“Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin”
For as long as I can remember, I have always been hungry. Or at least thought I was. I’ve spent the best part of the past 40 years, constantly riding the blood-sugar rollercoaster that had me feeling a real need to keep on consuming, despite my body being anything but actually hungry. But that all changed on 31st August 2020, when I switched over to a low-carb diet. No longer at the mercy of a lifetime spent trying to satiate an addiction to the chronic overconsumption of carbohydrates, I learned for the first time what real hunger felt like and have been able to drop a considerable amount of weight as a result. But even when keeping to a maximum of 20g of carbohydrates a day, I still get plagued by the occasional desire to eat something sugary. Something wickedly and deliciously decadent – chocolate!
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think of myself as an emotional eater and for the most part I still believe that. But I’m beginning to come around to the idea that there is a slight aspect of emotion involved in my own relationship with food, even if it’s not what most of us associate with ’emotional eating’. I’ve never used food as a form of comfort, to cope when I’m sad or angry or scared. I’m not completely joking when I say that the size of arse is a testament to how happy I’ve been throughout most of my life; because when I am sad or upset, I lose my appetite. (Probably could’ve done with being a bit more miserable in my former years, considering how massively overweight I managed to get, lol.)
But ever since I began this switch over to eating a low-carb diet for health and weight loss, I’ve had to confront moments when I’ve found myself wanting to eat, when upon further consideration I realise that I’m not actually hungry. Not physically anyway. It’s not me wanting to eat because I’m bored – largely because I’m just not the sort of person who gets bored. Even during this long, frustrating lockdown nonsense, my days are filled with things to do; in fact somehow, even with all this extra time on my hands, I’m still left feeling sometimes that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. So it’s not that.
And of course it’s not even real hunger, because I’ve definitely learned the difference between genuine hunger and something else. It’s really more of a craving. Not in the:
“Omigod I can’t stop thinking about Dairy Milk bars! If I don’t get to eat one then I’ll go mad!”
It’s more of a knowing what I’m “missing out” on and just wanting to experience that taste sensation again. Do you know what I mean? It’s not that I don’t enjoy the food I’m eating, because I love it. I’m not starving myself or letting myself go hungry, and I’m not allowing myself to become nutritionally deficient. I just sometimes really miss how certain sweet things taste. It’s kinda similar to how I feel about certain perfumes. I’m really scent-oriented and I’m never not wearing some kind of fragrance. Some scents really resonate with me, to the point where I bulk-buy them and store them in one of my refrigerators to preserve them as best I can, just in case they get discontinued. So many perfumes I’ve loved over the years have have been discontinued and I really miss them. I hunt down old stock, or people offering sample sized vials, just to try and keep them in my life for as long as I can, because sometimes I just really want to smell a particular fragrance.
And that’s the best way I can describe how I feel about wanting to experience certain tastes too. It’s like a kind of nostalgia, but it has nothing to do with wanting to recapture some lost happiness of times gone by; one of my favourite perfumes of all time is one I was wearing during a time when I was working a job I hated and just coming to the realisation that I wasn’t happy with the relationship I was in. If anything that fragrance evokes more negative memories than anything, but it just smells SO freaking good! I actually crave wanting to smell it and when I dab a couple of drops onto the inside of my wrist, I’ll sit there sniffing at it repeatedly, just losing myself in all the composite notes emanating from my skin.
I enjoy fragrances. I enjoy luxuriating in a halo of decadent sillage, just for the sake of it. It’s not because I’m sad and want to feel happy. It’s not because I’m bored. I just want to smell a certain scent, because I like doing it. And it’s a harmless enough thing to enjoy. I can afford to splurge on these little luxuries and it’s not as if I have any other vices these days. (It also makes me a really easy person to buy gifts for, lol. If you want to buy me anything and you settle on one of my favourite fragrances, it shows you know me. I could have 4 other bottles of the same stuff, already stashed away in the fridge, but if I open a gift to find another bottle of it inside, you’ll have made me a very happy woman!)
Taking my love of perfume as an example of how I sometimes just crave a certain stimulus to one of my senses, is probably the best way to describe to you how I feel about having the occasional craving for another one of my senses to be stimulated. But when we start talking about food cravings, suddenly things start to sound much less innocent, as we try to intuit the more sinister root of such a terrible, negative desire.
“You must be deficient in some nutrient!”
“It’s probably your body trying to tell you to eat more!”
“I bet you’ve been getting lazy and you’ve let sugar back into your diet!
“Maybe you’re stressed out – have you tried mindfulness techniques?”
“Are you bored? Perhaps you need to think about finding a new hobby!”
Urgh. Like, I get that y’all are trying to be helpful, but could you at least try to be original? Lol. Is there any chance that this might just be an entirely benign desire to just want to revisit and reexperience a familiar sensory experience? I know, I know, they’re the exact same things that I’d probably suggest myself if someone came to me and told me that they were experiencing cravings for something sweet. But I’ve already worked my way through those considerations on my own time and I’ve even tried eliminating certain foods here and there to see if anything was causing these sensory triggers. I haven’t spoken about it in here before, but I’ve tried cutting out the low-carb friendly protein bars for a fortnight and even went 10 days just eating a carnivore style diet. Not to try and lose any more weight quicker than I already am doing, but because I was curious to see if doing either things would stop me from having those occasional moments where I just fancied a taste of something sweet.
