Last week we talked at length about the science behind food cravings (if you haven’t read that post, or need a little refresher on the hormones involved, take 10 minutes to read it now; we’ll be here when you get back )
Given that (a) your brain rewards you with a little pleasure rush each time you consume sugary, fatty foods (that’s serotonin) and (b) your wildly cycling blood sugar levels urge you to eat more to return them to normal (that’s insulin), it’s not surprising that kicking food cravings is extremely difficult.
Combine that with (c) strong associations between certain types of foods and specific activities (for example, dessert on Friday and Sunday nights, soft drinks and licorice at the movies or pastries with afternoon coffee) and it becomes damn near impossible.
Let’s face it, sugary, fatty, processed foods are no different than the other stimulants we, as humans, become addicted to. To reduce the hold they have on you you need to treat them the same way you would a nicotine, alcohol or cocaine addiction.
The best way to combat the cravings? Recognize and treat the physiological, psychological and social aspects of the addiction.
Interrupt the roller coasted blood sugar cycling by eliminating sugary, fatty, processed foods for a minimum of 10 days. Longer is better (The Whole 30 approach suggests a minimum of 30 days), but taking it one week at a time is psychologically easier in the beginning. That includes natural (e.g., honey, agave nectar) and fake sugars (e.g., aspartame, sucralose); most create the very same insulin response as the real thing and even those that don’t (e.g., Stevia) continue to trip the pleasure centres in your brain.
By eliminating added sugars and processed foods you’ll be re-training your palate to enjoy things that taste less sweet. And don’t bother trying to make ‘healthier’ versions of your favourite sweet and fatty foods; this will only undermine your attempts to learn to enjoy unprocessed foods.
Some of you will say that it’s easier for you to just reduce sugar and processed foods than eliminate them entirely. You may be right, but I suspect that if you’ve tried that strategy and are still reading this post, it may not have worked for you
Don’t tell yourself that you’ll never eat chocolate again. You may very well be able to go back to enjoying occasional, small amounts of your favourite less-than-healthy food once you’ve normalized your blood sugars.
The first week will be the most difficult. Cravings will be intense, in particular if you don’t simultaneously address the psychological and social aspects of the addiction. Here are some tips to help you eliminate sugar.
Find other ways to get your serotonin high. Rather than using food to elevate your mood, try exercise, spending time with friends and family, participating in activities that you enjoy, shopping (within reason; I can’t begin to describe how fabulous buying a one-of-a-kind skein of hand-dyed yarn makes me feel…) or sex. All have been shown to spike serotonin production and increase mood and feelings of happiness.
Remind yourself that food is fuel. Not a reward for good behaviour or heaven forbid, exercise. Celebrate achievements by DOING things with family and friends rather than EATING something.
Break the associations between high sugar-high fat processed foods and social situations. If you can’t go to the movies without reaching for the Twizzlers, don’t go to the movies for awhile. If coffee shop visits with your girlfriends always include fresh baked pastries (even gluten-free pastries have too much sugar and fat…), take the visits elsewhere. If you head to the pub with your co-workers every Friday after work for pizza and beer, take a pass for a month (you see enough of them all week anyways!).
Replace the activities you associate with certain foods with new, food-neutral ones. If your friends and family give you grief, explain to them WHY you’re making these changes and encourage them to join you, for the good of THEIR health.
What’s your favourite tip for eliminating food cravings?
Do you find the physiological, psychological or social aspects of changing your diet the most difficult?