Cravings – By Dr. Alan Christianson
Hey there! Dr. Alan Christianson here. In this first video, I want to talk about a very important topic: food cravings. I’ve heard many people say they know what they can do to lose weight or regain their health, but somewhere along the way, they feel overpowered by these drives to have more or different foods than they planned on having. Oftentimes, they end up blaming themselves, thinking it’s their fault, a matter of weak will or a lack of discipline. It’s not. It’s really a chemical-type reaction. I want to explain how this happens and how these reactions cannot block your efforts toward getting back to your ideal health and your ideal weight.
For starters, how do you know if you have cravings? How do you know if this is relevant to you or not? Well, it happens after you’ve planned out what you’re going to have for your meal, and you’ve started eating. Somewhere along the way, your goal posts of what you want to have start to slide; they start to change. Midway through a meal you begin thinking, “Wow, I probably had enough. I may not even be hungry, but that was really good. I just want to have some more.” These thoughts seem so internal and so conscious, it feels like it’s a conscious decision that you’re making. When you are preparing the meal, you think you want to have this certain amount of food, but along the way, you consciously change what you want. However, that’s not really what’s happening.
The other scenario is that you’ve planned out your day. You’ve planned out what you are going to eat for lunch and for dinner. Midway through the day (or afterwards), you feel like you’re consciously choosing to change your plans, and you’re thinking, “Well, I did this and I followed that, but I know that there’s this thing in the pantry that’s calling my name.” This thought can be so powerful, and it can feel so compelling.
So, what does a healthy appetite feel like? What I mean is, if this is what cravings feel like, how does it feel when things work well? Because I’ve spent a lot of time in both of those worlds, I can talk about a distinction between the two. A healthy appetite is being hungry for foods you choose to fuel your body. When you have a healthy appetite, there’s a point where you realize you’ve accomplished some things throughout the day and it’s time to eat. You’re really wanting some food. You can imagine certain meals, certain options and how your function will be afterwards. You can imagine what your energy will be like, how your metabolism is going to feel and how your taste and cravings might change. When you follow that, it becomes a very conscious, deliberate choice. You see, there’s a point at which you’ve chosen and eaten some healthy food and you’re satisfied, so now it’s time to go and do something good. When things work well, that’s how it feels and that’s so liberating! It’s so cool to be able to just consciously choose what to eat, when to eat, how much, then be finished and move along – to be outside of the chains of cravings that can seem so powerful.
I want to talk to you about a really simple, three-step system that will help you defeat these cravings and have a healthy, controlled appetite. One of the steps is automatic, so there’s really only two effortful steps.
The first step is to add fiber, and the second step is to drop fructose. The result of these two steps is the third step: gain freedom. Freedom means being able to eat by choice – by conscious intent.
I think about our brains this way: it is as if there is this little tiny thing behind our eyes that has a set of controls, like driving a big truck or something. This is our conscious mind. I think about it having two parts: there’s one set of controls that Mr. Spock has and one set of controls that Homer Simpson has. We have these different parts of our mind, of our consciousness. How we structure and plan our day, our fiber and our fructose, determines who’s in charge of the steering wheel. Do you want rational, logical choices to fuel your body and become healthier? Or, do you want Homer Simpson crashing into a tree or stopping for a donut? That’s totally what happens.
So, I’ll teach you a really easy system. The cool thing is this system really empowers you. You can choose to create your health as you see fit. You do not have to be a victim to what foods are around, what someone else has or what foods you may have liked in the past. You can consciously create your own health and your own physiology as you choose and deem best. That is so great in itself, as there’s so much guilt, shame and blame that we often feel when Homer’s at the wheel. We often feel that it’s some personal lack or moral deficit that’s holding us back. Those feelings become a spiral of self-defeating beliefs and behaviors. When you can step away from that and liberate your energy toward your health, positive efforts, the things you really want to do in your life and the connections with your loved ones, it’s incredible.
I want to share a little bit about how this applies to me and why I’ve experienced this in both ways. As a kid, I was epileptic and gained a huge amount of weight because I really didn’t have coordination; I couldn’t do physical activities. I have this vivid memory of being about seven years old when my parents were small owners in a resort, where we lived and worked. I had some unsupervised time around this professional kitchen and a lot of food. I remember sneaking a handful of chocolate chip cookies, walking around the grounds and eating them. I was probably bored, just wanting some attention or something. I found out eating these extra cookies would give me an endorphin rush. I had the realization it would make me feel almost high or euphoric. So, for the next many, many years, I battled these drives toward foods and gained huge amounts of weight. It took a lot of thought and a lot of effort to change that. I really lived out of control for quite some time during that first stretch of years. I’ve had several other times in my life where, if I’ve not really followed the fiber-fructose ratios, or I have not been in a good space, those drives come back. They’ve been overpowering and almost overwhelming. So, I’ve lived through this, I’ve felt it, and I’ve gone through to the other side of it. I was able to make a difference, see this change occur in myself, and you can experience this, too.
