Despite what you may have heard, overcoming food cravings has nothing to do with willpower. The body has powerful mechanisms that move us to eat. The brain is quite sensitive to drops in blood sugar when we haven't eaten, and releases a number of chemicals that drive us to crave sugars and sweets to raise blood sugar levels. Our intestinal tract and fat cells also secrete hormones that tell us it's time to eat.
People without weight problems benefit from a fully functioning system of appetite control — compounds such as hormones, peptides, neurotransmitters, and glucose that circulate in the blood and are sensed and acted upon by the brain. People of normal weight don't usually experience frequent cravings for unhealthy foods. They simply feel hungry at appropriate times and are satisfied after they eat modest amounts.
Unfortunately, when abdominal fat cells are enlarged in overweight and obese individuals, this complex system of appetite control becomes altered. The key factor that leads to this disruption is insulin resistance, which sets the stage for intense food cravings. The first step to eliminating food cravings is to treat the cause — in most cases, blood sugar volatility due to insulin resistance.
When people are on a blood sugar roller coaster, they have very little control over their appetite or portion sizes. This is because every time they experience a quick drop in blood sugar levels, the brain goes into panic mode and secretes powerful appetite stimulators, as well as hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline to boost blood sugar. Because of insulin resistance and its accompanying poor glucose regulation, overweight people often experience near constant commands to eat.
So how do you improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance? Here are seven keys:
1. Eat a low-glycemic-load diet.
A good one to try is The Blood Sugar Solution, by Mark Hyman, MD. Do a web search for low-glycemic foods and print them out so you can become familiar with foods that don't cause big spikes in your blood sugar.
2. Try a viscous fiber supplement.
Examples of viscous fiber supplements include those that contain pectin, guar gum, and psyllium. These form a gel-like paste in your stomach that makes you feel full.
3. Supplement with chromium.
Chromium is necessary for insulin to work properly, at a dosage of 200-400 mcg per day.
4. Get a handle on stress.
Most people's food cravings get worse when they're under stress. Work on achieving a good balance of sleep, work, home activities, leisure time and R&R, and exercise.
5. Don't let yourself get hungry.
Ensure that you never really get hungry by consuming low-calorie snacks, such as high-fiber fresh vegetables and fruit, between meals.
6. Get moving.
Engage in physical exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
7. Plan your meals and shopping.
Plan your daily menu—including between-meal snacks—in advance, and make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy choices. If you don't buy unhealthy foods, you won't be tempted to grab them out of habit.