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Cravings seem to grab hold of your brain and won't let go. The sub-conscious Assistant part of your brain is always on the lookout for calories to ensure your survival. The cravings and reward centers of your brain get triggered by the sight, smell, and even location of crave-able foods. Food manufacturers take advantage of this and engineer foods to hijack your brain, so you buy more and more of their products.
Here are three sure fire ways to free yourself from cravings--
Get Furious with Food Manufacturers
Avoid Food Cues
Eat Simple Unprocessed Foods
Use the Try This Tip Today (SCROLL DOWN) to start controlling your Cravings or download the Free from Cravings Worksheet to master your own strategies.
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Rats Love Froot Loops
In the 1970s obesity researchers were having a hard time getting rats to gain weight. The rats just didn’t want to overeat. Researchers would give them high-fat rat chow, but it would take months and months for them to overeat enough to get fat.
One day a research student left a bowl of Froot Loops out on a table in the lab. A rat wandered over to the bowl and started eating the Froot Loops voraciously. Anthony Sclafani, the graduate student at the lab that day, had a light bulb moment. He decided to go to the supermarket and see what other “calorie-dense” palatable foods he could find. He ended up buying Froot Loops, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chip cookies, salami, cheese, bananas, marshmallows, milk chocolate, and peanut butter.
The new “Supermarket Diet” was a hit with the rodent crowd. Rats would ignore their regular chow and gorge themselves on the supermarket foods. The rats ate themselves obese in a matter of weeks. Sclafani named his rat food “the Supermarket diet” although now its known as “the cafeteria diet.”
In his amazing book The Hungry Brain, Stephan J Guyenet, PhD, shares this story and surmises, “This leads us to a disturbing conclusion, the cafeteria diet remains the most effective way to get a normal rat or mouse to spontaneously overeat and become obese… If that’s true, then what does this food do to humans?”
So why do we (and rodents ) crave irresistible "Supermarket” foods?
The Assistant wants Calories
If you think about it, it’s really only been the past 70 years or so when food was so abundant that humans had to switch from worrying about eating too little to eating too much.
Because humans spent so much of our past trying to get enough to eat, the sub-conscious Assistant part of the brain is always on the look-out for calories.
And the Assistant part of the brain is so attune to this, that she will prefer even the locations that predict calories. There's a reason that we call the kitchen “the heart of the home.” The Assistant wants us to end up there because that’s where we eat and eating feels good—especially high calorie foods that have lots of salt, fat, and sugar.
Reward Centers of the Brain
Foods that are especially tempting (high in salt, fat, and sugar) are called “hyper palatable”. Hyperpalatable foods are so good that our brains seem to get hijacked by even the thought of them. These hyper-palatable foods stimulate the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with craving in the brain.
The brain gets re-wired so that dopamine gets released all the time by the mere thought or suggestion of these foods. It might be because of a food commercial, walking by the refrigerator, a certain time of day, or the aroma of a supermarket bakery.
When dopamine is released in the brain, the Assistant gets busy. She starts bugging us incessantly that she “needs that food.” The craving feels irresistible. She keeps turning up the volume of the cravings louder and louder. She makes us feel like we have to give into the craving.
Once the food is eaten, the brain releases opioids, which brings emotional relief and pleasure. Opioids reinforce this behavior, conditioning you to want it again and again. Dopamine becomes activated every time you’re reminded about that food. And then the cravings start. This happens whether you’re hungry or not.
Foods are Engineered to Hijack the Reward Centers
Restaurants and food manufacturers take advantage of these cravings by engineering foods to reach the precise point where you can’t resist them—which they’ve nick-named the bliss point.
You don’t want to take the potato chip company up on their bet, “Betcha can’t eat just one.” Because they have taste tests and focus groups to make sure you can’t stop eating them.
Stephan J Guynet says that (food manufacturing) “technology has allowed us to create foods that are far more seductive than those that occur in a natural environment, and this leads to an equally unnatural response from the brain.”
If you’ve felt confused about why you can't stop eating your favorite salted caramel ice cream, just remember that food manufacturers want it that way. They want to override your pleasure centers, so you keep eating more and more. They want you to buy more of their products, and they get you to do that by overeating them. There is nothing wrong with you, it’s just that your brain has been commandeered.
So how do you take control and free yourself from these cravings?
Three Sure Fire Ways to Free Yourself from Cravings
1. Get Mad at the Food Manufacturers
Dr. David Kessler, the author of The End of Overeating, was the head of the Food and Drug Administration. He is known for investigating the tobacco industry, and his accusation that cigarette makers made cigarettes more addictive by manipulating nicotine levels.
