Crush Those Food Cravings
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As Andy Williams’ 1963 song states, “There will be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling all through the night. It’s the hap-happiest season of all!”
The holiday season is exciting—just feel the energy around you! There is so much enthusiasm that abounds on television watching the Hallmark Christmas movies, special holiday events and school/community concerts. We see beautiful holiday decorations, hear the Salvation Army kettle bells, and enjoy the aromas of non-stop food-trucks pushing their fast foods. Even Santa’s “Ho, Ho, Ho” brings exhilaration as we await his arrival on Christmas day!
Then there are those endless temptations…. Temptations at the office, at the bakery and even the coffee shop with its sensational seasonal flavors. Where does it stop and how do we control ourselves?
In Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, Breaking the Food Seduction, he provides several great ways to break away from foods’ temptations and strengthen our resolve to be healthier. Following these research-based lifestyle steps will help us through the holidays as well as throughout the new year.
Step 1: Start with a Healthy Breakfast: Ask any dietitian and they will tell you that eating a good breakfast every day is very important, and Dr. Barnard agrees. “If you take in healthy foods, their proteins repair your body tissues, healthy carbohydrates give you energy, traces of fat play biochemical roles inside your cells, and vitamins and minerals turn on the metabolic processes that allow you to think, move and carry out the activities of the day.” The recommendation is to enjoy high-fiber foods that will satisfy your appetite and keep you full throughout the morning. This will help you fight-off temptations at the office and keep you from overeating at lunch. A generous portion of oatmeal or barley make excellent choices. Add some ground flax seeds or chia seeds, a cup of blueberries and a serving of pumpernickel bread for a hearty start to your day.
Dr. Barnard recommends choosing a healthy protein source as well. Although most Americans may think eggs, bacon and ham, none of those are high in fiber. When you look at the breakfast fare of other countries, you will see that most of them include beans in their morning ritual. Beans on toast and chickpea hummus are two high-protein options that can start your day off right.
Step 2: Choose Foods that Hold Your Blood Sugar Steady: According to Dr. Barnard, “A steady blood sugar helps you avoid falling prey to impulse eating. When you choose foods that hold blood sugar nice and steady, you keep hunger in check.” When we eat too little food the hunger pangs will follow us and we have the tendency to fall prey to binges. It is recommended that we enjoy foods that have a generous amount of fiber (think beans and whole grains), and have a low glycemic level (unprocessed, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes and whole grains). The more processed and refined the product, the higher the glycemic index, which can lead to overeating.
Step 3: Boost Appetite-Taming Leptin: Did you know that your body has its own appetite-controlling hormone known as leptin? This powerful hormone can switch your hunger on and off. There are many things that we can do to control the hunger switch. “Leptin’s job is to regulate the strength of your appetite and the speed at which your body burns calories,” according to Dr. Barnard.
To ensure your leptin levels are functioning properly, several steps are recommended. First, do not starve yourself thinking this is the best way to control your weight. Apply the Rule of Ten: identify your ideal body weight and multiply by 10 to determine your recommended daily caloric intake. For example, if your ideal weight is 150 pounds, 150 X 10 is 1500 calories. In this situation, it is recommended that you do not reduce your calories below 1500 per day. When you eat less, your leptin levels go down and your appetite goes up. Dr. Barnard states, “Cutting back drastically on calorie intake is a prescription for disaster.”
Two other keys to boosting leptin’s power include following a low-fat diet and exercising. A low-fat diet improves leptin’s power by allowing it to work more effectively. Exercise also allows leptin to work much more powerfully. Don’t think you need to run marathons, a 30-minute walk or jog everyday will do the trick.
Step 4: Breaking Craving Cycles: We all may experience craving cycles. Mid-afternoon you may find yourself wandering in the vending area looking for a “pick-me-up.” Maybe its late at night when the Rocky Road Ice Cream begins to call your name. Whenever it is, break the cycle and do something different. If it is mid-afternoon, take a walking break from the office and stay away from the vending area. Grab a friend and ask them to walk with you. Share your strategy with them and ask for support. If it is late at night, try going to bed earlier or make sure the Rocky Road doesn’t make it home in your grocery bags!
If you are a person who likes to have a drink after work or after a long day, find a way to change that habit. Don’t fall into the “alcohol trap” as Dr. Barnard refers to it. Alcohol has the tendency to weaken our willpower. When alcohol is in the picture, we have a tendency to snack (or binge) on foods we are trying desperately to avoid. Think of ways to bypass the habit by forming a healthier alternative. Go for a run or bike ride after work. Head to the gym and release your stress and frustrations on the treadmill or in an aerobic class. Do something positive for your health. Make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Step 5: Exercise & Rest: As mentioned in #3 above, exercise makes your body more sensitive to leptin’s appetite-taming effect. When you exercise regularly, you will find that you do not experience the wild cravings like before. Dr. Barnard describes the process, “When you have a good workout, several vitally important things happen: it blocks appetite swings, it resets your mood and your exercise-rest cycle so you can sleep properly—which strengthens you against cravings, and it puts you in a different relationship with your body.”
Sleep or rest is equally important. When we don’t get proper sleep, we find ourselves dragging through the morning. We will drink coffee (think caffeine), eat highly processed, high fat, low nutrient foods to feel the sugar rush, and our ability to resist junk foods will be blown for the day.
By putting in a good exercise workout each day, we will trigger a better sleep response. What exercise is the best? The one you will do on a regular basis. Get family and friends involved to increase accountability. Strive for a minimum of 150 minutes per week and preferably over 300 minutes each week.
Yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year. When we apply these five simple steps to our daily lives, we can crush those food cravings, block our appetite swings, and resist those foods that we find so tempting.
May your holidays be filled with the joys of the season!
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