Beat Cravings the Natural Way
In last week’s post, I described hyperpalatability, and how this man-made, super-tasty, high-calorie combination of fat, sugar, and salt dulls our sense of satisfaction and flips the switch of cravings to the “on” position.
Week 1’s strategy was to avoid hyperpalatable foods as much as reasonably possible, as these foods essentially disable our “off switch” of fullness and satisfaction, causing us to eat more.
What many people find, however, is that when they begin to avoid these foods, their mental cravings for these foods unexpectedly increase – at least at first.
In Week 2, we’re going to focus on an extremely important strategy for long-term, sustainable healthful eating – reducing cravings.
Inclusive vs. Exclusive Diets
Although in Week 1 we focused on a bit of exclusivity – because reducing your intake of hyperpalatable foods can have a tremendous impact on your health – I want to immediately broaden the focus to inclusivity, in order to beat cravings.
What are examples of exclusive diets?
- Gluten-free diet
- Vegan diet
- Dairy-free diet
- Sugar-free diet
Exclusive diets are easy to recognize because they are defined by what they are leaving out.
An inclusive diet, on the other hand, is not a specific diet, but instead a set of strategies – and because of that, it’s harder to quantify.
To be clear: people who follow exclusive diets can also incorporate inclusivity as a positive strategy, as they’re not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, however, many people who become extremely committed to exclusive diets can struggle with a “silver bullet” mentality and develop large blind spots. For example, many people who cut out sugar can tend to gloss over their consumption of sugar-free but unhealthy foods. Similarly, many people who follow a gluten-free diet don’t necessarily improve their overall eating patterns – there’s a lot of gluten-free junk food out there!
Inclusivity is a strategy that can be used by anyone following any diet, to improve any diet immediately, by improving satisfaction and reducing cravings.
So what should you include in your diet in order to promote satiety, and why?
I have two extremely important recommendations that could change your way of eating immediately and dramatically, if you are diligent in practicing these strategies.
Getting sufficient protein in your diet – both in overall grams and in proper doses throughout the eating day – can make a tremendous difference in your level of food cravings.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients (the other two are carbohydrates and fat), and I want to talk about the top three reasons for you to make it a priority:
- It makes you feel more full. Protein is difficult for your body to digest, which means that it breaks down more slowly in your digestive system. This translates into feeling fuller longer and enjoying more stable blood sugar, and hence reduced cravings.
- It is relatively low in calories. Compared to fat, adding more protein to your meal does not pack a significant caloric punch. 20 grams of protein is only 80 calories, whereas 20 grams of fat is 180 calories. To picture it visually, this means that 100 calories of chicken breast has a much larger volume than 100 calories of olive oil, and will make you feel fuller, longer. Volume is an important part of fullness.
- It helps to build and maintain muscle. In conjunction with resistance training, getting sufficient protein in your diet will give your body the building blocks to prioritize building (and keeping) lean muscle, which translates into a stronger, fitter body with a higher resting metabolism.
When people hear “protein,” they often picture the stereotypical muscle-bound body builder eating an entire chicken, followed by a dozen eggs, and then chasing it down with a whey protein shake. Many people – especially women – that I work with are concerned about eating too much protein and “getting big.”
However, I would argue that most people are not in danger of eating too much protein, and that many people could benefit from adding more. When many people (especially women) make a resolution to “eat clean,” they inadvertently cut large sources of protein from their diets by eliminating meat and dairy. This is often the start of the cravings merry-go-round for many people.
There are many ways to eat a healthy diet, whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, or an omnivore, but a protein strategy is essential for everyone.
It is a smart plan to have at least 10-20 grams of protein at every meal. Athletes or extremely committed weight lifters will want to eat more.
