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    How to beat Cravings

    By Nick Hall

    Fighting a craving is like fighting sleep. You can go with little sleep for a couple of days but eventually your body will force you to have a binge sleep.  Fighting cravings is the same thing.  You can fight for a while but eventually you’ll give in and consume whatever it is you want to eat.

    Common cravings include chocolate, sugar, bread, sweet drinks, salty savoury snacks, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts….all the bad stuff.

    Why do we get cravings?
    Some of the common reasons include depression, stress, boredom, low blood sugar or nutritional famine.

    In times of boredom, we often turn to the fridge or pantry in an attempt to occupy our time.  In times of depression or stress, some of us turn to certain feel good foods that improve our mood.

    Cravings as a result of low blood sugar or nutritional famine can be a result of following a calorie restrictive diet or consuming a large amount of foods that have very little nutritional value.

    Consuming the wrong type of foods such as manufactured, processed, high sugar or refined carb foods reduces your level of satiety resulting in high blood sugar spikes followed by a sharp fall in blood sugar levels resulting in further cravings.

    In either scenario your body isn’t getting the proper nutritional content it needs from the foods you are consuming.

    If your body is starving for proper nutrients you will crave more food until you get enough nutrients your body is lacking. The problem is you may consume a huge amount of excess calories or dead calories in the process.  Your body literally thinks it is starving yet we have access to food in unlimited amounts.

    How do we deal with cravings?

    The Habit Cycle
    Cravings can be part of a habit cycle, such as at a specific time based on how we are feeling, we crave certain foods, we eat it and feel better.  There is always a cue for the craving, a routine and a reward.

    In brief, our bodies are built for survival. In times when food was scarce, we would need to survive on only small amounts of energy.  When faced with certain forms of stress, our bodies can become very efficient at storing fat.

    Stress can be physical, chemical or emotional.  Chemical reactions can start in your body that can make your body think that the stress you are facing is an imminent danger of physical threat.  In an attempt to protect you from the perceived threat you are facing, your body can go into fat storage mode.

    Stress craving cycle:

    • The Cue: I feel stressed at work
    • The routine: Eat chocolate (or something else bad)
    • The reward: I feel better

    The result: Large amount of processed energy consumed resulting in a sharp blood sugar and insulin spike.  The large amount of energy consumed which is not required will be stored as fat.

    Chronic stress over time can lead to higher than normal amounts of cortisol being released.  Cortisol sends a signal to the body that food is scarce; we need to store fat and slow our metabolism.  The problem is we aren’t facing a shortage of food or in any danger; the chemical reaction in our body is causing us to crave the wrong type of food.

    Breaking the stress craving cycle
    Look at the “Cue” or the stressor first.  If the Cue can’t be changed then change the routine which is the response to the stress.  The new routine could be going for a walk, grabbing a drink of water and gathering your thoughts.  The reward is still that you feel better.

    Eating due to boredom:

    • The cue: You feel bored
    • The habit: You look for food to provide excitement, And You find and eat whatever is closest to you
    • The reward: Boredom eliminated

    This is usually followed by feelings of regret.

    How to break the boredom cycle?  Again, change the routine.  Go for a walk, read a book, watch TV etc.  What you’re really craving is an activity or excitement to eliminate your boredom, not food. Prevent boredom by planning different activities in advance

    Depression and carb cravings
    Depression and stress can lead to lower levels of serotonin in the brain.  Serotonin gives us the feeling of well being and happiness.  Carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates and sugar increase the secretion of serotonin.  Therefore people who are depressed or stressed often resort to sugary foods or bread as a way to feel better.

    If you are aware that depression is causing cravings for certain types of foods, then the cause of the depression needs to be addressed.

    Low Blood Sugar
    Blood sugar can drop as a result of missing a meal, exercising for too long, not consuming the right nutrients before or after a training session or not including the right nutrients at your last meal.  Blood sugar can also fall quickly after consuming an energy dense, sugary meal.

    Symptoms can include feeling faint, cranky, tired and craving sweet foods.  In order to raise them back up again your body starts to crave energy dense foods.  This can start a cycle whereby your blood sugar drops, you eat high carb or high fat foods, blood sugar quickly rises then quickly falls, you eat again and the cycle continues.  As your blood sugar levels are rising, so are your insulin levels.  The excess energy that is not required is then stored as fat.

    What else causes blood sugar levels to rise?  Length of time since last meal or your last meal didn’t contain the right nutrients we need.  This can cause a craving cycle that is hard to break

    Nutritional Famine
    Symptoms:  constantly hungry – even after you have eaten a big meal. Craving sweet food, tiredness after a meal, tiredness or lacking energy in general.  This can be caused by dieting or calorie restriction or by including the wrong types of foods with each meal such as processed foods with little nutritional value.

    As a result, your body is constantly craving more food in order to get the nutrients it really needs.

    If your body is starving for proper nutrients you will crave more food until you get enough nutrients your body is lacking. The problem is, you may consume a huge amount of excess calories or dead calories in the process.  Your body literally thinks it is starving yet you have access to food in unlimited amounts.

    Dealing with cravings from low blood sugar or nutritional famine
    Cravings from low blood sugar and from nutritional famine are similar. Your body is really craving the correct nutrients it needs in order to function properly.  Include the right nutrients with each meal.  Include plenty of leafy green vegetables. The bitterness of green leafy vegetables makes sugar and sweet foods sickly sweet.  Over time this will help reduce cravings for sweet foods.

    Include protein and omega 3 with each meal and include a variety of plant food.  Improving gut bacteria by taking a pro-biotic can also help as bad gut bacteria thrive off refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.

    Eating consistently every few hours and including the right nutrients will help keep blood sugar levels stable.

    Don’t keep tempting foods in the house
    If you are the type of person who is easily tempted if the above type of food is around, simply not having those foods close to you such as in your fridge or at work can help.  People often purchase processed, sweet or fatty foods simply out of habit even if they aren’t craving those types of food.  If it is accessible, eventually you will eat it.

    What if all else fails?
    Sometimes event the best intervention and the best intentions won’t work.  If this is the case, don’t deprive yourself.  Depriving yourself can mimic a famine response and make things worse.  This is like letting go of a helium balloon.  Once you let it go, it’s gone.  This will result in a big binge.  Instead, have what you really want, but include the right protein, plant food and omega 3.

    Plan mistakes
    You should still be able to enjoy the foods you really like that don’t necessarily contain all of the correct nutrient you need.  Make these meals exceptions such as occasions when you’re eating out with friends.

    Know that if you get include the right nutrients 95% of the time you’ll achieve your weight loss goal.

    This leaves a couple of times a week where you can make a mistake.  You can plan these meals into your week and look forward to them.  Over time, when you are consistently eating the right nutrients, cravings for the wrong type of foods reduce and you start to crave more nutritious foods.

    Having a mistake or a meal that doesn’t contain all the right nutrients shouldn’t mean the whole day is a total loss. Each meal containing the correct nutrients is a small victory. In the beginning, getting as many wins on the board as possible is what counts.

    References:
    Duhig, C. The Power of Habits.
    Chek, P. How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy.
    Weaver, Dr L. Accidentally Overweight

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