Outsmart Food Cravings

Being a Nutritionist can sometimes be incredibly frustrating, especially when it comes to the subject of shedding weight.  When passing suggestions to people, I often get cut off before I can offer any guidance.  “I already know what I need to do” they often say, generally followed with an “I just have to do it.”

Okay honestly, I am aware that you know what to do…Everyone and their dog knows that if you quit eating lollies and you start eating kale, then you are likely to shed weight.  What it takes to lose the love handles is really no secret.  Those who state that they already know what to do are often no different than the vast majority.

I have also never heard anyone say to me, “Starting Monday morning I am going to start being as unhealthy as possible.  I am going to do whatever it takes to quit the gym, I’m going to hire a trainer and he is going to force me to binge eat on fast food, ice cream and chips.”  I think then that it is fairly safe to assume that the masses want to be fitter and healthier.  So, if we all want to be in great shape and we already know what it takes to be healthier, why then aren’t we all successfully doing it?

The answer is not in the what, but in the why.

Knowing what not to eat doesn’t address or defeat the most deliciously evil part of the battle – the insidious food cravings!

The next 3 posts are meant to help you understand why we all have so much trouble doing what we know we need to do, sprinkled with a few suggestions on what may make it easier to accomplish it.

Here are among the top 3 reasons why food cravings can be so powerful.

1.  Your brain is a selfish bitch

2. The yeasty beasties

3. You don’t really know what to do and you’re only making your problems worse by causing mineral deficiencies


Your brain is a selfish bitch

During fasting or starvation all of the organs in your body will make adjustments to conserve energy – they can actually shrink in size (40%) to adapt to the current situation – except for your brain.  The brain is the most demanding organ of the body. It puts its needs first and serves itself first.  The brain’s main source of fuel is glucose (sugar), and it also happens to be the primary consumer of glucose.  At only 2% of the total body weight, the brain uses a whooping 25% of the body’s energy, give or take about 500kcal/day.

Moreover, the brain doesn’t have much of an energy storing system, for that, it depends on the body.  This is referred to as “energy on demand”. When the brain needs energy and the blood stores are low, it takes it from the energy stores (fat stores) of the body, turning the fat into glucose and using it as fuel…it’s genius really.  When the body’s stores eventually run out, it will demand it from the environment (food).  There can be a glitch in this system if there is a defect in the control systems of the brain: extreme stress, advertising from sweets, and conditioning of eating behaviour, can be among the factors leading to these defects. So instead of using first the body’s energy store for glucose, it demands it directly from food. This surplus of energy can accumulate, leading to increased fat store in the body, but your selfish brain doesn’t mind because it is temporarily happy,  albeit a bitch! This phenomenon is known as “The Selfish Brain Theory”

If you have satisfied your low blood sugar with lollies then you have given your subconscious mind positive reinforcement that these foods will relatively quickly give your brain what it wants. Each time you repeat this behaviour you strengthen the synaptic connections in your brain, turning binge eating into a wickedly powerful and dangerously impulsive habit, leaving even the strongest mind feeling like a hopeless prisoner who repeatedly surrenders their conscious mind’s goals and needs.

You may say, but I don’t crave sugar, I lean toward salty or savoury.  Don’t fool yourself, even those who think they aren’t addicted to sugar often are.  Try going off sugar for a week – no sweeteners, including honey – and tell me that you aren’t addicted.  Nonetheless, if your cravings tend to be for salty or savoury things then this is still largely in part due to the selfish brain theory.

The brain gets its nutrients from the blood, passing the blood brain barrier via a special insulin-independent transport system.  When your blood pressure gets low, the blood flow to your brain decreases.  This makes your selfish brain very angry >:(.   It has very cleverly learned from past experience that where salt goes water goes. In other words the salt pulls fluid into your blood vessels, expanding your blood, making it easier for your heart to pump blood to your brain.  Savvy your little brain is.  Again, every time you repeat this behaviour you reinforce your brain to behave in this manner.   It’s like coddling a screaming child, it might seem like a great idea at the time, but often in long term it reveals to be a very bad choice.

