Friday, April 15, 2011

Bountiful Bite: Craving Conundrums

Have you kept your New Year's resolution to slim down, exercise regularly, and eat smarter? Yes, until it snowed, until your daughter left a big bowl of chips and onion dip on the counter? Until your best friend's baby shower/cake fest, or the Call of the PMS? I understand, really I do.

Ah, the craving monster, or should I say the Monster Craving. It gets inside your brain, literally, and gets your mouth watering. It would be nice to pop a pill and stop the craving, but there is no safe snake-oil remedy, so listen up. You were biologically programmed from cave-guy (and cave-chick) days to crave food when it was available, and your brain was included in this programming. To this day, we still respond like neanderthals to delicious smells and visually appealing food. What to do?

The first action I recommend is biological, and for those women suffering the cravings of PMS. During PMS the amount of serotonin in a woman's brain tends to drop, and so she craves fatty snacks or chocolate. While this is natural, it's not that helpful. Exercise, sex, and a sense of accomplishment can also raise serotonin. So -ahem- go full throttle, ladies. You should also have your calcium levels checked because several studies, like this one published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, show that ovarian hormones affect our levels of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Magnesium helps regulate muscle relaxation and blood sugar levels, and helps you absorb calcium. Blood sugar ups and downs = cravings.


Male or female, young or old, none are totally immune to the allure of every brownie, pizza pie, french fry and donut we pass.

Like any behavior you'd like to change, you can get a handle on the Craving Monster and the way "it" makes you behave. Let's say I want to be more positive. Oprah and dozens of well-known psychologists advise us to surround ourselves with positive role models, give ourselves positive internal dialog, give negativity a wide berth, and set reasonable goals. My money's on this working for food cravings.

Surround yourself with positive role models. In the case of food, this may mean you need to get your significant other to be an ally as your anti-craving advocate. Stopping for lunch? Walk the extra two blocks to the healthy spot. Read books or blogs by chefs or nutritionists who inspire you. And flip the channel when the 'chip-i-tos' commercial comes on. Stock your pantry with fruit, whole grain snacks and other healthy snack choices.

Positive internal dialog.
Here are examples: "I don't need to eat that, because I had some last week." "I'll just have one square of dark chocolate with this tangerine." "When I go home tonight I'll be so glad I didn't eat all those fries." "There's a smoothie with my name on it after my workout."

Give negativity a wide berth: In the case of cravings this means walking down the other hall to avoid the break room where the red velvet cake sits. Bring a non-food gift to the party. Don't anticipate cravings by bringing junk food home. Don't give any credit to those who say "You have to try this!" or "You know you'll give in, you always do."

Set reasonable goals:
You know what this means. Have you seen someone try to flip from a pastry and fast-food diet to 100% macrobiotic in one day? It didn't work, did it? There will be times, like before a big test or after a particularly stressful day that you will oblige the craving monster (in a hopefully not too egregious way). No reason to beat yourself up over it.

So if you're ready, as I am, start applying a little positive psychology to your cravings. Kudos, from
the Bountiful Bite.

Additonal Reference:

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