It seems that we all vary a bit in our capacity for pleasure. Some us need a lot more stimulation to feel pleasure driving us to a range of addictive pleasures that stimulate our reward center in the brain – drug and alcohol addictions, compulsive gambling, sex addiction and, of course, sugar, food addiction and compulsive eating. We often see these as moral failures or results of character defects. In fact, it may be that addicts of all stripes are simply unlucky and born with unfortunate genetic variations in our reward and pleasure mechanisms.
Even if you are stuck with the sugar addiction gene (yes, there really is such a thing!), you may be able to modify its activity by modulating your brain chemistry and receptor function with the use of specific nutrients that either improve gene expression, or modify the activity, the enzymes, or the receptors, even if they are somewhat impaired. Regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters that affect appetite and cravings is complex and involves many factors including how quickly food spikes our blood sugar, stress, getting enough sleep, nutritional deficiencies, chemicals such as artificial sweeteners, food sensitivities which drive inflammation, and more.
For those with personal struggles with food addiction, remember it is not a moral failing or lack of willpower. Here are a five suggestions to help patients break their food addictions.
1. Balance your blood sugar: Research studies say that low blood sugar levels are associated with LOWER overall blood flow to the brain, which means more BAD decisions. To keep your blood sugar stable:
- Eat a nutritious breakfast with some protein like eggs, protein shakes, or nut butters. Studies repeatedly show that eating a healthy breakfast helps people maintain weight loss.
- Also, have smaller meals throughout the day. Eat every 3-4 hours and have some protein with each snack or meal (lean animal protein, nuts, seeds, beans).
2. Eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners and your cravings will go away: Go cold turkey. You have to stop for you brain to reset. Eliminate refined sugars, sodas, fruit juices, and artificial sweeteners from your diet. These are all drugs that will fuel cravings.
3. Determine if hidden food allergies are triggering your cravings. We often crave the very foods that we have a hidden allergy to. Click here for Dr. C’s handout on Hypo-Allergic Diets
4. Get 7-8 hours of sleep. Research shows that lack of sleep increases cravings.
5. Optimize your nutrient status with craving cutting supplements
- Optimize your vitamin D level: According to one study, when Vitamin D levels are low, the hormone that helps turn off your appetite doesn’t work and people feel hungry all the time, no matter how much they eat.
- Optimize omega 3s: Low levels of omega three fatty acids are involved in normal brain cell function, insulin control and inflammation.
- Consider taking natural supplements for cravings control. Glutamine, tyrosine, 5-HTP are amino acids that help reduce cravings. Stress reducing herbs such as Rhodiola can help. Chromium balances blood sugar and can help take the edge off cravings.
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