Introduction: New evidence suggests that food cravings can be comparable to those experienced by drug addicts. In this article, we will explore the causes of cravings and provide effective strategies to control them, promoting a healthier lifestyle.
Understanding the Root Causes of Cravings
External Cues: The Role They Play in Overeating Recent research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Nutrition reveals that externally conditioned cravings for processed foods are a major reason why people overeat. These cues can make cravings harder to resist.
The Impact on Craving Pathways Studies on Pavlovian conditioning demonstrate that food rewards are deeply ingrained in our memory and persist even when we are satiated. By repeatedly giving in to unhealthy cravings, we reinforce and strengthen these responses.
Addiction: The Brain’s Role in Cravings
There are four neurocircuits associated with addiction: reward, motivation/drive, memory, and control. In an addicted brain, the desire for immediate rewards overwhelms the part of the brain responsible for impulse control. This results in a pattern of behavior where individuals seek out rewards, disregarding negative consequences.
The Biochemistry of Cravings
Cravings can be influenced by biochemical signals in the body and the brain. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate can trigger cravings, while GABA enables control. The frontal areas of the brain, responsible for control, are still developing in adolescents and can be lost or reduced in addicts.
The Psychology Behind Cravings and Processed Foods
The Influence of Environmental Stimuli .
Environmental stimuli can significantly impact our eating behaviors. Through neuro conditioning, repeated exposure to unhealthy responses combined with external cues can lead to processed food addiction. This addiction can be even more severe than drug addiction, resulting in increased cravings, suppression of decision-making and memory, loss of control, and overeating.
Factors That Make Cravings Overwhelming
Several factors contribute to overwhelming and persistent cravings:
- Cues paired with processed, high-calorie foods.
- Multiple cues at once, amplifying the effectiveness of cravings.
- Repetition of cues, making them stronger and longer-lasting.
- Prolonged exposure to cues, increasing the likelihood of giving in to cravings.
Retraining Your Brain to Curb Cravings
Cue Exposure and Response Prevention A study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex indicates that cue exposure and response prevention can reduce brain reward activation, leading to decreased cravings. Focusing on the cost of eating and the benefits of resisting cravings strengthens inhibitory brain regions, making it easier to say no in the future.
Strategies to Curb Cravings:
- Shop at farmers’ markets or the periphery of chain grocery stores where fresh produce is available.
- Fast forward through tempting fast-food ads on television and teach children to do the same.
- Carry healthy alternatives when on-the-go.
- Create a healthy home environment, free from temptations.
- Avoid vending machines.
- Identify and control your triggers, such as television, grocery stores, restaurants, and billboards.
- Plan and prepare your meals and snacks ahead of time.
- Mentally prepare for triggering situations, such as vacations or dining out.
- Avoid environments that tempt you to eat unhealthily.
- Disassociate eating from craving cues.
- Educate yourself about cues, conditioning, and cravings.
The Power of Protein
Including an adequate amount of protein in your diet is crucial. The USDA recommends daily protein consumption of 0.8g per kilogram of body weight.
Higher amounts (up to 50% higher) are recommended for those trying to lose weight or build lean muscle. That could be up to 90g for a 75 kg, 1.78m tall man or 75g for a 64 kg, 1.65m tall woman.
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Studies show that higher protein diets help suppress hunger, increase satiety, and burn fat, thereby promoting weight loss and making it easier to stay on a weight loss program. It’s a good idea to get 20-25% of your daily kilojoules from a complete, high quality protein that has all 22 amino acids involved in human nutrition.
Try to get protein in every meal and snack to meet your personalized daily target.
Nutrition to Curb Cravings
A micronutrient-rich diet that includes the full spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals can also help support optimal health, leaving little room for cravings. Nutrient-dense foods, such as dark leafy greens and colourful fruits and veggies, fill you up, pack in a big load of nutrients, and are low in kilojoules.
Making your food choices so as to maximise nutrients per kilojoule, is key.
It is important to recognise that low nutrient eating (and toxic eating) leads to increased cellular toxicity with undesirable levels of free radicals and advanced glycation end products (AGE’s), lipofuscin, lipid A2E, and other toxins that contribute to the development of chronic disease.
Findings report that these toxic substances lead to addictive withdrawal symptoms (toxic hunger) that result in the desire to eat more frequently and overeat. Low nutrient eating, therefore, establishes a mechanism that leads to food addictions and food cravings that can’t be ignored.
Supplement to meet nutrient needs.
Micronutrients have been shown to decrease cravings .
Neolife Nutrition to curb cravings •
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NeoLifeShake: contains a proprietary blend of ingredients that help promote the gut-brain satiety signaling system. This enhances the feeling that you are full and satisfied.
Addictive Foods to Avoid to curb cravings •
artificial sugar substitutes,
foods high in saturated or trans fats,
high salt foods,
alcohol, and fermented beverages. •
Mixing sugar/refined flour/fat, refined flour/fat/salt
Healthy Habits Start Now
The USDA recommends 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
It’s a sad fact that the majority of Americans do not meet these requirements.
In 2013, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a population study surveying dietary habits and found that: • Adults only averaged 2.7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. • Adolescents averaged an even more dismal 2.3 servings a day.
in fact, the children on micronutrient management experienced these advantages:
The power of good nutrition in early childhood development has been well documented and researchers are even expanding their studies to include how nutrition can impact children with disabilities like autism.
A published study found that children on the autism spectrum who received macronutrient management achieved symptom management comparable to those who were on pharmaceutical management.
• Less social withdrawal
Little or no anger
Less irritability and lower intensity
Markedly fewer adverse events
Less weight gain.
Educating oneself about the negative impacts of processed foods and their addictive nature can be a powerful tool. Making informed food choices, maximizing nutrient density, and supplementing when necessary can help support optimal health and curb cravings.
It is never too early to start cultivating healthy habits, especially for children. By providing them with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, we can lay the foundation for their long-term health and well-being. Nutritional interventions have shown promise in managing symptoms and improving outcomes in children with conditions like autism.
In summary, by taking proactive steps to understand and control cravings, individuals can regain control over their health and make informed choices that support their overall well-being. With determination, discipline, and a focus on long-term benefits, it is possible to overcome cravings and embrace a healthier lifestyle.