This is an extremely relevant subject, as so many of us are often dominated by uncontrollable cravings, especially for sweets.
Unfortunately getting some clear, accurate and understandable information, on the reasons of our vulnerability to those cravings, is like trying to get a little drink form a fire hydrant.
Today I would like to shed some light on the subject for you.
I know that you don’t have a lot of time to read long boring articles on the inner workings of the body, so let’s make it short and sweet, with some good practical tips.
The main players:
The secret inner workings of a craving are like a fine detective novel, with lots of characters and a complicated plot.
Let’s examine the main players and their roles:
The Hormone Insulin: Insulin is like a mafia boss! It has hands in a lot of different businesses. It has power and influence. It sits at the head of a pyramid of chain reactions.
Insulin rises and falls in accordance to our carb consumption, but it’s also controlled by the amount of resistance given by our cell receptors, when they get tired of the constant abuse! The more sweets (glucose) we eat, the more insulin is released, sending the glucose to be stored (as fat), and the more our body is going to demand sweets to fill the now low glucose levels.
The Hormone Leptin: Leptin is like a high powered police executive who secretly collaborates with the mafia!
Leptin is produced by our fat cells and it regulates hunger and satiety. It also regulates metabolism and how much fat should be burned for energy.
Insulin and Leptin influence each other in the body but both are controlled by what we eat!
One very important piece of information: When the body’s levels of triglycerides are elevated, leptin can not cross the blood brain barrier, so the signal that we are full can never reach the brain.
Contrary to common belief, saturated fats are not the culprit to raise triglycerides, but the overconsumption of carbohydrates, which get broken down in the liver, and have to be stored as fat, as they are not immediately being used for energy. (unless you are a marathon runner…)
The Hormone Serotonin: Serotonin is the double agent of this story. As we shall see it seems to be the good guy, but has a second agenda!
It is widely believed that Serotonin is responsible for our mental well-being. Until recently it was common knowledge that low serotonin levels are associated with carbohydrate cravings, PMS, Depression and more.
Recent research has brought some new information to the light. First, not all kinds of serotonin are associated with positive emotions, some even cause more anxiety and stress. Second, high level of Serotonin directly correlate to high levels of Cortisol, which is a stress and inflammatory hormone.
On the other hand the importance of Dopamine in controlling cravings and moods seems to have been underestimated. (1)
Bottom line: the idea that serotonin requires carbohydrates to be produced and a low carb diet will get you serotonin depleted is now obsolete.
Dopamine can be easily controlled with diet and exercise and its effect is more relevant to our objective of controlling cravings.
Your game-plan to defeat sweet craving!
- A diet aimed at low and stable insulin levels is our best ally. A nutritionally well-balanced Ketogenic diet perfectly fits the profile.
- A diet which aims at reverting leptin resistance is also extremely important. Again, see Ketogenic diet!
- The right kind of exercise can manipulate our hormonal response, to maximize the benefits and the elimination of cravings!
- Avoidance of unnecessary stimulation, by keeping tempting foods away from sight (and under lock and key) will give us the best chance for success! (2)
Watch the video above this post for more practical tips and what foods can help or hurt your battle against cravings!
1 Dr. Ray Peat’s “Serotonin, Depression, and Aggression: The Problem of Brain Energy”
- Painter JE, Wansink B, & Hieggelke JB (2002). How visibility and convenience influence candy consumption. Appetite, 38(3), 237-238.