Spoiler alert: neither methods did the trick. And like I said before, these aren’t intense cravings that burn inside me like the faux-hunger of old; it’s just like the thing I have with certain fragrances: I simply want to experience the taste again. It makes me wonder though if this is to do with an underlying addiction to sugar that will take a lifetime of discipline to perpetually steel myself against. On the one hand I think it’s not because isn’t an issue whereby my every waking thought is consumed by the desire to “relapse”; but on the other hand I think back to conversations I’ve had with heroin addicts who got clean, but said they always had to remain vigilant against the little head-games the addicted part of their brains would play with them, making them think every now and then, that they’d really like to just experience that feeling of the gear rushing through their veins again. Just one more time. But they know that they can never have “just one more” hit, because they’d end up right back where they were all those months or years ago, spending their entire lives scurrying around trying to score and worrying how they’d be able to pay for it.
Is that what my cravings are? The mind of an addict trying every little trick in the book to get me to give it “just one more” hit of the sweet stuff? Or is it more like my perfume penchant, proclivity or predilection? Nothing more than an innocent fancy that crosses my mind from time to time? Obviously the 2 situations aren’t entirely similar – as far as I know, I’m not causing myself any lasting physical harm by indulging my love of fragrance, whereas I know that sugar is genuinely bad for my physical and mental health. But the way the brain processes the detection of scent (olfaction) and flavour (gustation) are closely linked. Just as hearing is the perception of sound and sight is the perception of light, smell and taste are our perceptions of tiny molecules in the air and in food. Taste and smell information appear to converge in several central brain regions (we’ve all noticed the relationship between taste and smell when a cold or flu stuffs up our noses and everything tastes bland) but there are also neurons in the inferior frontal lobe that respond selectively to specific taste and smell combinations.
So I could easily just write off these occasional niggles of gustatory desire, as being no different to the olfactory cravings that I’m always more than happy in indulge. But that doesn’t mean I can just give in to those urges and eat a boatload of sugar because I want to experience the taste again “just one more” time. Don’t get me wrong, this post isn’t my way of trying to rationalise the choice to eat off plan – far from it – I’m really just trying to understand the whys and wherefores behind these feelings that crop up from time to time. It’s weird because it’s not like I have cravings for all things carb-laden, it’s really just a couple of very specific items. I don’t think about pizza, or potatoes or pasta or most of the food I used to eat. It’s not even just chocolate as a whole.
Believe me when I tell you that I used to eat chocolate every single day, and I enjoyed every variety and brand out there. Nestle, Lindt, Green & Blacks, Thornton’s, Mars, Rowntree’s, Marks & Spencer’s…I even had a monthly subscription to the ‘Hotel Chocolat Tasting Club’ (which the other half and I used to enjoy working our way though while having one of our film nights on the sofa). And I loved them all. But the only one that seems to plague me now, is Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Not Galaxy, not Yorkie, not Marks & Spencer’s Single Origin Dominican Republic 32% Cocoa Milk Chocolate With Salted Butterscotch & Maple Syrup (yeah, it tastes as epic as it sounds, lol)…but Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.
I’ve tried to think back over my childhood, to see if perhaps that was the particular treat of choice that I now associate with such pleasure. Or even if maybe it was a treat that was withheld for one reason or another. But there’s nothing that I can think of. I was an ‘equal-opportunities chocolate botherer’ all throughout my childhood, youth and into adulthood, yet it’s only that purple-packaged bar of chocolatey loveliness that seems to stir my senses. The other half was eating a Wispa bar the other day (which are basically just a bar of aerated Dairy Milk with some tiny bubbles in it – same taste, just a different texture) and I made him let me smell it, before he polished it off, lol. It smelled just like I remember and whilst for many, allowing their ultimate craving to get so close to their mouth might be a very dangerous game, it did feel good to inhale that familiar aroma. I think smelling it also might have helped to alleviate the craving somewhat; which kinda makes sense given what I mentioned earlier about the connection between gustation and olfaction.
But I didn’t eat any of it. To bastardise a famous idiom from the bible (Matthew 26:41) “My flesh may be strong, but my spirit is a little weak.” I may wish to indulge, but my resolve remains strong; craven thoughts be damned. I know some people reading this are probably thinking I should just eat the fricking chocolate and get over it, but I’m not in the right place to start introducing the odd sugary treat, just yet. Maybe one day I will, but for now I’m just going to keep on sticking to my plan and refrain from doing anything other than sniffing the other half’s Dairy Milk from time to time! I have to keep reminding myself that this isn’t just about weight loss, it’s also about overall health. And sugar is one of the most unhealthy things I could choose to consume with abandon.
I think it was Shakespeare who was first quoted as saying that: “Quod me alit, me extinguit.” I’d like to get that tattooed on myself somewhere one day; a permanent reminder of why I stay the path of continuing to follow a low-carb way of life. Then any time of one of these little cravings – however benign – starts to creep in at the edges of my consciousness, I could look at it and just wait for the feelings to pass. Right now though, I’ve got a serious urge to go eat some bacon, eggs and a fried mushroom…and I have no intention of ignoring that craving whatsoever. I know this whole post has just been a jumble of thoughts, but that’s what’s been going through my head these past couple of days (I don’t think the current glut of Easter Egg adverts are really helping the matter, lol) so I figured I’d share them here. I hope at least some of it will resonate with a few of you out there.
Have a lovely Easter folks