How To Control Food Cravings

Photo: Tatjana Zlatkovic

Here, author, psychotherapist, and nutritionist Julia Ross has adapted the five craving types from her new book, The Craving Cure: Identify Your Craving Type to Activate Natural Appetite Control.  

For over 2 million years, until about 1970, we lived on a variety of wholesome omnivorous diets that kept us healthy and fit. But we’re having to fight for our dietary wellness now. No matter the strength of our commitment, we often find it difficult or impossible to stick with healthy eating habits; to eat regularly and well; to avoid reaching for comfort foods or a few glasses of wine, too often. With all the competing claims, it’s even difficult to know what a healthy diet should actually be.

It’s no wonder that we’re having such a hard time. It turns out that the food battle is a biochemical one, and the battleground is our brain. Most of us are now fighting for our inborn appetite-control and losing: Fifty percent of us are obese and another 50 percent are diabetic, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s mostly because not just one but five of our brain's powerful appetite-regulating functions are being sabotaged by modern commercial foods.

When we ingest increasingly brain-assaultive substances like cereal, ice cream, candies, cookies, chips, sodas, or pretzels, our normal appetite signaling is lost as our brains are flooded with exaggerated sensations of pleasure. Food science calls this the "bliss point" and has learned how to deliver it using the new high-fructose sugars (agave and fruit syrups contain even higher fructose levels than does corn syrup) combined with other addictive substances like chocolate and wheat flour (whose gluten content is actually called gluteomorphin). Addiction science has repeatedly confirmed that these 21st-century food bombs powerfully affect precisely the same brain areas that are targeted by alcohol and street drugs.

Before 1970, when a more nourishing diet was still keeping our ancient five-part appetite-control system fully functional, we enjoyed our healthful diets. But now, the average American diet is estimated to be 60 percent nutritionally void. As our diet has become less nutritious, critical brain functions have become weakened, making the lure of druglike commercial foods even stronger. Notably, since the 1970s, our intake of protein, with its 20 vital amino acid constituents, has dropped by a hefty one-third. Here's one example of the consequences: When recovered bingers are given a diet lacking in just one amino acid called tryptophan, for just 24 hours, their brain levels of the appetite-regulating giant serotonin plummet, triggering an immediate resumption of bingeing.

Using food to regulate cravings.

Fortunately, our brains’ ability to generate adequate amounts of serotonin and the other four big appetite-regulators can be restored if the brain is provided with adequate amounts of just a few key amino acids. For example, research confirms my Northern California clinic's experience that tryptophan supplements, by quickly raising serotonin levels, can promptly turn off food cravings. Tryptophan and the other four amino acids that can stop food cravings are readily available in modest amounts in high-protein foods and, in higher amounts, as individual supplement concentrates. Four of these aminos bolster the faltering brain levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, endorphin, GABA, and dopamine. The fifth can quickly strengthen the brain’s often tenuous blood glucose supply.

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Which type of food craving do you have?

For the last 30 years, with the help of supplemental and dietary amino acids, over 4,000 of my clinic's clients have been able to easily re-establish their innate appetite control and stop overeating. But how do they know which amino acids their particular brains require?

Each "Craving Type" is clearly defined by a set of characteristic symptoms identified through almost 50 years of neuroscientific research. My clinic has developed a five-part symptom questionnaire to help us rapidly assess clients' Craving Types and guide them through the amino acid repair process. As part of the process, we have conducted over 20,000 amino acid trials that have verified the questionnaire's accuracy and the aminos' efficacy.

The Craving Type Questionnaire is found at the start of my new book The Craving Cure so that readers can quickly determine which of their own appetite-control functions may be depleted and which aminos they’ll need for their personal appetite-repair project. Some readers will need one amino—others, all five. The Questionnaire can also be found here. Here are some details about each of the five Craving Types:

1. Depressed cravers.

Depressed cravers overeat high-carb foods mostly in the afternoons, at night, or in winter. That’s when the brain’s levels of our powerful natural antidepressant, serotonin, are lowest and Type Ones have the most cravings and feel the most negative, worried, anxious, irritable, or sleepless. It’s not unusual for my virtual clinic’s Type One Cravers to resort to big bowls of sweet cereal or granola most evenings to force a brief serotonin surge. When they instead take an amino acid that’s the direct building block of serotonin, they find that their deficiency-triggered carb cravings quickly and permanently subside.

2. Crashed cravers.

Crashed cravers experience frequent blood sugar slumps because they tend to skip or skimp on meals and get too little of the protein, saturated fat, and fiber-rich food that keeps blood sugar stable. Their hypoglycemia can make them tense, edgy, unfocused, headachy, or even dizzy and can certainly propel them to the nearest source of sweet or high-starch snack food. That source is often waiting for them in the bakery aisle or at the checkout counter, so they don't get to the healthy meal they’d planned to prepare. To stop Crashed Cravings, we rely on one particular amino that can almost instantly eliminate the low blood sugar syndrome.

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3. Comfort cravers.

Comfort cravers gravitate to chocolate, ice cream, baked goods, wine and cheese, or all of the above. Their need for the pleasure and emotional pain relief that these substances provide is driven by a deficiency in their brains’ natural narcotics, the endorphins. Without regular endorphin-boosting food fixes, they’re prone to being overly sensitive, tearing up easily, and feeling sad or lonely (even without obvious reasons). Instead of chocolate cake topped with dulce de leche gelato, we give them an amino that raises their endorphin levels almost as fast and can keep their levels optimal long term. With the help of lots of extra dietary protein, their comfort-food cravings, which they so often mistakenly assume are purely emotional, can completely disappear.

4. Stressed cravers.

Stressed cravers nibble and graze to counteract stress when their brain levels of the naturally relaxing neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) are too low. Without enough GABA, they struggle with over-stress and mental or muscle tension and wonder why they have so much trouble relaxing, quieting their minds, breathing deeply, or easing into meditation and prayer (or even sleep). They also rarely take the long, slow vacations that can restore brain and adrenal stress tolerance and are usually too rushed to eat the three healthy meals a day that could help them survive the stress. They end up soothing themselves with multiple trips to the kitchen, where crunchy, salty treats like nuts, popcorn, and chips can be especially attractive. When we trial GABA-restorative aminos, with our clients, we typically see their shoulders drop in minutes and their stress-induced food cravings drop just as fast. (But we insist that they also eat regular meals and get the rests and vacations they need for more permanent stress-relief.)

5. Fatigued cravers.

Fatigued cravers need regular infusions of sweetened and caffeinated lattes, sodas, energy drinks, or iced tea. Dark chocolate or hits of pure sugar (think Skittles) can also temporarily provide the energy and attention they lack. The underlying problem? Their brains’ supplies of the naturally stimulating neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are typically inadequate, leaving them feeling chronically draggy and unmotivated. But this problem and the cravings it generates can be speedily corrected using an amino acid that specifically builds up these two vital brain functions.

By taking a few amino acid supplements for a few months and increasing protein intake long term, all the symptoms of all five Craving Types can be wiped out permanently. And the benefits really do start taking effect within 24 hours of completing The Questionnaire and a review of the book’s amino repair guidelines.

But what about the food debates that have been raging since the 1970s? Which kinds of proteins should we be eating? As omnivores, most of the world’s peoples have combined animal-derived protein and saturated fats with plant-derived carbohydrates, proteins, and unsaturated fats. Our clients have found that they do best on this traditional combination of foods, preferably organic and grass-fed. With the help of the aminos, they're able to discover, enjoy, and stick with the mix of wholesome food that best sustains them.

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