You can beat cravings by giving your brain what it really needs, rather than succumbing to your initial hankering…
When you’re sad you reach for sugar candies. Better bet – high fiber fruits and a graham cracker. When you eat sugar, your body releases the hormone insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin boosts the availability of the amino acid Tryptophan in the brain, where it’s used to manufacture the neurotransmitter serotonin, which improves your mood. Serotonin is so vital to emotional balance that many antidepressants work by preventing its readsorption. The effect, however, is extremely short-lived, and sweets rarely provide you with any additional nutrients besides calories. High-fiber fruits like berries, apricots and grapefruit along with a graham cracker or other low-cal carbohydrate will satisfy your sweet tooth for far fewer calories. The additional fiber slows digestion, prolonging the serotonin boost from the graham cracker. Recent research also indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve symptoms of depression; they’re found in walnuts, flaxseed, and fatty fish such as salmon.
When you’re anxious or angry you reach for pastries, doughnuts and other high-fat sweets. Better bet: celery sticks, pretzels, carrots. When you’re anxious, your stress response system kicks in. Your adrenal glands release certain hormones that increase levels of galanin, a brain chemical that stimulates your appetite for calorie-packed foods. The same thing happens when you’re feeling anger, although there’s one important difference. Anxiety inspires eating right away. But people won’t reach for food until after anger peaks. In other words, it’s the post-argument stewing you have to worry about, in terms of your waistline. In lab animals, the more galanin that’s produced, the greater the weight gain. In humans, stress-induced pounds are often concentrated in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the stress-response system is ingrained; the only way to turn it off is to reduce your anxiety or your anger level. Whether that involves taking a 15-minute break, breathing deeply, or heading off to the gym is up to you. If you absolutely must grab something to eat, choose hard, crunchy, low-cal snack foods. Apples, jicama, pretzels are all good choices. The act of chewing helps relieve tension in your facial muscles.
When you’re bored you reach for whatever’s available. Better bet: a balanced snack. Typically, boredom is just mild depression in disguise. What you’re feeling is a lack of connection with yourself or others.
Sugary snacks don’t provide the long-lasting energy you need to perk yourself up. Instead, snack on a complex carbohydrate such as whole-grain crackers and a protein such as turkey, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese. The combination will stabilize blood sugar but still satisfy your serotonin needs.
When you’re happy you reach for pizza. Better bet: low-fat cheese and whole-grain toast. A recent study showed that pizza is a top pick for people in happy moods. But that’s not just because it’s a perennial party favorite. It contains the proteins gluten and casein, which research shows stimulate the production of endorphins. And it is the endorphins that fuel feelings of euphoria.
However, pizza is not the only source of these two endorphin-promoting compounds. Gluten is found in breads that contain wheat flour, and casein is found in dairy foods. Choose high-fiber whole-grain breads instead of refined-flour products to increase your intake of fiber; the added bulk will help you feel fuller faster. Low-fat dairy foods such as reduced-fat cheeśe are diet-friendly casein-packed picks.
Knowledge is king. When you know the source of your cravings, and prepare in advance by having healthy alternatives handy, you’re more than half way home. And remember, science says that if you eliminate a specific food or food group from you diet, you’ll lose your desire for that food in just 12 days. I know you can hang on that long. If you need support and inspiration, look to my book, The Perfect Day.

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