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Conquer Your Cravings
By Bruce Goldberg
You try so hard to be good: You go to the gym, eat smaller portions, and walk straight past the Ben & Jerry‘‘s aisle at the grocery store. But still your hand strays to the Cheetos bag, your mouth waters for cheesecake, and your mind fixates on one thought: chocolate. Got cravings?
Whether you're dieting or simply trying to eat more healthfully, certain foods seem impossible to pass up. But by tweaking your food choices—and your mindset—you can vanquish both the biological and psychological causes of cravings.
The sugar cycle
"Most people with cravings crave sweets and carbohydrates," says Dr. Leo Galland, author of The Fat Resistance Diet (Broadway, 2005). When you eat sweets or refined carbs (like white bread or white rice), your blood-sugar levels spike rapidly. In response, the pancreas floods the blood with insulin, triggering cells to quickly take up large amounts of glucose—so much in fact that blood-sugar levels plummet and, in a rebound effect, you crave more sugar. To break this cycle, choose unrefined carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to elicit a more sustained insulin response, and don‘‘t skip meals, which lowers blood-sugar levels too much.
People also crave sweets because sugary treats boost levels of serotonin and beta-endorphin, the feel-good chemicals of the brain. "There are people who will have cravings because they become habituated to the endorphin-raising effect of sweets, and they actually experience a kind of withdrawal," Galland says, when they cut out candy.
Fortunately, you can amp up endorphin levels without resorting to a box of Krispy Kremes. Working out regularly releases beta-endorphins and gives you an "exercise high." It also improves the body‘‘s ability to regulate blood-sugar levels. Additionally, eating at least 20 grams of protein at every meal provides the amino acids essential for synthesizing serotonin and beta-endorphins.
Along with balancing blood sugar and endorphin levels, Galland suggests reducing inflammation, which inhibits the hormone leptin. "Leptin is produced in fat cells, and when it works properly, it goes to your brain and shuts off cravings," Galland says. He recommends an anti-inflammatory diet high in fruits, vegetables, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and spices like turmeric.
The mind game
Cravings spring just as much from your moods as from insulin spikes and leptin levels. According to Linda Spangle, RN, a weight-loss coach in Colorado, boredom, loneliness, depression, unresolved grief, and stress all can trigger cravings. We reach for the cookie jar to silence an emotion, rather than addressing the underlying distress. "We don‘‘t want to face our emotional needs and would rather say, ‘I just have a chemical imbalance,‘‘" says Spangle.
When she probes deeper with her clients, she usually finds a psychological culprit behind the craving; for example, "They were really angry with somebody or really stressed and just wanted to chew...
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