37. I think d best way to subside cravings is to change habits d ryt way… I dnt remember if i read this on MDA or Nerd Fitness, but d best way to change a habit is by creating a new SELF-IDENTITY…

    I thot i cud never let go of the wheat rotis (flatbread) and rice that is so common in India, but after a few months of moderating these things,i started thinking about myself as sum1 who DOESN’T EAT that, rather dan sum1 who DOESN’T WANT TO EAT that… creating identities works like a charm, at least it has for me…

    Also, luckily, I have studied some biology, and I get what is happening inside my body in most day-to-day experiences (I had gotten a deltoid sprain once, and though I didn’t say so in front of d doc, I had figured out what had happened, and wat part of wat exercise had caused it :p)… So, i find it v easy to investigate WHY i’m feeling drawn to some foods, and then act accordingly… If m jst tired and need a pick-me-up, my body screams ‘glucose’… i jst jump on d spot a few times… dat gets me in d mood to drop down for 10 pushups (while gomer pyle holds d guilty food :D), n den my mind z too buzzing to think abt idiotic carbs 🙂

  38. I can usually ride out cravings if I put my mind to it (ie, I REALLY want to), unless I’ve let myself get over-hungry. It”s been very hard since baby #4 (2 months old), because it’s hard to get my hands free on any type of schedule. When they do get free, I make food for the older kids first, and sometimes I get to mine, sometimes not. That’s when the temptation to eat four granola bars, or toast, or anything I can reach with 1 hand can get overwhelming. I also notice that I have worse cravings if I skip my cod liver oil for a few days. I’m working on it–and the temptation gamut of October is over (5 family birthdays + Halloween=too much sometimes).

  39. I am in one of those life “moments” where there have been multiple sources of stress and uncertainty. I have been for more than a year. I have definitely fallen off the wagon, which I never was fully on. I am slowly increasing the number of meals that I cook myself, which I am doing more now than ever before. I may still be eating badly (when out socially) too frequently for my taste, but I am working on cooking as another front to get back to the wagon. I can feel that my “bad” decisions affect me more than they have been and I am beginning to back down from that because I like cooking and making my own tasty meals.

    I think I will look into the Primal Cravings cookbook as another tool. I’m certain I’ll find that useful.

  40. I get “mouthfeel” cravings, the need for something creamy, crunchy or caramelly in my mouth. Usually it’s creamy, so the craving is for ice cream. But I notice when I have recently eaten lots of healthy fat, the craving isn’t there as often. I think my my cravings are usually related to my body’s need for nutrients it’s missing, so I try and figure out what my body is trying to tell me with its “mouthfeel”.
    So far I have:
    – creamy = berries & cream, avocado, or coco milk smoothie (body needs fat)
    – crunchy = peanut/almond butter & carrots, apple (body needs..vitamins?)
    – caramelly/chewy = steak? beef jerky? Usually I just have a Snickers bar, but that doesn’t help… Haven’t figured this one out yet, any ideas?

    1. What is &amp?….Annika…I get the SAME “creamy/crunchy/caramel-y” cravings…and find a frozen banana fruit soft-serve thick concoction…with slivered toasted almonds and a quick brittle fabricated from Maple Syrup to “quelch” these “needs” quite satisfactorily!….Beef jerky really does help with the “chew” factor as well…or even a bit of tamarind pulp..for a “sweet-yet-tart” caramel-y effect!

  41. I think the cookbook “Primal Cravings” is pure genius for solving the problem of cravings. Did the trick for me. Pure genius.
    And, Logan, you are very funny and very wise at the same time! And you write the “English of the Future”! Love it!
    As Logan says so well, it’s true that you can create a new self-identity. Try this: imagine you are the Forest Goddess. Does the Forest Goddess eat glazed doughnuts or have excess abdominal fat? No, she is slender, with a pure heart and long flowing hair! She cooks wonderful stews for the dwarves (dwarfs?) and rabbits and squirrels follow her around. If you are this goddess….. can you really eat a Snickers bar? Just asking!

    1. I love this idea!! I am picturing myself as Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings, nibbling on nuts, fruits, wild meat etc.

  42. I have found that sometimes the ideal substitute is not the immediately obvious thing. For example, sometimes I crave warm croissants with salted caramel sauce for breakfast. Oddly, my perfect craving-beater for that one is tuna in Mediterranean vegetable sauce! The tuna is flaky like the pastry and also a little salty, and the tomatoes/peppers/onions etc. provide enough sweetness.

    Also, sometimes it can help to just eat the nearest available primal food, whatever it is, as that buys you time to work out what it is you really want.

  43. I have been Primal 90/10 for the last 6 months, closer to 95/5 the last month. I haven’t experienced much in the way of weight loss but I do feel better. Carbs are between 30-70 g a day. I don’t get many cravings but I really do miss my craft beer. I am going to Octoberfest this weekend and I know that I will have 1 beer a day and plenty of sausage and sauerkraut. But I have been fixating on the apple strudel that is a tradition every time I go. The last time I went I wasn’t Primal and I got the strudel and only ate a couple of bites. Hopefully I can do that again this time without to much damage. I am making a choice to have the beer and strudel and I am not going to beat myself up about it. On the other hand, I could get there and decide it’s just not worth it. But either way, it’s my choice.

  44. Since going the Primal path, I find that I have reset my palette to enjoy real food. For example, I allowed myself to cheat on some potato chips recently and I found that I didn’t enjoy them very much. On the flip side, a bowl of blueberries tastes like a decadent treat to me these days. It doesn’t mean I don’t get cravings for junk foods, but I can control them much better now.

    Additionally, when I do get a craving for fast food, say a burger, I think about the poor wages of the workers, the inhumane treatment of the animals and all the packaging waste that goes into landfills, or our oceans. No thanks.