Why We Crave Bad Foods

Most of us have certain food cravings, and for some of us, those cravings can be frequent and incredibly strong. Scientists have determined that there is a biological basis for food cravings, so those cravings may be next to impossible to avoid. First of all, our prehistoric ancestors had to deal with a very limited supply of calorie dense food because they had to hunt for it. They constantly dealt with a feast or famine lifestyle, a stark contrast to modern times, in which plenty of food is readily available.

Programmed To Crave

The prehistoric human brain would respond to a sudden caloric intake by releasing serotonin and dopamine, both of which created a sense of well-being. This release of brain chemicals also occurs in modern humans. In addition, meals which are high in fat and sugar result in decreased production of stress-related hormones.

The bottom line is that our brains are programmed to crave and seek foods which are high in calories, fat, carbs and salt, just like our ancestors, who rarely had meat protein, and only after a successful hunt. It’s no surprise that fatty, caloric foods are associated with feelings of contentment, especially since we tend to have more cravings when we are anxious or under stress.

According to research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, three regions of the brain (hippocampus, caudate and insula) light up when a subject craves a certain food. In another study, by Adam Drewnowski, PhD, when pleasure-sensing opiate receptors in the brain were blocked, subjects no longer craved sugary or high fat foods.

How To Control Cravings

Though carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in recent years, it is the combination of carbohydrates with fat and salt that appears to be the winning combination for foods which spark cravings. Prime examples are pizza, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.

Individuals who have a greater degree of willpower are usually best off with having a small serving of the food they crave, which satisfies the craving. However, some people lack the ability to control the desire to indulge in cravings, and tend to binge on decadent foods. In such cases, the best thing to do is to avoid stocking those foods entirely.

When The Hunger Beast Strikes

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Every once in a while, I will experience hunger that never seems to subside, no matter how much I give into my body’s insistence on foraging for food throughout the day. Since this type of insatiable hunger is exceedingly rare for me, I generally will allow myself to indulge in greater amounts of fuel than what I would normally eat. I usually take strong hunger impulses as a sign that my body actually needs the fuel, and that I might be lacking in some nutrient. Sometimes a killer leg workout will spark this mad hunger, and other times it might be a cleaning spree which causes my appetite to ramp up.

I almost relish the times that my body craves food like this, because I am usually not too excited about food. When I was in my teens, I went through anorexia, and feared many foods. Though I became a bit of a foodie in my twenties, exploring gourmet foods whenever I could, I had to adopt an “eat-to-survive” attitude once I reached my thirties, as a result of the rigorous medical training I underwent. During medical school and internship, I lived by the credo, “Eat when you can, use the bathroom when you can, sleep when you can”.

Then in my forties, the world of competing caused me to fall in love with some of the foods which I had demonized back in my teens. Though I rarely cave into the powerful lure of chocolate, desserts, pizza, and fried foods, I definitely learned to appreciate them during my competitive years. These days, I can stock chocolate, nuts and nut butter in my house without fear that I will go hog wild constantly and consume them all in one sitting. They are even relatively safe when the hunger beast strikes.

When I experience hunger which I cannot satisfy, I do NOT turn to unhealthy foods. Instead, I keep eating clean meals like chicken and green beans. However, I will often feel just as hungry after eating a meal as I did when I reached for the meal in the first place! When that happens, I will wait about a half hour, then snack on something relatively healthy, such as a small handful of almonds, or some lowfat cottage cheese, in hopes that my hunger will abate.

However, all bets are off if the hunger beast is around on my carb spike day! There have been numerous times in which the two have coincided, and during which I have allowed myself to eat pasta, bread, a large amount of rice, or some other carbohydrate rich food. The aftermath of such a carb bump is that my weight will actually DECREASE 2 or 3 pounds the next morning. This is one of the reasons why I encourage clients to have a moderate bump in calories and carbs every now and then, to spark the metabolic furnace.

As long as the hunger beast comes around only rarely, and you are in tune with your body’s needs, you should be able to indulge it without any issues.

Skipping Meals Does NOT Work For Weight Loss

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Yes, you read that title correctly. If you have been on one diet after another in an effort to try to lose those last 5, 10, 15, or however many pounds, perhaps losing some weight only to gain all of it back plus some bonus weight, then it is highly likely that you have damaged your metabolism via severe calorie restriction. There is a very good reason why the weight loss industry is so successful and why certain well-known weight loss programs keep their customers coming back. The reason has everything to do with severe caloric restriction which squashes metabolism.

Another common practice among those trying to lose weight is to skip meals in an effort to cut calories. As stated before, you wreak havoc on your metabolism when you skip meals by causing it to slow down. Why does this happen? When there is no food to break down, the body’s furnace slows down and becomes so sluggish that when you actually do eat something, your body is less equipped to break down the food quickly, so much of it is stored as fat. Depriving yourself of food also causes sharp drops in blood sugar, robbing you of energy and increasing insulin resistance. Increased insulin resistance over time can precipitate the development of diabetes.

Other consequences of skipping meals include the following:

• Malnutrition – If you do not feed your body regular, balanced meals, it is highly likely that you are depriving it of essential nutrients. Malnourished states can lead to weight gain, poor health and progression of disease over time.

• Poor concentration – This is due to the depletion of glycogen stores which occurs. The brain simply does not have enough fuel to run on, resulting in fogginess.

• Hunger pangs – When you skip meals, you may experience intense feelings of hunger along with anxiety, dizziness or nausea. In addition, such feeling may lead to overeating when you finally sit down to eat something. Loading the body with a large meal is overkill, and leads to poor digestion and absorption as well as increased storage in body fat stores.

Do yourself a favor and practice the following guidelines. If you do, you will be rewarded with a healthy weight for a lifetime.

