Do Your Food Cravings Keep Sabotaging You?
By Joan Kent, PhD
Wouldn't it be perfect to have food cravings for broccoli and kale? Of course, those aren't the kinds of foods we tend to crave – mainly because they don't cause much change in brain chemistry.
Cravings tend to be for things that feel like comfort food: cookies, other sugary treats, mashed potatoes, lots of mac and cheese. Foods with sugar, flour and/or fats are the go-to comfort foods – the ones we crave – because they're big brain chem changers.
This short article covers two ways that cravings can sabotage us: 1) by derailing a weight-loss plan and 2) by derailing our work productivity.
Cravings and Weight Loss
Cravings prompt us to eat the foods we crave. Before you say, "Duh," that's not as obvious as it seems. It's definitely possible to ignore cravings – or to eliminate them so they don't make us eat those foods.
But let's say you haven't eliminated cravings and you do eat what you've been craving. Those foods will often make you eat more – yes, more of the craved stuff, but also more food in general.
The endorphins (beta-endorphin) triggered by sugary foods, for example, can inhibit the part of the brain responsible for satiety. That's the feeling we've had enough food and don't need any more for a while. So the meal just keeps going.
Endorphins can also make us eat different foods than we typically would: more sugar, more fat, or both. Even if you're just looking for something sweet, that sweet treat will often also contain fat and provide far more calories than you expected.
Obviously, weight-loss plans suffer as a result.
An effective short-term fix for any craving is a teaspoon of liquid B-complex. (Check with your doctor to be sure this is a strategy you can safely use.) If your doctor gives you the okay, know that the craving will be gone in a few minutes. Yes, it really works.
Cravings and Work Productivity
If you eat sweet or starchy foods when you crave them, both trigger a high release of insulin. That can cause sleepiness or "fogginess" that calls out for a caffeine fix. It's especially true for people who produce more insulin than normal after eating sugar, for example.
Those folks are called carb sensitive. Who is carb sensitive? Typically, anyone with a family history of hypertension, alcoholism, diabetes, hypoglycemia, or obesity.
Extra caffeine may battle the sleepiness, but it's only temporary. And caffeine may become less effective if you've already had lots of coffee during the day. Staying alert and productive is easier (and takes less caffeine) when you balance high insulin-triggering foods with protein and lots of vegetables.
Plant proteins have commanded much attention lately, but plants may not provide enough protein to balance the insulin effects in someone who's carb-sensitive. If you'd rather avoid animal proteins, mix some vegetable protein powder in water and drink it. It will provide much more protein than, say, nuts. (Nuts are not protein; they're healthy fats.)
Have a protein powder mixture anytime you've been giving in to comfort food cravings. Even better, have it before you give in to those foods. It won't reverse all the effects of sugars and flour, but it can help.
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