A Simple Six-Step System for Eliminating Food Cravings

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Articles, Nutrition

 

Before I give you my simple, six-step system for eliminating food cravings, you must read this comprehensive overview of food cravings, straight from John Gilbert, who is the human physiology mastermind at Washington State University. If you are empowered with the knowledge (that John is about to give you) about why you crave food, this can really help you beat the urge to constantly eat food – and eliminate appetite cravings.

And now, here is your guest post from John Gilbert…followed by my simple six-step system for eliminating food cravings.

Introduction to Cravings

Cravings start in your brain.

Chemicals are released when you eat food, any food, good tasting or not. These chemicals and areas of the brain are the same as those involved in drug response and addiction. The chemicals are likely the same because we evolved to encourage healthy behaviors such as eating and reproduction. Unfortunately, drugs that are abused can take over the use of these chemicals, meaning less effort goes toward healthier goals.

Why Food Is Like A Drug

 

Continuing with the comparison to drugs, let’s look at how food can act like a drug to the brain. A drug addict did not become one overnight, they tried a drug, which caused a release of chemicals in the brain, making the person feel good and want to continue that feeling. To continue the feeling, they learn they need the particular drug to satisfy their craving, just like how someone might crave ice cream when they watch a movie or a hotdog when at a baseball game. This is due to the same chain of events of relating certain behaviors with feelings can occur with food.

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It would seem that only good tasting foods would cause this chemical release. This is wrong. The Food Addiction in Humans study, by Marcia Levin Pelchat, that we pulled our information from, demonstrates how people can come to craving bland and not good tasting food—even when the food provides them with all the Calories, nutrients, and fullness they need.

Even when people took a drug that was created to make food not be as pleasing, there was no association with weight loss. In this way, our country’s obesity problem is not due to overabundance of good tasting food; rather, it appears to be the way that the foods are consumed and why they are being consumed.

How Cravings Can Happen To You

The way foods are consumed can lead to an addictive eating pattern that causes cravings—not the tastiness of the food. This situation is just like a drug addict who no longer becomes chemically dependent by going through rehab. The individual no longer has chemical withdrawals that create cravings; instead, their old environments that were associated with drug use create the cravings. Just as withdrawal is not needed to have cravings with drug use, nutritional deprivation is not needed to have food cravings.

Your environment can be a strong cause of food cravings. The sight or smell of food or even food imagery may serve as triggers. Repeatedly eating a craved food when hungry can cause cravings and eventually release less of the brain chemicals that the food used to before eating the food regularly. This means you are not necessarily as pleased by what you eat as you once were; rather, you crave a particular food to fulfill the association and perceived need that the specific food stops. The chemical reward of eating the food is still released, but the chemical does not stop further cravings for good tasting foods in animals or humans.

In addition to less of the pleasure chemical being released, the chemical’s effectiveness decreases as Body Mass Index (BMI)* increases, leading to even less pleasure while eating the food. Therefore, being overweight and obese can lead to less pleasure while eating foods that are craved.

This information demonstrates how the chemical release may play a more important role in wanting the food rather than liking the food while it’s eaten. It is as if someone can smell and taste what has to be eaten to satisfy the craving, whether it is for good tasting or bad tasting food.

Consider this quote from the article:

“There are many parallels between feeding behavior and drug addiction. Treatments for drug abuse focus on craving, impulsivity, and learning and are not generally focused on withdrawal or other physiological measures of addiction. In contrast, many, if not most studies of obesity focus on minimizing hunger. But not all diet failures are due to hunger; some of them are probably due to nonhomeostatic eating or impulsive eating. Given the many parallels between food and drug cravings, it would make sense to use lessons from drug addiction to aid in the fight against obesity.”

The approach of drug addiction with food seems to be promising in having a positive impact on people’s health. This approach seems to be why there was “success at turning craving on and off in 30-s bins was probably due to the fact that subjects were given a task that was incompatible with craving (imagining the monotonous diet) rather than simply being asked to stop craving.”

*BMI – describes the body weight relative to height, it correlates strongly (in adults) with the total body fat content. Defined as a person’s weight in kilograms (kg) divided by their height in meters (m) squared.

