If you just try hard enough, you can control your food cravings, right?
Good, old-fashioned self-control is the key to conquering overeating, isn’t it?
Actually, it’s not even close to being that simple. Suppressing food cravings can prove to be a gargantuan task. Like trying to get the lyrics of a song out of your head, the longing for homemade mac & cheese can haunt you for hours. But repeatedly succumbing to your tummy’s every desire can negatively affect your dopamine reward system. Just like drug addicts, someone who continually eats chocolate, for instance, raises the threshold of that reward, which means that it gradually takes more and more brownies to regain that initial pleasure.
According to Daniel G. Amen, MD (author of The Amen Solution: The Brain Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Keep it Off), most weight problems actually start in the brain, which may explain why most diets don’t work. Your failed diet attempts are not at all moral failures but could be due to a lack of understanding about what works best for you…or for your brain, to be specific. Based on his fascinating research, here are 8 strategies for controlling cravings and conquering overeating:
1. Keep Blood Sugar Balanced. Low blood sugar levels are associated with lower overall brain activity and more cravings. These tips can help keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day:
- Eat a nutritious breakfast every day.
- Eat cinnamon, found to help regulate blood sugars in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Ingest smaller meals throughout the day.
- Stay away from simple sugars and refined carbohydrates.
2. Decrease the Use of Artificial Sweeteners. These sweeteners can be up to 600 times sweeter than sugar and may activate the appetite centers of the brain, making you crave even more food and more sugar. A group of Australian scientists found that alcohol floods the bloodstream faster if mixed with beverages containing artificial sweeteners rather than sugar.
3. Manage Stress. Chronic stress has been implicated in obesity, as well as addiction, anxiety and depressive disorders, and cancer. Consider deep breathing, prayer, meditation and hypnosis to combat stress.
4. Outsmart Sneaky Triggers. Identify environmental triggers for unhealthy eating; for example, the mall, the airport, the movie theater or family gatherings; plan to bring healthy foods with you or eat before you go.
5. Find Out About Hidden Food Allergies. These can trigger cravings. If you have an allergy to wheat gluten or milk and you eat wheat or dairy products, the allergy can reduce blood flow to the brain and impair your judgment. Subtle but important food allergies can result in brain inflammation that contributes to poor brain health. Conventional medicine has tended to ignore such reactions, which can occur up to several days after consuming the item in question.
To identify food allergies, eliminate dairy, wheat, sugar, food additives, preservatives and artificial flavorings or colors from your diet for 1–2 months. Then slowly reintroduce these items one at a time every 3–4 days to determine whether a new item triggers problems. When you introduce a food, eat it at least two or three times a day for 3 days to see if you notice a reaction (stop immediately if you do). Symptoms may include brain fog, difficulty remembering, mood issues (anxiety, depression and anger), nasal congestion, headaches, sleep problems, joint aches, muscle aches, pain, fatigue, skin changes and changes in digestion and bowel functioning.
6. Practice Willpower to Retrain Your Brain. Make it a habit to say no to the things that are not good for you. Over time, you will find this easier to do. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a very important concept here. When nerve cell connections become strengthened, they are said to be potentiated. Whenever we learn something new, our brains make new connections.
7. Get Moving. Research has shown that exercise can help blunt genetic obesity tendencies, improve how the brain uses sugar, reduce cravings and overcome food addiction, handle stress, help you make better food choices and improve brain health overall.
8. Get Adequate Sleep. An expanding body of science has shown that the less sleep you get, the more cravings you’ll have—and the more calories you eat, the more belly fat you’ll have and the higher your BMI will be.