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.
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.