Have you ever noticed that cravings for broccoli are pretty rare? But SOS food (salt, oil sugar), we are all over that! Whoever invented salted-caramel-chocolate clearly understands how to engineer “food” to hit ALL the pleasure centers in the brain. Did I just make you crave salted-caramel-
Why do we crave things that are bad for us? The short answer is it’s rooted in human survival. There was a time when calorically dense food was at a premium. If a human was lucky enough to come across salty, sweet or fatty food, eating as much of it as they could was good for survival. But did you notice that little word or? SOS food doesn’t exist in nature. That combination is human designed. (Thank you Big Food making for big profits making us big people.) And it always comes in calorie dense, nutrition poor, fiber nonexistent packaging.
The pleasure centers of our brain get excited by ice cream (fat and sugar), cheese, (fat and salt), salty snacks (fat and salt) and all other manner of processed foods (always some combination of SOS, sometimes all three). But our bellies aren’t full and our nutrition needs aren’t met. And just like a drug or alcohol addiction, we can get down-right grumpy when we don’t have access to our addiction of choice. We know it’s not good for us. But we just can’t stop ourselves. We HAVE to have it.
Knowing why it happens is great. It gives us a place to put the blame. But how do we fix it? I’m not going to tell you it’s easy per se. But it also doesn’t require huge amounts of willpower. This is going to sound counter intuitive but go with me on this.
You need to eat more. Stop with the portion control nonsense! Of course, I don’t mean eat more of what you’re craving. Eat more real, whole, plant food! Your belly has stretch receptors in it. Stretch them with green leafy veggies, yellow and red veggies, and whole-food starches (that aren’t covered in animal products and oil). At the same time as you’re stretching the receptors in your stomach your brain is going to get the message, “Hey we’re getting a lot of great nutrients. Yay!” All because there is a TON of whole-food fiber in the food you’re eating (adding fiber from a canister isn’t going to get it done). The systems that are designed to make sure you eat enough to stay alive are being checked off. Enough volume? Stretch receptors: “Yes!” Enough nutrients? Density receptors: “Yes”
That deals with the physiological issue of cravings caused by your body thinking it’s starving. What about the Pavlovian (habit) issue? Let’s substitute whole-foods for the processed. Craving sweet? Try dried fruit like raisins, dates, figs, or apricots (no sugar added of course). Or frozen fruit. We like mangoes and cherries. Craving fat? Nuts and seeds are a great option. Craving salt? Celery is high in sodium. But what if you’re craving SOS? Celery with peanut butter and raisins to the rescue! Try almonds or cashews with raisins or apricots (wicked good!).
Over time your taste buds and the pleasure centers in your brain will change and you’ll start to “crave” healthy foods.
Cravings served a purpose once-upon-a-time. But that time isn’t now. Feed your body real, whole, plant foods and it will take great care of you. Science and 100s of 1000s of years of human history says so.
If you are ready to address how your cravings are negatively affecting your health, let’s set up a free get-to-know-you chat. Send me an email and let’s get you on track to taking control of your stress eating. Health@RnRJourney.com
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.