Do you ever crave ice cream? Or a bag of crisps, or chocolate, or cake or any specific type of foods or dishes? Let’s face it, most of us have been there. My next question is – Do you think that you are addicted to food? If you have answered yes to any of the first questions and crave particular foods, then guess what? You are addicted to food. For many this may not be an issue but for others, it’s the very thing that’s stopping them reaching their goals. Again, and again, people are sabotaged by that incredibly strong craving that drives them to eat rubbish. This also tends to happen later in the day. Let’s look at some of the issues, understand why it may be happening, the different ways in which we can deal combat it and finally hit our targets and reach our goals.
The “Toxic Hunger” Craving Cycle
Being addicted to food is unlike any other addiction. We need food to survive, to live, to fuel our bodies and brains. Without food, we would die! For this reason, we are hard wired to eat, we are rewarded when we eat food. Our brains light up like a Christmas tree when we eat certain foods, our bloodstream is flooded with serotonin and dopamine; neurotransmitters which mediate pleasure in the brain! So therefore, we feel pleasure after we eat and many of us may be unaware of this and continue to seek pleasure again and again and thus become addicted to certain foods. Let us have a closer look at the addictive cycle and what happens.
The typical Western diet contains high-calorie processed foods, oils, sweeteners, and animal products and is low in phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. There is evidence that such a diet, low in micronutrients and phytochemicals, results in inflammation, oxidative stress, and accumulation of toxic metabolites. When we digest our food, the body starts to eliminate waste products, causing uncomfortable symptoms. If we allow waste metabolites to build up by eating unhealthy foods, we will feel discomfort when the body attempts to remove these wastes. These sensations are symptoms of detoxification and withdrawal from an unhealthy diet. Coupled with this is a crash associated with excessive sugar. Sugar causes a huge release of serotonin in the brain and we subsequently crash after. Nicotine and alcohol or any other drug cause the same pleasure and then discomfort from withdrawal and the only way to make that feeling disappear is to have another cigarette, drink or in our case – food. The reason many calorie restrictive diets fail is down to this reason as well.
What actually causes us to feel hungry? What drives us to eat? Again, hormones are very powerful and drive us to seek calories and nutrients. Many different physiological mechanisms cause what we know as hunger. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” and is produced in the stomach. It is one thing which makes us feel hungry. If we do not get adequate sleep at night -ghrelin production rises and we feel hungrier. Leptin is the hormone which signals brain to stop eating because we have enough fat. Leptin is produced by fat cells, so naturally one would think that the fatter we get, the less we would need to eat. The problem is that Leptin receptors are being blocked -by you guessed it, fats and simple sugars we are consuming. Again, the key here is to reduce consumption of refined foods and get regular quality sleep. Reduce ghrelin by consuming foods containing some protein.
Hunger can be our bodies craving nutrients
Most nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine after food has been broken down. If we are eating lots of energy dense foods which are very low in nutrients, then our bodies are still looking for essential vitamins and minerals crucial to health and good body repair and function. So often we consume what I refer to as “Yellow Food” – so bread, pasta, rice, chips, crisps, deep fried food, pastries, biscuits, butter, cheese, doughnuts – I think you get the idea. All of these are very low in nutrients yet rich enough in energy. So, if your body is not receiving vitamins and minerals, it will send powerful hunger signals to find them. You know that when you seem to get cravings and eat and eat yet still feel hungry! What you need most is a good salad with mixed leaves to kill cravings.
Fixing Toxic Hunger
Like any other detoxification process, this might not feel amazing at the beginning but believe me, it will feel fantastic after a short time. Your body is well able to detoxify itself, we are just going to help you detoxify from unhealthy foods! You will then actually crave the right type of healthy foods.
I start by cutting out nearly all refined sugars and processed foods. Then increase nutrient dense foods like leafy green salad leaves like spinach, kale, lettuce, swiss chard, rocket, lamb’s lettuce and anything that’s leafy and green! You can also eat loads of onions, mushrooms and berries. Then load up on fruit and vegetables, especially those that are not too high in starch. Before people start talking about sugar in fruit, don’t worry. People who have major health issues and weight gain don’t have it due to overconsumption of fruit! Besides, the sugar in fruit is buffered by the naturally occurring fibre and offset by all the phytonutrients. These foods are very high in nutrients and low enough in calories. Try to use an apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of oil (no more) in your dressing for a salad. The oil is to transport fat soluble vitamins. The ultimate goal here is to change the micro bacteria in your intestine, allow for much greater nutrient absorption and send signals to your body that you are receiving all the nutrients you need. Cravings will die away very quickly and you will start to feel lighter, with loads more energy. Toxic hunger will disappear.
I recommend have a huge bowl of salad in the evening time, especially after a gym workout. Then have a small meal which should include some complex carbohydrate and protein. Having protein with any meal will help decrease ghrelin production, so you should feel less hungry. If you are looking for a supplement, then I might recommend Chromium as this helps cravings as well as stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Take Home Message
- Cut down on high energy, low nutrient foods
- Stop using food to feel better
- Double your vegetable intake
- Eat a huge bowl of leafy greens every day
- Eating protein with every meal to reduce Ghrelin
- Add a Chromium supplement to reduce cravings