Food cravings, also called “hedonic hunger” are cravings many people experience for unhealthy foods such as sweets or fast food, and are a common cause of obesity and unhealthy eating habits. These seemingly unstoppable cravings are linked to dopamine and serotonin deficiencies (which might, in part, be due to micronutrient deficiencies) and there’s this built in feedback loop messing with our cravings. Foods that are high in fat and sugar assist in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed. So when we eat the foods we crave, we remember that it worked and we may return to that same food the next time we need a fix. We may also associate these with a particularly stressful event in our lives where food soothed us or perhaps there’s some comfort food that is associated with our upbringing or culture (who doesn’t love mac n cheese?).
There’s also evidence to suggest that our leptin hormone levels get all wonky, resulting in ongoing miscommunication between our fat cells and our brain. Our brain never gets the message to stop eating and we get fat (this has been linked to low dopamine levels too). Obviously, the answer to what causes food cravings and what influences weight loss and weight gain, is complex as even researchers haven’t sorted it out yet but the good news is, there’s a lot you can do to stop these cravings!
So, how do you fight these intense cravings and bring your body and mind back to a more healthy state?
1. Get some micronutrients and probiotics into your diet by making a daily smoothie or two (recipe below) and for God-sakes drink those 8-10 glasses of filtered water a day (squeeze a lemon in that water too please).
Super Crush Smoothie:
–Spinach: 1 cup. Spinach helps decrease cravings, Buy it in the overpriced, pre-washed, organic, container.
–Frozen blueberries: about 1/2 cup. Buy in a resealable bag or transfer the frozen ones you bought to a ziplock for easy access. Here’s why frozen berries are way better for you.
–Protein powder: 2 scoops. I like the Vega brand because it’s plant based, but it doesn’t matter. You can order from Amazon but Whole Foods also sells.
–Almond milk: I add in enough to make the smoothie liquid enough to drink easily. You can use coconut water, hemp milk, rice milk, whatever but avoid soy milk and dairy.
Blend, slam, repeat 2x/day as a meal replacement. Make extra, store in a mason jar or thermos and drink at work later. Eat a reasonable dinner of salad and whatever protein and complex carb works for you (I like brown rice or mashed sweet potatoes). Try compressing your eating times to 8-10 hours a day to leave 14-16 hours for digestion and detox (11am-8pm works for me but everyone’s different). After your cravings calm down a bit, feel free to add in other ingredients like: dates, spirulina powder, coconut oil and ground flax seed, all of which have truly amazing health benefits and help tremendously with ongoing weight loss.
2. Get yourself outdoors for a little bit, everyday, and reset your biorhythms, take in a little Vitamin D and release some of those happy brain chemicals. Even a 10 minute walk outside, makes a difference. Try to rid your mind of stress by focusing on the sights and smells around you and gently push away any negative thoughts. The goal is to mix in a little mindfulness, a little variety and some natural light into some daily movement.
3. Get quality sleep. Poor quality sleep is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression. It is also one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. Start, by putting that Kindle down an hour before bedtime and stop texting your Mom or whomever… And, if you must watch TV before going to sleep, be sensible and watch a few episodes of Doc Martin instead of Breaking Bad.
4. Eat at a tablespoon of sauerkraut daily or take a probiotic pill (I do both). Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, and science has suggested that if you eat fermented food regularly, such as kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), sauerkraut, or yogurt, its healthy, probiotic bacteria will help the serotonin in your gut move to your brain. Bacteria do lots of other wonderful things and research is underway that suggests we may be able to alter the diversity of the bacteria in our gut thereby preventing diseases (especially autoimmune disorders), by changing our diet and eating more probiotic rich foods.
5. Last but certainly not least is to, bring more love, gratitude and pleasure into your life which is, in the words of Lissa Rankin, “the glue that holds it all together.” Her message of caring for your body as well as your mind, heart and soul has looong been backed up by credible, scientific research and her short TedTalk is so worth viewing. I would add, figure out what the hell’s bugging you, forgive or fix it and let it go. And, try hugging and cuddling more; it releases your own happy hormones like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.
Lissa Rankin’s book Mind Over Medicine: read the first chapter here for free
Martha Beck’s books have influenced me greatly
Extensive catalog of health related articles at Healthy Holistic Living
A quick note from our founder-
Over the past year, my friend Dave at PaleoHacks has been working on a secret cookbook with world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu chef Peter Servold.
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