Has anyone else permanently sworn off Pringles? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, be sure to read last week’s post on food addictions and watch the videos with Brad Pitt. I’m tackling how to stop food cravings today and it’ll make more sense if you read the previous post.
On to the good stuff.
This week I’m delving into how to put a stop to addictive eating patterns and out-of-control food cravings.
“The drive to keep eating and eating is not always a lack of discipline or self control, but a biological cycle.” – yeah, I just quoted myself.
Last week I explained how the glycemic index of a food can be used to your advantage to stop cravings before they start. In other words, what you eat now will affect your cravings later.
This week I put it into action. I hope Homer Simpson is reading.
Let me start with some boring stuff. The glycemic index has been debated as a useful tool for quite sometime. The debate stems primarily from the complexity of calculating the glycemic index or glycemic load and the fact that foods are eaten in combination with other foods, which invariably changes the effects on your blood sugar. They’d rather use calories, since those stay the same, no matter what combination of food you use.
More food always = more calories
More food does NOT always = increased glycemic index
Math nerds don’t like this. Many nutritionists and dietitians don’t like this. Everyone just wants a simple answer!
All the nitty-gritty aside, understanding how different foods change the glycemic index is key. They are all missing the bigger picture. The answer is simple.
The gist is, if we can find ways to lower the glycemic index of any starchy food, even just a little, we could reduce our cravings later.
So how do you lower the glycemic index of any starchy food?
Don’t eat them naked.
Ok, hear me out.
Carbohydrates that are “naked” are those eaten alone (like dry toast) or carbohydrates that have been stripped of their natural fiber (like dry white toast).
Why should you avoid naked carbohydrates? Because naked carbs have the highest glycemic index of any foods. They are digested into sugar and absorbed into your blood stream faster than your body knows how to deal with them. They are addictive, as you learned last week.
This is why when lab rats are offered unlimited access to either sugar water or cocaine, they go to the sugar water 94% of the time. You many want to note that white bread and white sugar have the same glycemic index, so they are arguably equally addictive.
To quote the researchers: ”Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.”
Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH (2007) Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward. PLoS ONE 2(8): e698.
Until a few hundred years ago, white flour didn’t exist, nor sugar, nor instant noodles, nor breakfast cereals, nor corn syrup. And the human body has not, and in my opinion, will not adjust to eating them. We have an epidemic level of diabetes and weight issues for a reason.
The best option, of course, is to eat less processed starchy foods and sweets.
However, even the switch to “whole grain” you-name-it will still raise the blood sugar and can still lead to crazy fluctuating blood sugars and cravings. Remember, all carbohydrates are eventually broken down into sugar.
Believe me, I work with pregnant women, who we all know get cravings. Plus these pregnant ladies also have diabetes, so they have to be careful about their blood sugar. Invariably, when I help them choose the right foods, their blood sugars and their cravings go down.
So, here’s how you should “dress up” your naked carbs so you can stop the nutty cycle of food cravings and food addiction.
1) Eat carbs with fat – yes, fat. Despite what everyone tells you, fatty foods don’t make you want to eat forever and ever. They actually fill you up quite quickly. Ever have dry toast instead of buttered toast? You probably want to eat an extra slice after noshing on the dry toast. (If your taste buds don’t hate you yet.) Buttered toast might taste super delicious, but just because food is enjoyable doesn’t make it addictive (though the fake flavors that food companies use is a whole ‘nother ball game for another post). Being satisfied from your meal or snack is key. Fat does not raise the blood sugar at all, rather it maintains your blood sugar where it’s at, thereby keeping you satisfied. That means you stay full for longer when your meal has enough of it and your blood sugar won’t suddenly drop super low and trigger a sugar craving.
My fats of choice? Butter from grassfed cows (no buttery spreads, no margarines, you want REAL BUTTER), extra virgin coconut oil, shredded coconut, extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, nuts and seeds, the fat naturally found in dairy, meat, fish, eggs, etc…
2) Have some protein – Just like fat, protein fills you up fast and keeps you full. Ever start a meal without bread and just dive right into your steak or chicken? Notice what happens. Your body very clearly sends you the “I’m full” feeling far earlier than a meal started with bread OR a meal that’s all carbs (spaghetti, I’m lookin’ at you). Protein does not raise the blood sugar and has actually been shown to improve blood sugars in those with type 2 diabetes.