I’ve seen others experience this same thing. I spoke to a woman about two months ago whose main concern was anxiety, insomnia and struggled with her weight. The more we talked, the more we realized she was really addicted to sugar. She was frequently, compulsively consuming high amounts of sugar. Often throughout the day, she would eat a little bite of this or a little bit of that. Her levels of stress and anxiety were very high, and she could not properly sleep at night. She was also driven toward more caffeine to raise her energy levels. I saw this as a vicious cycle. The expectation she expressed was, “What’s a natural thing I can take to lower my anxiety?” As we got into this discussion, I realized it wasn’t a supplement she needed. The problem was the relationship with food she had and figuring out how to shift that. As she went through the process, over the course of just two weeks, she was free from anxiety for the first time in decades. Of course, there are normal stressors that come up, but the haunting, background, ongoing stressors and random thoughts were no longer there. She did mention the first few days were difficult, but after that, it was not. We’ve seen similar victories so many times, and I’m really excited for you to have the same experience.
The steps are easy. We want to add fiber; we want to lose fructose. The relevance about fiber is that it slows how quickly our food gets into our bloodstream. When we swallow a meal, it mixes with liquid in our stomach. Then, it goes into our small intestine. From there, it goes across the little villi, directly into our bloodstream. This happens when we’re really assimilating it and making use out of it. Fiber makes all that happen more slowly – there’s a more gradual entry of food into the bloodstream. All throughout the day, the more fiber we have with our meals, the more stable and steady our blood sugar levels are. Therefore, we want to have this steady delivery of fuel coming into our bodies, like a real gentle touch on a gas pedal. We don’t want to have a big surge, like a puddle of gas that you drop a match on. When we get a big surge of fuel, we do not have healthy energy. We just have stimulation and then it drops.
Now, here is the tie-in: cravings are not psychological shortcomings. Cravings do not exist because of what your parents did or did not do or anything like that. Cravings exist because your blood sugar levels have abruptly changed; they were steady but started to come down quickly. So, your brain says, “I need fuel. I need fuel now.” That makes you like a puppet on strings. It feels like you’ve suddenly chosen to change your plans. You suddenly say, “Ha! You know, a cookie would really be nice about this time in the afternoon.” You think it’s a conscious decision, but it’s not. It’s just a chemical reaction.
Our first meal has the biggest impact throughout the entire day on how stable our blood sugar is. One of the biggest variables in that meal is the fiber content. We get fiber from a variety of foods and there are a couple different types of it. If you get good amounts in good variety, you will have good, stable blood sugar, fewer cravings and better energy. So, in your first meal, it’s good to include a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibers. The best version of soluble fibers are from fruits and vegetables. We get good amounts of fiber from both of those. My favorite dense source is blackberries. They’re actually one of the highest fruit sources of fiber. Blackberries are also superstars because they have very minimal amounts of fructose. Even a quarter cup is adequate to make a big difference.
The other big, helpful version of fiber is the insoluble fiber. A great source of insoluble fiber is chia seeds. Chia seeds are also rich in quality proteins, many good minerals and good plant-based calcium. So, when you get blackberries and chia seeds together in your first meal, that’s going to make the day’s blood sugar much steadier. An easy way to get those is with a shake, and that’s a great opportunity for protein. You can also drop some greens in the shake, which will raise the soluble fiber intake even further. As the day goes on, with each of your meals, you want to have some healthy version of carbohydrate, which will naturally contain that fiber.
You do also want some good fats. You want small amounts with each of your meals. The best fats are from fish and seafood. Another good source is raw nuts and seeds. This latter group will also be high in many of the good fibers. The best versions of starch to include healthy carbs are beans and legumes, intact whole grains and vegetable starches – especially those with the skins on them. The white beans and legumes are the most powerful – navy, northern and cannellini. They have the soluble, insoluble and resistant fiber, which is very powerful. When it comes to intact whole grains, I make a distinction between whole grains and their flours. For instance, brown rice flour acts differently than whole grain brown rice. It absorbs so much faster and acts so much differently in the body. Intact whole grains that have been steamed, chopped up or made into flour are very different.
Then, we’ve got the good vegetable carbs. These are awesome foods. Squashes, acorn squash, kibosh squash, spaghetti squash, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas (grandpa always loved those), sweet potatoes, yams, and regular potatoes are really wonderful. Potatoes are really good foods. They’ve gotten a bad rap about the night shade (solanaceae) thing. If you take green potatoes that are sprouting and concentrate on the green part, that’s bad. You don’t eat it in that stage. That’s where the toxins are. Apart from that, potatoes don’t have toxins. We thought for a while that tomatoes were poisonous, too, because they’re in the same family. We now know they are not and nor are potatoes. They are great options for healthy carbs.
