Although you’ve had a rough day and missed your afternoon snack you have successfully held out against stopping on your way home from work for take out food. You walk in the door and bam, there is a hot pizza waiting for you on the table because no one made dinner.
Your inner voice says, screw it. One or two pieces can’t hurt, can it? I’ve had a rough day and I’ve lost 3 pounds. I deserve a treat.
You bite into the hot gooey delicious cheesy pizza and automatically feel relaxed and soothed. You breathe a contented sigh of relief as you dig into another slice. I’ll start again tomorrow you think to yourself.
Replace the pizza for a bagel, a doughnut, a slice of cake, a chocolate bar or bottle of wine.
Will power has nothing to do with avoiding your cravings and to give into them is not a character flaw. Let me explain to you the anatomy of a food craving because once you understand just how powerful some of these foods can be you can then put together an action plan to get rid of your cravings once and for all.
Have you noticed that we only crave certain foods? I highly doubt you’ve ever had a craving for steamed broccoli and tilapia. Just like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine affect your brain, certain foods do too, just in a more subtle way. The chemical makeup of certain foods reacts in your body just like an addictive drug would.
While we may enjoy certain foods we only crave for 4 foods. 1) sugar and starchy foods that quickly turn into sugar 2) chocolate 3) cheese 4) red meat.
Let’s start with sugar and starchy foods. The sensation of sugar on your tongue triggers the release of opiates in your brain. Opiates are natural painkillers similar to the endorphins you get after intense cardiovascular exercise. Opiates signal the release of dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for the feeling of pleasure.
Your brain remembers the food and activity you were doing when dopamine was released and sets a daily alarm to go off and nag at you until you engage in eating that food again so that more dopamine can be released. Exactly like a drug addiction.
Sugar-fat mixes like cake, cookies and fried foods seem to have an even more powerful opiate effect. This is a dangerous combo since sugar lures in your bloodstream and the fatty grease packs on the pounds.
Chocolate is a quadruple threat. Not only does it contain opiates but it also contains stimulants called theobromine and phenylethylamine along with caffeine all of which are addictive. Isn’t chocolate good for you?
Yes and no. Unprocessed organic cocoa holds the health benefits so having an ounce of 70% or higher dark chocolate on occasion is ok. If you find that you crave chocolate then no, it’s not good for you.
Do you crave cheese?
Cheese is the one food that people have a hard time getting away from. There are opiates in cheese called casomorphins. These opiates turn into beads in the digestive tract and get absorbed by your blood stream. As the name caso - morphine implies they are casein-derived morphine like compounds.
You might recognize the morphine like side effects of cheese, which is constipation. Have you ever had to take painkillers and got all bunged up? The same thing happens when you consume cheese, unless you are severally lactose intolerant and then you can’t seem to leave the bathroom.
A lot of men seem to crave red meat. Opiates are in red meat too. If you think about the foods that are often paired with red meat, wine (sugar), potatoes and bread it’s a dinner filled with pain killing mood enhancing foods.
So what do you do?
- Front load your day with fiber. Fiber helps to keep blood sugar levels stable and fill up your stomach so you feel full for a longer period of time. Try adding 1/3 cup of brand buds to your regular breakfast meal or 2 tbsp of chia seeds.
- Avoid getting hungry. Hunger fuels cravings. Make sure to always have a snack on you. A hard-boiled egg, an apple, an orange or 10-15 nuts will do the trick.
- Don’t restrict calories. Low calories dieters are more likely to binge.
- Create a pattern interrupt. If you have a craving at the same time everyday do something different during that time. Schedule an activity that interrupts that normal pattern of behavior.
- Get lots of sleep. Only during sleep can you properly reset your hormones and craving centers in your brain. Try to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep every night.