You can find high amounts of protein in animal sources like poultry, beef, pork, fish, eggs, and dairy. Plant-based sources are lower in protein than their animal-based counterparts, but they confer other benefits and many of these foods should be a part of a healthy way of eating for anyone, regardless of diet – these sources include lentils, all legumes, tofu, quinoa, hemp, chia, tempeh, and more. Protein powders, whether for vegans or omnivores, can help everyone hit their protein goals.
I will get to “Week 2” strategies for specific ways to eat sufficient protein at the bottom of this post, but for now I want to switch gears to the second major nutrient that I want you to include in your diet in order to reduce cravings:
When you emphasize consumption of protein and fiber hand-in-hand, you will find that your cravings dramatically calm down.
Fiber is a micronutrient rather than a macronutrient, and there are three reasons why you should make it a priority on par with protein:
- Like protein, fiber is hard for your body to break down, and it tends to make you feel fuller, longer. Eating more fiber will essentially “trick” your body into subduing cravings and delaying snacks.
- Even more so than protein, most fiber sources are extremely low in calories and high in volume. 100 calories of chicken breast is about 2-3 ounces – likely slightly smaller than the palm of your hand. 100 calories of broccoli, on the other hand, is about 2-3 cups, chopped. The volume difference is incredible. Remember, volume is an important part of fullness.
- Fiber itself is good for your digestion and your heart health, and most fiber sources also come hand in hand with a host of other nutritional benefits. Most fiber sources are plants that are bursting with beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Please note: I am not telling you to take a fiber supplement, pill, or drink. Instead, I am encouraging you to eat more fruit, vegetables, and unprocessed whole grains.
Strategy of the Week
This week is all about eating more protein and fiber. Before I go into the specific tips, I want to first insert a disclaimer that these tips are directed to the average person without special medical needs. If you have a chronic condition that could be affected by your diet, please talk to your doctor before making any changes.
Here are some concrete tips to help you eat more protein and fiber:
- Eat at least one piece of fresh fruit each day, especially something with a skin.
- Eat at least one vegetable or green with each meal – you can even blend greens into a breakfast smoothie.
- Aim for 10 grams of protein in each snack and 20+ grams of protein in each meal.
- If you don’t eat meat, consider using a vegetarian or vegan protein powder to supplement your diet.
- If you eat dairy, eat Greek or Skyr yogurt every day or most days.
- If you’re a “breakfast person,” eat a solid protein serving (20+ grams) with your breakfast.
- Eat nuts, beans, and lentils several times a week.
- Several times a week, “go big” with the vegetables with a gigantic fresh salad that emphasizes greens, chopped vegetables, and even legumes.
Using these tips to accomplish the strategy of eating more protein and fiber will help you to feel fuller and more satisfied, to experience less cravings, and to continue the process of “re-setting” your brain as you also employ the strategy of reducing hyperpalatable foods in tandem.
Week 1 (smart exclusivity) and Week 2 (intentional inclusivity) truly go hand-in-hand.
And remember, if you want to participate in the weekly strategies, all you have to do is keep a daily journal and e-mail me answers to the weekly questions in each blog post. E-mail me if you want to participate in this open-source healthy living project!
All you have to do (and remember, participation is free!) is e-mail me immediately to let me know you’re participating, follow the strategy of the week to the best of your ability, and answer the reflection questions via e-mail in the Monday blog post (below). That’s it!
Follow-Up Questions from Last Week
If you’ve already been participating, answer these three questions about last week via e-mail, and feel free to be as brief or wordy as feels appropriate to you:
- Remember the “alien” exercise from Week 1? You’re an extraterrestrial who has just landed on earth, and you’re scanning your surroundings to really understand how humans eat. What did you notice about our food culture by looking at it from a fresh perspective for a whole week?
- What did you notice about your eating when you made an effort to avoid or limit hyperpalatable foods? Did you experience increased or reduced cravings?
- What did you notice about your thinking when you made an effort to avoid or limit these foods? What did your journals focus on in terms of your inner world?
If you choose to participate, I so appreciate it!
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