While we want to add in nice amounts of fiber, we also want to limit the fructose. We get fructose from a lot of processed food. We hear about high fructose corn syrup, which is also sugar. Table sugar is equal parts of glucose and fructose. Fructose is unique in that our liver has to do extra work to process it. When our liver works harder, our blood sugar drops off at some point. When our blood sugar drops off, we crave cookies, raisins or even just more food than we planned on having. So, it’s all about keeping the blood sugar steady, and fructose has become our enemy for that.
Fruits are not bad foods. However, because of how the toxins and the environment are affecting our liver, and the high amount of processed fructose we consume, our bodies are less tolerant of good fructose than they were in the past. So, it is good to keep fruits at a low level if you’ve got cravings. This is true throughout the day but mostly true earlier in the day. You really want to minimize and avoid the fruit with your first couple meals. As I mentioned, a quarter cup of blackberries can really get you through for most of the day as far as your fruit content. I would even avoid apples, pears, cherries, blueberries and tropical fruits like bananas, papayas, mangoes, dried fruits and fruit juices. Of course, as we speak this, we’re already assuming that the sodas, candies, cakes, and cookies are not even part of the discussion. Those are foods that perpetuate the cravings. The less of these foods we have, the less we want. On the outside, it seems so counter-intuitive. We feel driven to have them because we feel they’re going to satisfy us, but they really do not. They end up making us want more. So, we want to really stay away from the fructose and the unhealthy starches – those that are made from flours and that come from processed foods.
So, when the fructose is low and the fiber high, it yields freedom and fewer cravings. There have been many papers written, showing this also benefits our cholesterol levels, our triglycerides, our blood pressure and our immune system. There’s so many ways this fiber-fructose ratio is helpful.
Well, if that’s not enough, how about the health of our skin? That’s an attention-getter for a lot of us, as we hit our 40s and 50s. There’s these things called AGEs – AGE for age, right? They’re advanced glycation end-products. They make our skin wrinkle and lose collagen. We make AGEs from fructose more than anything. The more fructose we eat, the more our skin ages prematurely. So, if you don’t want advanced glycosylated end-products (AGE), you want to keep the fructose low for healthier, glowing skin.
What are the benefits of all this? When cravings are lower, you now have autonomy; you’ve got control over your health. Oftentimes, the struggle for health is just a struggle for control – a struggle to be back in charge of what’s happening to your body. When you have that sense of control again, it spills over in so many other ways in your life. Your confidence goes up, you become naturally eager to do more or promote your health in other ways. It becomes a good, virtuous spiral. These benefits can be quite tangible. By really going high in fiber and low in fructose, you can see 2 – 4 inches drop off in the first month. This happens if you’re on a very structured, strategic regime. Losing inches, especially in the waist, can happen so quickly. The confidence and sense of control you feel also spills over into your relationships. You can communicate better, you feel more secure about who you are and express your own needs more effectively. These extra benefits are so real!
In conclusion, I want to issue a challenge to you all. Over these next 30 days, do two things: think about fructose and the fat clothes in your closet. I’ve had them. I’ve had the double wardrobe in the past. So, ditch them both. Take a close look through your pantry and look for all sources of food that have more than about three grams of fructose per serving. It is time to donate them. (There’s so much need for food at food banks. At some point, any food is better than none for those who are really at a point of lack.) Also, donate those clothes you keep around for the times when you’re feeling heavier or thicker. You don’t really need them; they will not serve you. Make your path more committed and yourself more intentional. Give yourself fewer outs and escapes. It’ll be more effective for you by far.
On the way home from making your donation, stock up on lots of good, intact whole grains, healthy low-fructose fruits, nuts and seeds, lots of veggies – some you’ve not tried before – and good, lean proteins.
Here’s another great challenge: reach out to a friend or a loved one and talk about the easy steps you’re taking toward this high fiber-low fructose way of eating. Share with him or her how to do that and get a buddy in place. This is someone to collaborate with, help you become accountable and give each other feedback on how this all works out.
So remember, we’re adding fiber, we’re losing fructose and regaining freedom. So what can be cooler than that?
I’ll be back with you really soon in this next video. I’m going to talk about how there may be toxins lurking in your kitchen that are short-circuiting your weight-loss efforts. We’re going to identify those and eliminate them.
I always love the great feedback I get. Please ask your questions in regard to this content. We’ll take a close look at them and give you feedback very promptly.
So, take wonderful care of yourselves and thank you for participating. I look forward to seeing you really soon.