Here is the link to the study: http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/139/3/620

What John Recommends If You Have Food Cravings

1. Variety – Do not get in rut of eating the same things over and over, and try not to have patterns where you expose yourself to a lot of food availability, then a little, then a lot, then a little, etc. This is of particular concern in college students who typically do not have a lot of food availability when living on their own, but they will visit home where there is a lot of food available.
2. Don’t skip meals – Preferably eat 3 meals with snacks included.  Don’t go longer than 5 hours between meals. Prolonged bouts of not eating results in low blood sugar and we compensate by overeating later.
3. Don’t skip breakfast – Again, giving your body a stable supply of blood sugar first in the morning will attenuate hunger and reduce chance of overeating later in the day.  Studies show that people who eat breakfast generally weigh less than those who skip it.
4. Eat protein, carbs, and fat at each meal or snack – Combining macronutrients will provide a steady supply of blood sugar and keep you fuller longer.  (e.g. instead of eating an apple as a snack, eat it with peanut butter or a slice of low fat cheese)
5. Drink water – Our body often confuses hunger with dehydration.  Drink a glass with meals or in between meals and re-evaluate how hungry you think you are.
6. Eat a small amount of the food you are craving – By trying to cut out a particularly craved food “cold turkey,” it can increase the desire to consume it and lead to over-indulging on it later.  Try having a little bit of the craved food periodically and surround it with other healthy snacks such as fruit and vegetables.
7. Tap your forehead – Some tips for getting through the craving are to tap your forehead. This may sound crazy but there is actually science behind this theory. When a craving comes on, place the five fingers of your hand on your forehead. Space them slightly apart and begin tapping each finger at intervals of a second. While you are doing this look upward and watch it. Before you know it, your craving will have disappeared.
8. Sniff Mint – A study conducted at a university had subjects sniff peppermint throughout the day and those who did ate 2800 fewer calories per week than those who didn’t.  The scent was hypothesized to disrupt the craving.

Thanks for the information, John!

Ben’s Six Step System for Eliminating Food Cravings

Now that John has given his tips, here’s my seven-step system for eliminating appetite cravings (doing all of these together works best, especially if you have a serious case of the munchies):

1. 8oz of water immediately when you begin to crave any food.
2. No starches with the evening meal (only protein, vegetables and healthy fats)
3. Sparkling water with mint gum after dinner, every night.
4. Supplementation with chromium and vanadium (i.e. the appetite reducing supplement Thermofactor) 20-30 minutes before lunch and dinner.
5. Elimination of appetite stimulating artificial sweeteners (sucralose/splenda, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, nutrasweet). Only exception are the trace amounts in gum.
6. Jumping jacks, body weight pushups or squats for 2 minutes when you begin to crave any food.

Do you have food cravings? What do you do about it? Do you wonder why my six-step system works? Have you ever used any of John’s eight tips? Leave your comments below.

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17 thoughts on “A Simple Six-Step System for Eliminating Food Cravings

  1. Amyday says:

    Your website is a treasure trove of information, thank you! I am truly addicted to sugar as it were a drug. I always get gestational diabetes while pregnant as well, and my fasting blood sugar tends to be a tad high many times when im not pregnant (think prediabetes range like 90-99) I’m currently about 15 pounds over a healthy weight, nursing my 3rd child (who is an adorable 6 month old baby girl:) by the way)…. I’m wondering what supplements you would recommend considering that I’m breastfeeding my child? What would be a safe amount of chromium? Any others you could recommend? Thank you!

    1. Recent research shows high chromium may increase cancer risk (check latest issue of https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/ERD) so, based on this, I'd recommend you read this book as it has everything you need for the pregnancy component: https://amzn.to/1XEOvtC

  2. "The Dude" says:

    Healthylady go troll elsewhere. Tricking your body into thinking your pregnant through the use of artificial sex hormones is rarely a good idea. Estrogen and testosterone are dangerous… End of story. Mr . Ben seems to grasp the physiology behind ketosis pretty well for a man who knows nothing. Cysts can occur as the result of a virus gained from unprotected sex as a result of a false sense of security gained from taking BC.

