When I was a kid, I loved junk food. I grew up on the best junk in the world.
When I moved to the US, I discovered a whole new world of wonderful junk: like Chips Ahoy!, these damn things, and good ol’ ice cream sandwiches.
That was my diet in a white chocolate-coated nutshell.
Eventually, I decided migraines were lame, and I didn’t want to end up tired and sick like my family members. Besides, being skinny sucked, so I set out to make some muscles.
I started eating better, but I continued to struggle with wanting all the sweet junk my body was used to.
Do The Opposite.
Most people think of eating healthy like it means eating LESS.
As someone who knew nothing about nutrition, I observed that people who eat lots of junk were unhealthy. I knew I wasn’t on a good path.
I also noticed that I never saw anyone eat “healthy” foods in high quantities.
So in my quest for building muscle, I had an idea:
What happens if I eat a ton, but instead of crappy food, I used “healthy” food?
I filled my cupboards with all the classic bodybuilding staples (oats, egg whites, brown rice, chicken breast…) and started eating.
Did I get fat? Did I get muscular?
Fill It Up, Please.
So I just moved to Texas from the City of Philadelphia. And I mean like, INSIDE the city proper. Skyscrapers, one-way streets, parallel parking, you know, a city.
Back in Philly, I was driving my car about a mile a week.
Lately? I’ve been driving 50 miles a DAY under the hot Texas sun.
Needless to say, my gas tank is emptying much faster.
I like to let it run down to completely empty (just like Kramer), before stopping to fill it all the way back up. None of that “$10 of unleaded, please” nonsense. Besides, I don’t want to waste any more time finding gas stations than I need to, especially when I have to pump the shit myself.
Naturally, I have to watch the fuel gauge to see when I need to find a gas station.
But what if I just started filling up twice a week, say every Monday and Thursday?
If I filled it up regardless of how full the tank is, I’d never run low. Hell, I could even tape over the gauge so I couldn’t see it. It wouldn’t matter.
While I probably won’t actually do this with my car, this is how you should treat your body if you struggle with cravings.
Is your tank on E?
Every nutrient from our food has a specific job in your body.
For instance, magnesium is used to keep your metabolism humming in over 300 chemical reactions.
The more active you are, the faster you deplete these nutrients.
When these nutrients run low, some chemical reactions stop happening. Others take longer than normal.
That’s one reason why you might have low energy throughout the day or when exercising. The reactions that turn food into energy can’t do it fast enough.
Cravings are your body’s way of asking you to restock nutrients.
Lucky for you, your brain has a good memory. It knows where to find what it needs.
Chocolate (good dark chocolate) is loaded with magnesium.
Potato chips and ham are loaded with salt.
Buffalo pizza is loaded with calories, and Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough is loaded with all the love you never received.
If you’re not getting enough of this stuff on the reg, at some point you’ll want these things to satisfy the craving.
Just a Theory?
This isn’t just my experience, it turns out this idea is also supported by scientific research.
“Hunger is one of the major impediments to successful weight loss. Our findings suggest that it is not simply the caloric content, but more importantly the micronutrient density of a diet that influences the experience of hunger. It appears that a high nutrient dense diet can result in a sustainable eating pattern that leads to weight loss and improved health”
-Fuhrman et al. 2010
In other words, hunger isn’t just a result of eating less (as you might think). It also comes from eating low-quality food. By eating nutrient-rich food, hunger goes away, weight returns to a healthy setpoint, and the whole process becomes that much easier.
(That’s why my most successful healthy weight loss coaching clients always begin with eating more.)
How To Defeat Your Cravings
Eat nutrient-dense food.
Every calorie is a nutrient opportunity.
You know what foods tend to be highest in micronutrients?
Plants, specifically colorful plants. Rich colors and flavors represents different nutrients, so eat your colors, boys and girls.
Buy your food fresh/local whenever possible, and eat it unprocessed.
Nutrients degrade over time as food loses freshness.
So if this means ordering a big fresh Greek salad with extra chicken to go with your pizza, just fucking do it. Don’t worry about the pizza yet, that’s a HUGE step in the right direction!
Be proactive – fill up BEFORE your gas light turns on.
You wouldn’t want to run out of gas in the middle of the desert where you can’t find a gas station. Fill up first!
Plan your meals ahead of time and eat enough of the good stuff.
You’ll be less likely to skip meals, which means fewer cravings later on. Fewer cravings means fewer opportunities to fall off-track!
No treats at home!
Don’t just play the offense, have a solid defense strategy.
Keep treats and temptations out of your house.
If they’re in reach, you’ll eat ‘em. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you will eventually.
If for some reason you can’t get rid of them (kids, fussy spouse, roommates, etc.), try finding a way to store them where they’re difficult to get to.
For example, frozen candy is harder to eat.
It’s also harder to grab cookies wrapped in zip-top bags, inside two layers of tupperware sitting on the highest shelf.
Slow yourself down. Out of sight, out of mind.
By simply eating more good food, I woke up one day and realized I hadn’t even thought about junk food in 2 years.
It no longer appealed to me.
Eating “healthy” may feel like a chore when junk food is so tasty. But over time, I began to enjoy the “healthy” foods because the temptation to eat junk had disappeared. The healthy food was no longer the “lesser” option.
I even started to crave more of the good foods I was eating, which made it easy to eat in a way that nourished my body.
“What about getting fat?”
By eating more nutrient-dense food, you’ll also be eating more the things that tell your body you’re satisfied. You’ll be getting more fiber, more protein, more micronutrients, and you’ll end up eating fewer calories from fats and sugars.
Use these tips to cut off your cravings before they begin, and make it easy to eat well.
- Eat nutrient-dense food.
- Fill up – plan ahead.
- Keep treats out of reach.
Fuhrman, J., Sarter, B., Glaser, D. & Acocella, S. Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet. Nutrition Journal 9, (2010).