Since junior high at the latest I have had constant cravings for chocolate. I have tried a million things to make it stop, with little success until recently. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until my 30s that I started having the kind of carb cravings normal people have — potato chips, pizza, etc. I still do not experience those anywhere near as often. I’m now inclined to believe that the cravings are a spectrum, and that the Lays and Fritos urges are at the really bad end, when whatever causes the cravings gets a lot worse.
In the name of science, I performed a self-experiment, repeated twice, wherein I kept eating chocolate until I didn’t want anymore for the rest of the day. That’s how I discovered that my chocolate thing has a 700-calorie-a day limit. I never got around to measuring how many calories I ingest of carbs before the craving disappears.
The following is a list of what helped to alleviate these various urges. If I tried to write down everything that didn’t work, it would take forever, so I’ve just noted the more common suggestions that you’ll find for this problem and which did not work for me.
But first, a very rude warning to anyone out there considering suggesting that I just “eat a nice fresh apple” whenever the need for chocolate hits me: Go #$@! yourself. You have no idea what you’re talking about.
Ditto for anyone who dares to talk to me about willpower.
Where was I…
What has worked for chocolate cravings
Julia Ross suggests this for cravings in her book The Mood Cure. My first try with this was all wrong — I didn’t take anywhere near enough and took it at the wrong time — at night, when I don’t have cravings. Because of that first failure, I didn’t try it again for years. When I discovered that some people do 10,000 mg of tryptophan a day, I took 2,500 mg one morning and in 30 minutes the insane cravings were gone. Five hours later the effect wore off, so I took 2,500 more. Again, worked in 30 minutes. I don’t seem to need it in the evening.
Two days later it wasn’t working as well. For weeks I experimented with different dosages and combinations of cofactors. Tryptophan needs vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and magnesium to be able to do its thang. But the same thing kept happening: a new mix would work for a day or so and then stop. I’m still experimenting. Even with those disappointing setbacks, however, the cravings are still significantly reduced.
Here are the combos I tried. (I already take enough folate so I didn’t bother with that.)
- Vitamin B6 in the form of P-5-P: Up to 450 mg a day, which I had been doing anyway because it seemed to finally end my horrific vitamin D3-induced headaches. Yes, that’s a lot. Don’t go doing that with regular B6 or you’ll like die or something.
- D-phenylalanine (a dopamine precursor; and that’s D-, not DL- or L-, but YMMV), on the theory that serotonin (which tryptophan turns into) needs to be kept in balance with dopamine. BTW, it takes 12 or 18 hours before I see an effect with this supplement.
- Magnesium: 400 mg each dose.
- Vitamin C: Didn’t help.
2. 5HTP (a form of tryptophan).
I took 50 mg a day and the craving was gone in about 18 hours. It was a novel sensation. Unfortunately, after a week on it, I developed splitting headaches, turned into a zombie, and blew up like a balloon, which defeats the purpose of quitting sugar, if you ask me. (Further experiments confirmed that it was a reaction to the 5HTP and not a die-off reaction.) So that was a no-go. Julia Ross says that a certain percentage of her patients can’t handle 5-HTP and have to use tryptophan instead.
3. Fixing my hypoglycemia.
For me, biotin was the answer. However, other deficiencies can also cause this, so it might not work for you. This just got rid of the absolute worst of the need to eat sugar. It did not eradicate it. Not even close.
What has worked a little bit for chocolate cravings: Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Shooting only methyl bromide-free chocolate (organic chocolate, plus a small number of non-organic brands). It also helps to stick to one kind of chocolate only, which I stockpile at home.
What has worked for carb cravings
About a year after I went gluten-free, I started inhaling potato chips constantly. It was bizarre. I mean, an entire large bag of chips at work every day. Finally I read somewhere that calcium deficiency can cause cravings for salty foods. I started taking maybe 500 mg a day — don’t quote me, but I know it wasn’t an insane amount — and after three weeks, voila! Back to my normal constant-but-at-least-it’s-only-chocolate cravings.
2. Bright light therapy.
The first winter after I moved back to the Midwest from Southern California, I stopped sleeping completely, developed severe brain fog, and started eating everything in sight. I ate things I don’t even like — baked goods, cookies, bread, rolls. Luckily I read about bright light therapy and got myself a light box, one of those 10,000 lux fluorescent ones. It took about a week to see a difference, but it worked and I’ve been using a light box ever since, although not that same design. I even took it to Paris, where it was betrayed and killed by a cheap voltage adapter.
What has worked a little bit for carb cravings: Selenium.
Things that make both types of cravings worse: Iron. Vitamin D (but not sun). Iodine (Iodoral), probably because I wasn’t taking enough selenium with it (they work together).
Things that did not work: Chromium. Magnesium. Ashwaganda. Adrenal support treatment/supplements. Acupuncture. Hypnosis. Allerase enzymes. Increasing protein intake. Eating 700 more calories of normal food a day, on the theory that I was undereating. And a gazillion other things. Copper supplements, on the theory that I needed the copper in chocolate (although that experiment did reveal that I was copper toxic). The anti-fungal herbs oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic, caprylic acid, and maybe two others, on the theory that candida was causing the cravings.
I long ago dismissed the idea that there is a psychological aspect to it — that’s it’s a reward mechanism for a sense of deprivation, for example. I am rarely interested in any other type of food, and I am not in love with the taste of the chocolate I do eat. It is true that anyone who got between me and a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream, which I can’t find in my area, would meet an ugly end, but I doubt I could finish the pint, and then I wouldn’t want to eat it again for another month. For the most part, the craving involves a very particular combo of fat, sugar, and cacao.
Increased stress doesn’t seem to signficantly affect the chocolate jonesing, either.
On the theory that my chocolate habit was in fact an addiction, on two occasions I used two weeks of vacation to go cold turkey. I discovered that as long as I didn’t do anything requiring brain power or physical energy — as long as I sat quietly and watched DVDs or did light errands — I would make it through the sugar detox (two nights of shakes and sweating), the rest of the two weeks, and one week after I returned to work. Then I just couldn’t function without it. Once I had to start writing coherently, planning, organizing, balancing my checkbook, etc., I had to have it.
On that evidence, I concluded it was a brain energy thing, that my brain can’t produce enough glucose or use it correctly. That’s what led me eventually to try vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin), both involved in glucose metabolism. They did seem to help a bit, as mentioned above, but nothing miraculous.
For a while I wondered if insufficient light exposure all year, not just during the winter, was the culprit. I experimented with different exposure times with light boxes. One is in theory an improvement over the fluorescent and blue light models I’ve tried, and the other works overhead rather than from below. But no luck.
After reading a Mark’s Daily Apple post about training your body to burn fat instead of glucose, I realized how little fat I get and wondered if that was the cause.. Growing up I had a very low-fat diet and on top of that, being an undiagnosed celiac I could barely process what I did get. I experimented with recipes from the cookbook Practical Paleo, which is big on serving fat with every dish, a lot of it in the form of coconut oil. It is the best cookbook I’ve ever found in terms of accommodating all my intolerances — eggs and goitrogens are the hardest to avoid. But no joy.
After seeing several articles on the gut flora-obesity-cravings connection, I tried a whole lotta probiotics, but after a month didn’t see a change, although that might not be anywhere near enough time. I am continuing that experiment anyway, for other reasons. Here’s a PaleoHacks questions forum on the topic.