How to Outsmart Your Cravings


I had SO MUCH FUN doing an 'ask my friends a survey' on FB. It was amazing to see answers falling into the same handful of CRAVING CULPRITS. If you find yourself experiencing cravings, then chances are what you crave is among this list: Bread, Donuts, Cheese, Sweets, Salty Chips or Crunchy Snack, Coffee, and Wine were among the top offenders in raiding our peaceful moments with a relentless pang of desire.

As a nutrition coach, I get to have a 'craving convo' at least a handful of times per week. I always feel like knowledge is powerful in dodging pit holes and navigating our path to success. So let's dive in.

Outsmart Your Cravings

First, I think it's important to dissect the word "craving". It's tossed around a bit so let me define it more clearly. There is a general desire which is not to be confused with cravings. Desire is pretty plain, I want tacos, and ice cream for dinner, because well, it's Tuesday. That's what tastes good to you, and you want it. Quite frankly, if being overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy were consequences that weren't attached to these types of foods...then we may all just eat whatever tastes amazing.

What I'm discussing here is beyond wanting, it's the gnawing pang of desire that drives you like you're possessed by something outside of yourself. Some people struggle greatly with craving while others live a day-to-day life unaffected.

Those less affected may think this craving thing is due to a lack of willpower. However, it's proven to be more than that.

My personal professional opinion is that I think this craving thing has two baseline driving factors: the biological need for missing nutritional components and micronutrient and second, a psychological addiction to brain chemicals. In this blog, we are going to look at the brain chemical addiction.

When consuming the famous junk food specifically foods high in refined sugars and fats trigger your brain's "reward pathway" becomes activated. The system in the brain that's been labeled the 'reward pathway' releases 'feel-good' neurotransmitters. The brain knows when you eat you're doing something right, that's going to keep you alive, so your brain rewards your body with dopamine and opioids. (1) However, the problem with the famous junk food today is that it appears to be triggering a stronger neurochemical release. This release mimics that of an addictive drug, specifically psychostimulants, and opiates on a smaller scale.

Cravings are said to be an emotional state of desire for a certain food. These desires seem to just 'appear'. They can be cued, such as the smells of the food, like walking by a donut shop. These cravings can also be turned on by emotional states like feeling sad or depressed. This trigger has nothing to do with the need of calories for energy or nourishment. Once triggered, it can be hard to think of anything else until that craving is satisfied. It has now become the attachment of the brain's need for dopamine. (2)

So what in the world is a human to do if they're chemically addicted to their favorite foods?!? I'm going to give you some tried and true tools for wrangling in your inner dopamine monster.

Outsmart Your Cravings

First things first, so give yourself a pep talk. You CAN do this if you WANT to. Think of this as a 3-day adventure. The first three days are normally the ones that are the most challenging because you're kicking habits and replacing them with new activities.

Set yourself up for success, clean up the cabinets. Your home is your sanctuary. You can't have the famous junk food culprit calling your name from the kitchen!

The name of the game is increasing dopamine production. The secret magic bullet is this... if it makes you happy, it releases dopamine!

Here is a handful of the best (and proven) ways to increase dopamine naturally:

  • PROTEIN. Protein is made of 23 different building blocks called amino acids. Studies have shown that amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine can increase dopamine levels in the brain. These two amino acids can be found naturally in turkey, beef, eggs, soy, dairy, and legumes.
  • PROBIOTICS. Our guts are known as our second brain due to a large number of nerve cells that produce neurotransmitter signaling, including dopamine.
  • EXERCISE. We all know that exercise improves mood and raises endorphins. Within as little as ten minutes of exercise activity, you can note significant mood improvement. Multiple extensive studies between animals and humans suggest an increase of dopamine with exercise.
  • SLEEP. Dopamine is released in the morning and promotes feelings of alertness and waking sensation. However, lack of sleep disrupts natural rhythms and disturbs dopamine balance.
  • SUNSHINE. Why do you think everyone gets spring fever in the first week-long stretch of beautiful days. Its because the sunlight promotes dopamine production.
  • MASSAGE: Human contact in general increases dopamine, and although I probably don't need to work hard to convince you to schedule some bodywork. However, not only will you ease muscle tension and reduce stress, your neurotransmitters do a happy dance, including dopamine.
  • MEDITATION: Sometimes that most effective way of accomplishing something is to simply do nothing. That's right, meditation releases dopamine.
  • MUSIC: Crank up the tunes! Have you ever seen someone dancing around the house, jamming out to their favorite musical genre and being MAD about it?!? No way.
  • CRYOTHERAPY: I know you're thinking, okay LV, really?!? When I crave a glass of wine you want me to hop in a polar plunge?? Seems extreme, but if you're passionate about kicking the craving then, YES! I do! A cryotherapy session, cold shower, or cold submersion has been shown to increase dopamine production by up to 250%, and with an increase like that, I could not miss mentioning it!
  • FRIENDS & FAMILY: Being with the people you love increases dopamine production. Take some time to unplug and soak up some friends and family time. (3)

Tune in next week for Part Two of Outsmart your cravings, as we talk about the missing nutrient link connection.

If you're wanting to jump-start some healthy habits make sure to check out our 7-Day Food & Fitness Fix by clicking the link below.