Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Deconstructing Cravings: Understanding why you crave things and healthy hunger vs destructive addiction

Some of the biggest roadblocks to weight loss are food cravings. Today, we're going to take apart those cravings to find out what they are, what why we have them and what we should do about them. 

What is a craving? It's basically an intense hunger for a certain food. It can become obsessive and overwhelming. Some cravings can feel like drug addiction, in intensity. This is true especially of refined or processed sugar which acts very much like heroin on the brain. It releases the same pleasure sensations, like dopamine, as certain drugs do. So cravings are bad, right? Well, yes and no. 

Why do we crave things? Not all cravings are created equal. And they are not triggered by the same the same factors. It depends upon the person, situation, duration and the specific craving. There is a difference between craving and addiction. If the person chronically craves a certain thing like chocolate, cannot get enough of it and still longs for it even after consuming a large amount, this a food addiction. If the craving is acute (temporary) it may actually indicate that you are low on and in need of the desired food. 

Is my craving good or bad? Follow these steps to check

--First, decide if it's acute or chronic. If you randomly want pizza today, that's acute. But if you think about sweets all day long, that's chronic. If you had a donut (or three) for breakfast, cookies with lunch, candy for a snack and a piece of cake for dessert and later before bed, that is a sugar addiction. You probably still want more and have developed a tolerance for it, so that you never hit satisfaction. Even half that much, on a daily basis, will lead to insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) as your body cannot process it all. 

--Next, think about what you are craving. Are you really hungry for pasta? It could mean several things. Pasta is typically what we think of as a comfort food. It's warm, nourishing, often homemade and probably in some form, a food we remember from childhood. Are you feeling your age and missing your youth? Are you in need of a hot home-cooked meal? Are you hungering for lasagna or missing your mom? Not that any of those are bad or that eating lasagna won't make your feel better. It's just that you may be missing a bigger picture or using to fill other gaps. 

Decide what you are really craving. Are you lonely? Sometimes food is the friend we long for. Are you tired? Do you really need a nap, or a break or a vacation?  Are you depressed? Eating sugar, for example, can make you feel a little better. For awhile. Then the the spike drops and you may feel even worse than before. Or you feel guilty because you over-indulged and ate the entire package of cookies instead of enjoying just a few. 

--Determine whether you are craving, addicted or hungry. I know that sounds like a no-brainer. Of course I'm hungry, you're thinking, duh. But it's not always that simple. If you are actually lonely, tired or depressed, you're not craving food but something to meet those needs. If you have a food addiction, you are not really hungry. You have a chemical imbalance.  

So what should I do? If you're hungry, you need of nourishment and the "craving" is your body saying what it needs. In the example of pasta, it's comforting partly because it's also the perfect meal. I know, you Keto folk eschew carbs. But the fact remains that it does contain all the food groups, with a few additions. Chicken broccoli alfredo for example hits all the nutritional needs: starch for quick energy, protein for sustained energy, vegetables for vitamins and minerals. Just go easy on the butter and cheese. And since it's so common a craving, the body must know it needs those ingredients. 

If you have a chronic craving you can't satisfy, you have an addiction. These cravings are almost always for processed, chemically enhanced foods with refined sugar and even fake sugar, HFCS, MSG, color or flavor additives, transfat or hydrogenated fat. Like drugs, these chemicals pirate your brain, so it mistakes them as necessary. They manufacture a need for themselves, causing you to overdose yet not get enough. Your body can't handle these chemicals which have now become toxins, and they start taking out your endocrine system, liver, kidneys, circulation, digestion, nerves. Your body tries to protect the organs by storing fat and insulating them with it. Your brain says go, while your body says NO. 

The way to break this addiction cycle is to detox and retrain your brain with a 12 step type program. More on that later. The left image is me at 100+ pounds overweight and right is after weight loss. You can see in the left, how inflamed my face is with stored fat. 

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