How To Eliminate Food Cravings
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Despite what you may have heard, overcoming food cravings has nothing to do with willpower
Oxygen, food, and water are the three main things we need to stay alive. If we’re deprived of any of them for a significant period (not very long, when it comes to oxygen), the body and brain have powerful mechanisms that move us to breathe, eat, or drink. In the case of food, the brain is particularly sensitive to sudden drops in blood sugar and releases a number of chemicals that drive us to crave sugars and sweets to raise blood sugar levels. Our intestinal tract and fat cells also secrete hormones that tell us it’s time to eat.
People without weight problems benefit from a fully functioning system of appetite control—compounds such as hormones, peptides, neurotransmitters, and glucose that circulate in the blood and are sensed and acted upon by the brain. People of normal weight don’t usually experience frequent cravings for unhealthy foods. They simply feel hungry at appropriate times. They are also inclined to feel satisfied when they eat modest sized portions that don’t promote weight gain.
Unfortunately, when abdominal fat cells are enlarged in overweight and obese individuals, this complex system of appetite control becomes altered. The key factor that leads to this disruption is insulin resistance.
Resistance to the hormone insulin sets the stage for intense food cravings. In more primitive times, insulin resistance filled the purpose of helping humans pack on the pounds when food was abundant so that they could survive during famine. Today, we don’t usually have that problem, and as a result our physiology is stuck in the fat-storing mode with an overactive appetite.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to fix your appetite control system and free yourself from excessive food cravings. Two powerful natural approaches to doing this are stabilizing blood sugar and boosting serotonin levels in your brain.
The first step to eliminating food cravings is to treat the cause—in most cases, blood sugar volatility due to insulin resistance. Using breakthrough technology, Michael Lyon, MD, and I discovered that maintaining blood sugar levels within a very narrow range is the real key to controlling an overactive appetite. When people are on what we call the “blood sugar roller coaster,” they have very little control over their appetite or portion sizes. This is because every time they experience a quick drop in blood sugar levels, the brain goes into panic mode and secretes powerful appetite stimulators, as well as hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, to boost blood sugar.
Much of the effect of blood sugar fluctuations on appetite control can be traced to specialized brain cells called glial cells that surround every brain cell. Glial cells are important in sensing the level of glucose in the blood. Every time blood sugar drops rapidly, glial cells send powerful signals to brain regions, such as the hypothalamus, which then stimulate food cravings. Because of insulin resistance and its accompanying poor glucose regulation, overweight people often experience near constant commands to eat.
So, how do you improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance? Here are seven keys:
- Eat a low-glycemic-load diet. One to try: The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman, MD.
- Try a viscous fiber supplement (the super fiber PGX has the most data behind it; take 2.5–5 grams before meals).
- Supplement with chromium, which is necessary for insulin to work properly, at a dosage of 200–400 mcg per day.
- Get a handle on stress.
- Ensure that you never really get hungry by consuming low-calorie snacks, such as fresh vegetables and fruit, between meals.
- Engage in physical exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Plan your daily menu in advance.
Low levels of the brain chemical serotonin are another factor involved in food cravings. The manufacture of serotonin begins with the amino acid tryptophan. Insulin resistance or excess cortisol creates a block in the conversion of tryptophan to 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)—the intermediate step between tryptophan and serotonin. Fortunately, several studies have shown that taking 5-HTP supplements can reduce cravings and carb intake, leading to significant weight loss.
A new alternative to 5-HTP is Satiereal, an extract of saffron that shows similar effects in reducing food cravings and boosting serotonin levels. For 5-HTP, the usual dosage is 50–100 mg three times daily. For Satiereal, the dosage is 15 mg twice daily.