Here’s the kicker, low blood pressure is often caused by a sugar crash, whether it be induced by caffeine, lollies or simply a heavy carbohydrate meal. This is why sweet cravings are often followed by ravenous salt cravings…your brain knows what’s coming.  In some instances it gets really sly and demands both at the same time.  Next thing you know you are eating ice cream straight out the tub only to takes breaks to shove a handful of pretzels down your face.

So what to do?

1.  Don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up over it!  Blame, shame, guilt and anger only give way to comfort eating, turning your “treat” into a guilty pleasure.  I swear, we were all doomed since the introduction of the word “treat”.

Anytime you have one of these negative thoughts you release a neurotransmitter that allows you to feel that thought.  Repeating that thought over and over in your mind repeats the release of the neurotransmitter in brain.  Overtime, you can cause a self-induced chemical imbalance in your brain.

Ever wonder why you don’t emotional eat when you are happy?  Because happy thoughts release the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Serotonin is an appetite suppressant.  Anyone who has ever sampled street drugs that artificially raise serotonin levels – such as ecstasy or MDMA – can testify how powerful the appetite-suppressant effects of serotonin can be.

Instead call friends, do yoga, have sex, smile, watch a comedy, take a bath, or do anything that works for you.  Write down a list of the things that make you happy:  raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, anything but more eating!

I work around food all day long, when something doesn’t always go my way, I mitigate stress-eating by having a quick chat with a co-worker who thinks my sarcastic bitchy humour is actually funny.  She laughs at everything I say, which makes me happy and then I go merrily about my day.  Do whatever works for you.

2. Don’t let your blood glucose levels drop to dangerous levels.  If you are trying to adopt new eating habits then make sure you are always prepared with a wholesome meal that is ready to eat.  Don’t get caught with low blood sugar and nothing healthy that’s ready to go.  You will be doomed in this case.  Rarely does willpower stand a chance against low blood sugar.

Caffiene, heavy carbohydrate meals and stress can lead to fluctuating hyper and hypoglycaemia. Do what it takes to reduce these, and for god sakes don’t start your day with sugar!  I explain the reason for this a bit more throughly in a past post “Say No to Crack”

3. Fruit is a great way to quickly raise blood sugar.  If you aren’t eating fruit right now because you are on a special diet then try a spoon full of raw coconut oil.  Coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid that can be converted very quickly by your liver into energy.

For salt cravings, try bone broth, it works just as efficiently as any salty treat at increasing blood volume, and it’s healthy.

4. Don’t keep garbage in the house!  If you are stressed, tired, or hangry, and the lollies are right there staring you dead in the eye, then you will eat them. Why set yourself up for failure?  If your partner isn’t on board with your food-revolution, and he or she makes that clear by asking why they can’t have treats around the house because you have a problem, then refrain from punching them straight in the mouth, and perhaps just try changing the location of the sweets.  Breaking patterns is key!  Replace everything that was in your usual junk filled pantry with healthy alternatives, encouraging notes, or pictures of your goals.

5. Chew your food!   Chewing your food thoroughly before you swallow is incredibly underrated.  The first stage of digestion happens in your mouth.  Chewing not only helps break down the food while it is in your mouth, but it also sends signals to your stomach that food is coming. These signals allow your stomach to release the appropriate enzymes it needs in order digest that particular food.   Your body is amazing!  Failing to chew slows down the digestive processes.  Selfish brain doesn’t have the patience for slow, don’t make it angry.

And finally of course there is exercise, which amazing for everything and deserves a whole blog on it’s own.

This post was Part 1 on how to outsmart food cravings.  If you liked it then help me reach more people by sharing.   Feedback is always appreciated!  Feel free to comment straight on the blog rather than the facebook page, as it opens up the conversation to everyone.   Very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sending love from Sydney,