Proteins worth eating? Source and quality are important here. Meat/chicken from grassfed/pasture-raised animals (they fatten up the feedlot ones with, you guessed it, high glycemic grains!), wild-caught fish, eggs from pastured chickens, nuts and seeds, full-fat cheese, cottage cheese, or greek yogurt from grassfed cows…
3) Get more fiber – That means whole fruit, not juice. (I explain my take on juice in this audio recording) That means bread made from only “whole grain flour”. The food industry uses a ton of code words for white flour. My favorite is “enriched wheat flour”, which sounds like good stuff. It’s not. It’s white flour with 3 vitamins and 1 mineral added back. More marketing trickery. The glycemic index of this stuff is through the roof and there’s nothing nutritionally redeeming to justify eating it frequently. A few peanut butter cups might have a lower glycemic load than your Subway sandwich. Actually, they do.
Ideally, get fiber from the very food you’re eating, not some designer fiber supplement. One exception would be the addition of chia seeds or ground flax seeds to a meal. These form a gel in your stomach that slows the digestion of carbohydrates into sugar and greatly lowers the glycemic index.
My fave fiber options? Non-starchy vegetables (anything green, like kale, green beans, asparagus, zucchini, cucumber, etc), nuts and seeds (chia or ground flax are fiber champs), beans/legumes, and grains in their whole form, like Ezekial bread (the kind that doesn’t smush when you try to spread peanut butter on it).
Keep in mind that no matter how “whole” a food is, if it’s super high in carbs, like grains and fruit, it will still raise the blood sugar, still won’t keep you full very long, and still benefits from some protein or fat to keep you sated and craving-free.
How to put this into action:
- Eating bread? Pick out a good loaf where the first ingredient says “whole” (NOT “enriched” or “bleached”). Try an open-faced sandwich with ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
- Eating a tortilla? Make an open-faced quesadilla stacked with cheese, grilled chicken, sauteed onions and bell peppers, avocado, salsa, and sour cream.
- Eating pasta? Buy whole grain pasta and cook until al dente. Before heating up your sauce, saute grass-fed ground beef, onions, zucchini, and garlic. Then add the tomato sauce and heat up.
- Eating oatmeal? Mix in some chia seeds, sliced almonds, or shredded coconut (or all three!)
- Eating a baked potato? Choose a small organic one. Eat it with the skin. Top it with plenty of butter, sour cream, or cheese. And ideally, eat it along with some protein, maybe roasted chicken or grilled fish?
You get the idea….
Having switched to this approach to eating more than 10 years ago and having seen it with work with client after client, I believe the glycemic index (and total carbohydrate/sugar intake) plays a major role in food cravings and addiction.
The majority of people that seek me out for nutrition counseling have been brainwashed into eating this addictive “health” food almost every day. And guess what? You’re buying and eating more addictive junk food because of it.
You were sold on the “heart healthy” claims and replaced a perfectly healthy and delicious meal with this instead. On the agenda for next week, I’ll explore this “junk food in disguise” that’s a major trigger for food cravings. You won’t want to miss this. If you’re not already on my email list, sign up and stay tuned.
Of course, it’s not only what you eat that matters, but how you eat. That’s why my next workshop is devoted to helping you make peace with food and will feature tips and tricks to reconnect with your innate drive to eat and cues that tell you to stop eating. It’s gotta be a calibrated system and if you’re struggling with cyclic overeating and deprivation, uncontrollable cravings, and food addiction despite your best efforts, it’s time for a tune up. Check out the details in the flyer below. Already have people registered, so RSVP before it fills up!
Now before you go, I’d like to hear from you! In the comments below, share your response to the following:
- Most common foods you crave
- How you currently deal with cravings
- Your biggest “aha” from reading this article
Until next week,