Nutrition Mythbusters: Food Cravings

Picture 1 Mythbusters

Article written by Joe Nissim

Nutrition Myths, Decoded

Before you start reading this article and the ones that follow in this series, I am going to warn you, I am going to upset you.  Since the time you were a kid, you have been fed (no pun intended) information about health, nutrition, and fitness, of which 90% of was either straight up wrong or just someone’s opinion.

In the past 30 years, America has gotten a little chunkier.  Based on our societal belief of “skinny is healthy” (I won’t even start on this one), we all tend to try to find ideas or diets that we believe will:

  • Be a magic potion to lose weight
  • Help us look good in a bikini or shirtless
  • Give us abs without any work or idea of what we are doing
  • Help us look good in our clothes

I think deep down, we all know it’s a bunch of crap.  In the next few articles, I am going to cover 5 myths that really burn me down to my core.

So without further ado…..

Picture 2 Popcorn Stress Eater

 

Myth #1: “If you are craving certain foods, it’s because your body needs the nutrients”

One minute you are IN THE ZONE. The next minute you are salivating in front of the vending machine with a craving so bad for salt or sugar, you can’t think straight until you have it.

What the hell just happened?

For most of us, we want to believe that our body “really needed” exactly the 13g Fat, 30g of Carbs, and 5g of Protein in the Peanut M&M’s.  In fact, we have no other logical explanation.

Food is highly complicated and emotional. And besides the physical need to eat, food is highly integrated in our social structure. Things like:

  • “Sunday Family Dinner”
  • “Meet me for Lunch”
  • “Let’s Grab Ice Cream”
  • “Annual family BBQ”
  • “7 Fishes Christmas-Eve Dinner”

These ideas have become a cornerstone of how we interact with each other, and they are important parts of tradition and family.

Some Sciency Stuff

Everytime we eat, our body not only digests food, but also releases a sophisticated set of hormones.  One of those hormones is known as dopamine.  Dopamine is a very complicated hormone responsible for a lot of stuff that happens in our body, but it is most well know as the “Motivation Molecule.”

It causes us to act in ways that make us feel good.  Dopamine is responsible for feelings such as  “I did it,” “I feel productive,” or “I feel good about that”.  It is that great feeling of reward.

Now, we typically get those feelings after a good workout or closing a new client.  And when we are feeling stressed, we feel the need to do something physical to get a little dopamine flowing in our body.

The kicker is that a good workout or a job well done is not the only thing that gives us a dopamine rush.  We get that same rush from things like:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Using drugs like cocaine
  • Eating foods high in sugar
  • Eating food high in fat

Now let’s look at the findings of a study conducted in 1993 specifically on physical cravings.  G. Terrance Wilson found evidence showing craving is heavily influenced by the psychological and environmental conditions in which it is assessed.

He found “no evidence for an internal chemical or additive basis for the food cravings of binge eaters.”

To take it a step further, when we are stressed, we are biologically programmed to find stress relief.  When we eat something high in sugar or fat, it’s like a shot of stress relief. And it is much easier to buy a shot at the  vending machine, then hit the gym at 2pm in the afternoon.

And in times of super high stress, we tend to crave very specific foods that give our bodies that shot of stress relief. Obviously, they are high in sugar, fat, or both.  I have never met anyone who when stressed reaches for some steamed broccoli!

 

Let’s Get Specific

The foods we choose are not random.  In fact, they are very specific.  The reason is that over time, we tend to build associations with how that food makes us feel.

If every time you got an “A” your parents took you out for ice cream, you will tend to build a happy feeling association with ice cream.  If after every baseball game you won, your parents took you to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal, you may associate McDonald’s with the feeling of pride or triumph.  As a child, this is totally normal.  As an adult, this can be very damaging and destructive.

For me, its Pizza

Picture 4 Dog with Pizza

Might be me, may not…..

Besides the scientific evidence behind breaking this myth, I want to explain how I discovered this was not true. You can read all the science you want, but when you experience it first hand, you have a completely different understanding.

I lost my father at the very young and tender age of 11.  I was just a kid, snotty and dirty from playing outside all the time and trying to figure out how to build a treehouse with my friends.

When my father died, my world was flipped upside down.  My entire family (my mom and 2 older sisters) was in complete and utter shock. And my mom had no idea what to do.  To say my house was a little stressful growing up is a huge understatement. But on Friday nights, we would order ….. you guessed it, PIZZA!

So as an adult, when I am stressed, I am drawn to pizza.  That’s my shot of stress relief. Especially after a few drinks, the wheels fall off and I am like a dog who found where the treats are hidden.

Picture 5 Kid with Fries

…. But my cravings are SOOO strong

Now, for some of you, your stress eating might be easy to figure out.  For others, it may not be as clear. Regardless of what causes this behavior, it is something that you need to address.

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1: Identify Your Causes or Triggers

This is probably the hardest step, because there can be so many triggers.  A trigger can be an event, situation, or person that causes you to act a certain way.  For me, it was work.  Every time a client got upset or I had to have an unpleasant conversation with a colleague, I just wanted to sit on the couch and stuff myself with pizza, kettle chips, glazed doughnuts, or an egg roll.

 

Step 2: Substitute Food with Something Else

Once I identified my trigger, I had to break the behavior pattern.  Otherwise, I would keep doing it again and keep feeling terrible about myself for never, ever losing weight.

You need an alternative action.

Actually, you need several, because only having one will not be enough. That’s because different stresses cause different reactions.  Some are easily managed and some are tougher.  What worked best for me was doing air squats.  I know that sounds nuts, but it worked for me.  If I was in my office, people thought I was nuts. I would step out to the staircase and do 25 air squats.

Another option can be a walk or having an accountability buddy.  This habit takes 3-4 weeks to break. And you will mess up a few times, but you have to keep with it in order to make a change.

Step 3: “Take 5”

This is another one of my favorite and most powerful tools that I’ve developed.

Every time I crave food, I take 5 minutes.  In those 5 little minutes, I can figure out if I’m really hungry or if I’m about to emotionally eat in response to stress.  If after 5 minutes, I am still hungry, I will eat.  If not, I will carry on with my day.

If 5 minutes is too long, start with one minute.  From one minute, move to two minutes, and so on and so forth.  Even an extra 60 seconds can make a huge difference in checking in with yourself.

Myth 1, Busted

Taking it back to the original myth: “If you are craving certain foods, it’s because your body needs the nutrients.”

Clearly, it’s not because our body physically needs those nutrients, but instead because we are used to the way it makes us feel in response to stress.

Why we are doing this?

If you know Brandon Morrison or have been following LBEB, you know he’s a no-BS kind of guy. And if you know me (Joe Nissim), I love cutting through the nonsense of the media and nutrition industry to find out the truth.  When we combined our brains, Brandon and I wanted to cut through the crap and break through these myths, so you can make better decisions.

Over the next few articles, we will cover topics that have been distortedby the media.  Next article: Is high fructose corn syrup worse than sugar?

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About the Author

Nissim, Joe About the Author Pic

Joe Nissim is the founder and CEO of Strengthlete.  After leaving a lucrative career on Wall St, Joe spent three years creating and developing the Strengthlete Nutribuild system and flagship products Repair and Complete. If you’re interested in leaving dieting behind for good, join Joe at www.strengthlete.com

Works Cited

Werdell, Philip. “Physical Craving and Food Addiction: A Scientific Review.” Food Addiction Institute. 2009. Web. July 27, 2016.