    Ps why does everyone over dramatize their medical exploits, why even share your medical history in the first place. 99% of the time the disease isn’t rare and it usually reveals TMI to educated people. I miss the days when a man’s finances, dirty laundry , and medical history were off limits

  3. HealthyLady says:

    Ben Greenfield you said, "No woman does herself any biological favors by being on birth control… " I beg to differ! Birth control saved my life! It has been a miracle cure for my depression, ovarian cysts popping and sending me to the ER, and disgusting, heavy, heavy blood flow. I tried "natural" herbs to help and they made me much worse!! Also was taking 5HTP for depression, on top of a clean diet of vegetables and lean protiens. I feel like a normal woman now being back on the pill and won't go off. You are a man who has no clue what you are talking about!

  4. Dave Johnson says:

    As I am getting more mature, and my metabolism isn't as fast, excercising everyday makes all the difference for good weight managment. Thanks for all of your help, Ben!!!

  5. John Limpus says:

    Really interesting post Ben, thanks. Have used many of John and your techniques (the 'tapping' is very effective). I always say preparation beats will-power every time. Less temptation is often the key to limiting that late night snacking.

    Keep up the good work.

    John

  6. Monika…did you listen to the podcast about it?

  7. Monika says:

    "No woman does herself any biological favors by being on birth control…" while I agree with you, what makes you say this? I have been on birth control as a result of amenorrhea, I'm a runner 5'5'' and was 107 pre birth control now I'm 115. What are your arguments against birth control, especially among athletes specifically distance runners?

    1. Todd Lahman says:

      Birth control pills will no doubt contain estrogen, which is a hormone that causes your thyroid (which is responsible for the speed of your metabolism) to slow down, and contributes to weight gain.

      Women are generally not put on birth control for amenorrhea, since over training, like long distance running is most likely the cause of your amenorrhea, and knowing this your doctor should have suggested taking a break from running first to see if your menses return before writing a prescription for birth control pills.

      Unless you really need the birth control pills, then you would be well advised to stop taking them, and I would advise taking a break from running for a few months if necessary to allow your menses to return, and then start training again, but not as hard to make sure amenorrhea doesn't return, because that is a sure sign you are over training.

      Once you stop the birth control your thyroid will once again start to properly regulate your metabolism, but you might still have excess weight after you stop running/over training. The best way to keep the weight off is to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, or even less like 20 grams per day if necessary, until your weight hits the desired mark. Eating fewer carbs forces the body to burn fat. You should eat the appropriate amount of protein for your lean body mass only, since too much protein will be converted into glucose and then stored as fat. You should eat as much fat as you want during your fat burning, since it will not be stored, but instead will be burned as harmless ketones the excess of which will flush out in your urine, feces, sweat, and breath.

      Once you've lose your weight increase your carbs to between 60 and 100, but not more than 150 grams per day, or the carbs will cause your body to store fat again.

      There is a great article at the Mayo Clinic that discusses amenorrhea:
      http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/amenorrhea/DS005…

      Best of luck and health to you Monika,

      Todd Lahman

  8. Fitz says:

    Ben – how do you feel about paleo/primal diet proponents who advise skipping meals, avoiding carbs, even skipping breakfast? Seems like there’s a lot of science behind it (although as a distance runner, I wouldn’t skip meals or avoid carbs). Mark Sisson at marksdailyapple.com is big on this.

    1. I’ll answer in the next podcast

  9. Jeanine says:

    I told myself for several weeks that “i don’t eat after 8:30 at night,” and sure enough, now it has become part of my normal way of thinking. And I don’t crave food at night because I eat three healthy meals and two snacks every day, following Ben’s advice to eat my carbs early in the day and when I work out.

  10. David says:

    I think I have heard that something hot, like cayenne pepper could help suppress appetite. Is there any validity to this?

    1. Yup, capsaicin can suppress appetite. I have a bit of cayenne pepper on hand all the time.

    2. sue g. says:

      David – it certainly slows down the actual eating process. It's a challenge to eat super-spicy food really fast. That's my take :) Sue

  11. Doretta Doyle says:

    Thanks Ben! Interesting to see this that I struggle with more and more as I get older has some reason behind what is going on.
    I am also thinking I should be off birth control at my age .. do you thoughts on that?

    1. Doretta, you should REALLY LISTEN to my podcast on the Wiley protocol. Do a search for it on my website. No woman does herself any biological favors by being on birth control…

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