With dreaded swimsuit season just around the corner, people everywhere are turning their attention to those excess pounds that somehow piled on over the winter months, and making a commitment to get rid of them in time.
Yet, as we all know, even the best intentions can be easily derailed. Especially when we can’t kick the urge to sink our teeth into a chocolate glazed donut or down a 1,000 calorie mochaccino. Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard we try to push those urges aside, they always win out in the end.
Meet food cravings: a powerful weight loss enemy.
As a brain and cognitive scientist specializing in the psychology of eating, I’ve devoted a lot of time to the study of cravings. Historically, the mechanism of cravings served us. In lean times, being able to activate a drive to eat so powerful that we would literally swallow bugs kept us alive. But now that same part of the brain is telling us we’ll die without a moccachino. What happened?
What happened is the food we eat. The current global diet is excessively high in sugar and flour. And what most people don’t know is that consuming that much sugar and flour actually changes the brain, rewiring it to ensure that it will continue demanding more and more of them.
The problem is our brains and bodies evolved to survive crop fails and droughts, not process the steady fix of empty calories we’re getting. Today’s packed, processed, refined foods are received by the body as drugs, not as fuel. In fact, brains scans have shown that the brains of obese people have sustained more damage to their pleasure receptors than the brains of drug addicts. This damage is the root of cravings.
When the brain is overstimulated it turns off pleasure receptors in a process called ‘?downregulation’? so they won’t respond as strongly next time. Meaning that to feel the same level of pleasure, you need more of the stimulus next time. That’s addiction. And it only takes three weeks of consuming the average American’s daily load of sugar, 22 teaspoons, for the brain to start making these adjustments. So when you start to try to lose weight and take your brain off its drug of choice it’s going to demand a fix.
Yes, brain science has proven that food addiction is very real, and likely hundreds of millions of people are affected. But swimsuit season is still lurking. What can we do to resist those cravings when they start to tug? The good news is that science has some answers for us.
Question Ourselves Why Cravings Happen
It’s not real hunger, it’s your brain in the grips of downregulation. This reminder alone can help us rise above the cravings.
Must Smell Some Peppermint Oil
Brushing our teeth with peppermint flavor or scent has been clinically proven to kill hunger that isn’t rooted in the body’s genuine need for fuel.
Try To Resist Commercial Television
We could see some food porn that can trigger our brains. So start resisting them.
Have An Attitude Of Gratitude
It takes sixty seconds to run through everything that shifts your brain away from ‘what you want’ to ‘what you have’.
Go For Distractions
Just go for a walk, read a book, do laundry. Even healthy food preparation could be a good distraction for you.
There are also ways to help prevent cravings from setting in:
Stop Consuming Sugar And Flour
They are as addictive and harmful to our brains as cocaine and other powdered drugs. The more we eat, the more we’ll crave.
Never Skip Your Meals
A regular three meals a day schedule at regular mealtimes i.e. breakfast, lunch, and dinner ‘ can train your brain to eat the right things at the right times and passing up those wrong things we might crave.
Above all, though, cravings are important, because they can be a result of a seized brain. My achievement for those foods to cut out of my life fourteen years ago is that I passed from having daily cravings to weekly cravings, to monthly cravings to rare cravings. So if you feel like cravings are a regular part of your life that is a sign that significant changes, along with the lines of eliminating sugar and flour, can help.
Finally, if you are in a weight-loss phase and your brain is wishing the foods you want, just be patient. Treat your craving mind like a tantrum toddler. Just deflect, distract, but don’t go for it.
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