1. Don’t skip meals.
2. Make sure to eat enough protein to sustain your energy levels and satisfy your hunger.
3. EAT BREAKFAST.
4. Commit to healthy meals.
5. When you turn to snacks, make sure healthy alternatives are available so you aren’t tempted to reach for a nutrient-poor convenience food.

Could You Be Undernourished?

Bodybuilder-FoodOriginally written for and published by sportsnutritionsupplementguide.com

If you are a fitness fanatic or competitor, you may assume that you are adequately nourished because you practice clean eating. However, that might not necessarily be the case. Shockingly, many people who are in the fitness world suffer from under-nutrition as a result of consuming limited types and amounts of foods in an effort to reach a super lean state. Think about it: if you are limiting caloric intake during a contest prep phase, have eliminated foods which become demonized during prep such as fruits and peanut butter, and aren’t supplementing your body with the nutrients it needs, then you are probably undernourished. Such nutrient deficits can have a serious negative impact on your health if practiced for an extended period of time.

Under-nutrition is a nutrient or energy deficiency, while malnutrition can represent either a deficiency or an excess of nutrients. Some individuals (especially women) in the fitness world continually follow meal plans which are unbalanced and extremely low in calories and are thus chronically undernourished. Such a state of deficit can be amplified if certain medical conditions such as leaky gut are present, because whatever nutrients are supplied to the body might not be absorbed properly.

Mild cases of under-nutrition are often symptom-free, while more severe cases are usually symptomatic. Some deficiencies can cause permanent damage to the body, for example, blindness with severe vitamin A deficiency. Typical symptoms of under-nutrition vary based on the specific deficiency, but can include:

Joint and bone pain
Ringing in the ears
Difficulty breathing
Poor night vision
Sores at the corners of the mouth
Muscle weakness
Impaired immunity
Fatigue
Delayed wound healing
Dry skin and hair
Bleeding gums
Skin rashes
Easy bruising
Digestive problems
Dizziness
Irregular or halted menstrual periods
Depression

It can be difficult to determine whether a symptom is reflective of a nutrient deficiency or some other cause, but if your diet is restrictive, there’s a decent chance that a nutrient deficiency is to blame. The following nutrients are being highlighted here because they are most likely to be lacking in a fitness person’s diet.

Vitamin D3: The majority of the U.S. population is deficient in this vitamin, which is not only important for bone health but also reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many types of cancer. Here’s the challenge: very few foods contain vitamin D3 (egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon), and the skin only makes vitamin D3 in response to exposure to sunlight. Common symptoms of vitamin D3 deficiency are muscle aches and joint pain, both of which could mistakenly be brushed off by bodybuilders as the consequence of heavy lifts at the gym. If you want to supplement with vitamin D3, take 5,000 mg per day.

Calcium: Have you ever gotten a mad craving, especially in the middle of contest prep, for fatty foods or soda? Both cravings can be a sign of calcium deficiency. Calcium is essential for formation of healthy bone tissue and plays a vital role in nerve impulse conduction. Because the typical fitness meal plan excludes dairy sources, a calcium deficiency can sneak up on fitness people. Take 500 milligrams twice daily.

Iodine: This element is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. Main dietary sources of iodine include table salt, eggs, seafood, and dairy products. However, table salt is avoided by most fitness people, as are dairy products, increasing the risk of developing an iodine deficiency. Ironically, though sea salt provides many of the minerals which are missing in table salt (such as magnesium and potassium), it also potentially creates iodine deficiency since it is not fortified with iodine.

It may be difficult to tell if an iodine deficiency exists in the early stages because symptoms don’t surface until the thyroid gland reacts to the lower iodine levels. By that time, the symptoms of hypothyroidism have usually kicked in, such as fatigue, constipation, dry skin, depression and weight gain. The good news is that iodine supplements are available. Iodine deficiency can also be remedied by consuming seafood, kelp and meat products.

Magnesium: Have you ever noticed that your cravings for chocolate are intensified as you get closer to a contest date, or right before you ladies hit “that time of the month”? Chocolate cravings are a common signal that the body is deficient in magnesium. Deficiencies of this important mineral are quite common among regular folk and bodybuilders. Magnesium is important for hundreds of bodily functions, has a calming effect, and keeps the digestive tract moving optimally. It also has a protective effect against high blood pressure. If you prefer to supplement magnesium with a tablet, take 400 mg at night. If you prefer food sources of magnesium, almonds are an excellent source, providing 80 milligrams per ounce. Spinach, legumes, seeds, unrefined whole grains, and cashews are also good sources of magnesium.

Potassium: Lack of this mineral can wreak havoc on contest prep since it is excreted during the diuresis phase of most contest prep regimens. Potassium is present in every cell of the body, is essential for energy production, guards against high blood pressure, and maintains fluid balance. Daily needs range about 5,000 milligrams daily, and can be obtained from fit-friendly foods like spinach, sweet potatoes and broccoli, but during final week prep, the loss of potassium during the water-shedding phase must be compensated for in order to avoid cramping, weakness, tingling, numbness, nausea, vomiting or palpitations. Severe potassium deficiency can be life threatening and must be corrected quickly.

Zinc: Some women have intense food cravings right before their periods which can be a sign of zinc deficiency. Zinc plays a vital role in cell division, DNA synthesis, immune system function, and protein synthesis. A deficiency of zinc can result in hair loss, skin rashes, frequent colds and other infections, insomnia, loss of taste or smell and decreased libido. If you prefer to obtain zinc from food sources, turn to red meat, wheat, oats, eggs, nuts, peas, and leafy green vegetables. Otherwise, a 50 milligram daily supplement will suffice for most individuals.