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Curbing Food Cravings

Posted Jan 26 2009 3:49pm

We all know that food cravings are some of the biggest obstacles to weight loss. Smart dieters will do everything possible to avoid food cravings, rather than fight a losing (not as in "losing weight") battle. We mere mortals have smell, taste, and gut feelings intrinsically hardwired in our brains. These pre-human senses scream "Eat that food!" before the high-reasoning brain centers in the neocortex even get the signal. In this way the brain is not like a computer where newer is faster. The brain's developmentally newer centers work more slowly than the impulse-driven, survival mode brainstem and "older" portions of the brain.

Don't Fight Intense Food Cravings: Fix the Cause

Battling food cravings can be dangerous. Unheeded food cravings can result in losing a job, losing concentration while operating machinery, and being insufficiently alert while commuting in heavy traffic. Ignoring the brain's "Eat!" message could also involve overlooking warning signs of migraine, gallstone, muscle loss or gout. Therefore "giving in" to intense food cravings may be the wisest immediate choice, even if it means busting a diet. Long-term, the best choice is to reduce the intensity and frequency of food cravings so that dieting is safe.

Remember that meals matter. Reducing food cravings begins with a knife and fork. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Eat slowly and mindfully
  • Eat fiber
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates
  • Don't skip meals
  • Frontload with breakfast
  • Eat calories rather than drinking them

Food cravings often reflect inadequate neurotransmitters in the dopamine or serotonin pathways. Amino acids can often be a successful way to treat cravings. Generally a starting dose of 150 mg 5-HTP and 1,500mg Tryrosine can help curb them.

Food cravings are like the "check engine" signal on the console. Battling food cravings is like battling the dashboard to sever the signal indicator light- not effective and not a good idea.

Address the metabolic engine trouble and the food cravings will go away.

My friend Ingrid Kohlstadt, MD, MPH is an outstanding physician and nutrition specialist who has generously allowed me to adapt information from her excellent article on food cravings for my newsletter. The original article appeared in the January Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. Visit Dr. Ingrid at

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