FallOffWaggonDid you fall off the low-carbohydrate wagon this week?  Did those donuts just call out your name as you walked by the bakery in the grocery store? Maybe you feel like you were shot out of the carbohydrate cannon, landing in the nearby Potato County? If so, you probably had a relapse.  You were doing so well, then all the sudden, your will-power caved.

Relapse is not uncommon when making a dietary lifestyle change. What causes relapse? I often see people relapse back to the Standard American Diet, the SAD diet, because of a number of reasons.

Neurohormones of Hunger
Neuro-hormones of Hunger

First, it is important to recognize that there are a milieu of neuro-hormones that drive hunger cravings or suppression. Anything that triggers a change in these hormone levels can cause the carbohydrate cravings to kick in . . . and you find yourself stuffing yourself with “carbage.”

Second, is boredom.  Many people find an increased nervousness when they get bored.  They find that eating, with it’s calming parasympathetic nervous system effect,  diminish the nervousness that arises out of boredom.  They often create a near Pavlov’s type trigger to eat when they experience boredom and it is quickly interpreted as hunger. There is actually a release of endorphin associated with eating and chewing that suppresses stress and or anxiety.  Reduction of stress, exercise, and journal writing have been found to help patient’s reduce the food cravings associated with boredom.  It is important to have “rescue foods” like string cheese, a handful of almonds, beef jerky, or “fat bombs” available that can be used when you experience these symptoms.

Following the line of triggers, Pavlov demonstrated that repeated actions associated with rewarding consequences will form a physiologic trigger.  Frequently. our desire to eat carbohydrates (“carb cravings”) are often tied to triggers. For example, growing up in my home as a child, our family frequently would relax by watching prime-time television while eating a large bowl of popcorn and a Pepsi.  To this day, whenever I turn on the television in the evening, I get cravings for carbohydrates.  It is important to look at what you were doing or what was going on around you at the time the craving occurred. Substitution of foods has helped to solve these cravings by replacing the popcorn and Pepsi with pork rinds and Diet Dr. Pepper. (Don’t cringe, pork rinds and guacamole tastes fantastic and is a very low carbohydrate substitute that works for me.)

Lastly, many patients fall off the wagon when they visit or have a meal with family. They are often made to feel guilty if they don’t eat Aunt Velda’s homemade chocolate chip cookies.  They are afraid of offending their relatives if they don’t partake of those tasty cookies.  The challenge is that cheating by eating the cookies causes an insulin spike and leads to 24-72 hours of carbohydrate cravings thereafter. Are those cookies worth 72 hours of carbohydrate cravings?  Maybe. But it is important to consider helping Aunt Velda to understand what those cookies will do to you, and that you still care for Aunt Velda even if you don’t eat her chocolate chip cookies.

In many families, food is often associated with love.  “If you don’t eat the food I made for you, you don’t really love me” is an underlying tone that can be found in many family dynamics that I see in my office.  Some times bringing your own low-carb chocolate chip cookies, and offering one to Aunt Velda, will stimulate a conversation about your dietary changes and diffuse the guilt and offence that might arise.

Often, knowing what will cause you to fall off the wagon, helps to keep you on the wagon.  What challenges have you had staying on the wagon?

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