He argues that we need to change the way we think about processed foods like we changed our ideas about smoking. “It (smoking) used to be sexy and glamorous, but now people look at it and say, 'That's not my friend, that's not something I want.' We need to make a cognitive shift as a country and change the way we look at food. Instead of viewing that huge plate of nachos and fries as a guilty pleasure, we have to . . . look at it and say, 'That's not going to make me feel good. In fact, that's disgusting.'.. For many of my patients, just being informed about what goes into their food and how they are being manipulated by food companies helps them to make this shift.”
How does it make you feel that food companies are hijacking the brains of you and (even more disturbingly) your children, so you want more and more food? I know it makes me really angry.
Get furious, and you’ll see your favorite irresistible snacks in a new light. It has made many of my weight loss clients rethink everything that they put in their shopping carts. They no longer see buying their kids treats on a weekly basis as a loving act.
2. Avoid Food Cues
A powerful way to dodge food cravings is to avoid food cues or the reminders to eat to begin with. It’s hard to fight the Assistant when she has a craving. But if we don’t see the tempting food or food cue in the first place, we may never have a willpower battle to contend with.
Avoid food cues by storing tempting food in drawers in your fridge or in the back of a cabinet. Use your DVR to skip by food commercials. Ask your coworkers to store homemade treats in the refrigerator instead of out in the open in the break room. Take an alternate route, so you don't walk by the vending machines at work at 3:00 PM. Use an online grocery service instead of wandering through the supermarket aisles.
3. Eat Simple, Unprocessed Foods
We can also turn down the reward systems in our brain by eating simple foods—those foods that we’ve been told are on the outside aisles of the supermarket. Guyenet explains, “When we eat simple foods that are less dense in calories and closer to their natural states, they’re still enjoyable but they don’t have that intensely rewarding edge that drives us to overdo it. This include things like fruit, vegetables, potatoes, beans, oatmeal, eggs, plain yogurt, fresh meat, and seafood…. Simple foods like this help the satiety system…stay in control of our eating behavior, matching our calorie intake to our true needs. “ We want to eat delicious foods, but not overly delicious.
Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, explains that we should decrease how much processed foods we eat to lose weight and regain our health. He urges use to eat food not “food-like substances” to turn off our cravings. Pollen gives us some simple definitions of processed foods that make it easy to identify these foods and avoid when shopping. He says that processed foods are “Anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce,”“Anything that won’t eventually rot,” or “Anything that your grandmother would not recognize as food.”
Less Cravings Means More Weight Loss
When I was pregnant with my first child, something amazing happened (besides the fact that a little human being was growing:-). I lost my taste for sweets. They lost their power over me. No sugar cravings whatsoever. If I did eat a cookie, it was just boring--no zing. It was freedom not to have sugar cravings anymore.
Although those sugar cravings came back full force after my baby was born, by using the three techniques above, the volume of my cravings have decreased over time. The Assistant's nagging for sweets have become quieter and less frequent. And when I'm not overeating sugar, managing my weight is a whole lot easier.
By practicing these techniques, you too can find freedom from cravings. You'll in turn find it a lot easier to keep to your healthy eating meal templates. Extra weight will come off a whole lot faster when your Assistant isn't sabotaging your efforts by giving into cravings.
To summarize, Guyenet says, “The truth is there are many ways to lose weight, but all else being equal, a diet that’s lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adiposity (fatness) more effectively than one that’s high in reward value.”
Do yourself a weight loss favor. Turn down the reward centers of your brain to lose weight and stop the never-ending willpower battles.
Want Even More Ideas?
Download the Free Yourself from Cravings Worksheet
I’ve shared a few of the ways to take control of your cravings in the blog post article. If you would like even more ideas to silence your cravings, be sure to download The Free from Cravings Worksheet below.
And of course, you're invited to head over to the Real Healthy Habits Facebook page for more ideas and support.
Until next time,
I'm a dietitian, personal trainer, and health coach who started asking all the tough health and weight loss questions-- like how do we get more willpower, why can’t we stay motivated, and why is getting healthy and losing weight so tough?
I discovered that the answer to all these questions is simply--Your Brain.
I help you stop the health and weight loss struggles by understanding your brain and then working with it—instead of against it. Then, I teach you how to put your personalized healthy habits on autopilot for results that last.
I believe that you deserve the health and energy to live your best life.
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