Author's Perspective: I didn't think that I was addicted to fast food, but, I used to make late night runs to McDonald's (for their French fries), Kentucky Fried Chicken (for their crispy chicken) or Pizza Hut (for their Meat Lover's pizza).

And, I just loved having a big bowl of ice cream with a piece of warm apple pie or a couple of warm brownies around midnight.

It was difficult to overcome these cravings because these foods tasted so good, were so easy to obtain and were inexpensive -- or, at least, I thought they were inexpensive. :-)

I realized that I lacked the discipline to keep avoiding these foods, but, once I changed the chemistry in body, the food cravings went away!

Food Cravings

A food craving is an intense desire to consume a specific food, stronger than simply normal hunger. In simple terms, it's a food-based chemical addiction.

There is no single explanation for food cravings, and explanations range from low serotonin levels affecting the brain centers for appetite to production of endorphins as a result of consuming fats and refined carbohydrates.

Clinical research has shown that addiction to certain foods has a biochemical basis of neural adaptations that include changes in dopamine and opioid receptor binding, creating an addiction that, in many cases, is more powerful than the addiction to heroin or crack cocaine.

This essentially means that the brain physically changes when it becomes used to consuming a mass quantity of a certain chemical so that the brain can release the highest quantity of dopamine possible.

Although this may be disturbing, a craving is actually a chemical addiction. And, as mentioned earlier, in many ways, a food addiction is more difficult to overcome than a drug addiction. Why? Because you can completely avoid the drugs to overcome the drug addiction, but you can't completely avoid food to overcome a food addiction.

Types of Food Cravings

There are basically two types of cravings

  1. Physical craving
  2. Emotional craving

A physical craving is usually due to a biochemical imbalance; and, usually, comes upon us gradually.

An emotional craving is usually due to a stressful situation triggered by an emotion such as sadness, depression, or anger; and, usually comes upon us very quickly.

Reduce and Eliminate Physical Cravings to Help Reverse Diabetes

The following is a list of countermeasures that you can take to reduce and eliminate different types of physical cravings.

Low blood sugar is the most common physical/biochemical craving that triggers the need for bread, pasta, French fries, sweets and other refined carbohydrates. Once the need is satisfied, within two hours, the craving returns creating a vicious cycle.

Countermeasure: Add more fiber and Omega-3s to breakfast (e.g. spinach, broccoli, whole-grain cereal, wild salmon, whole fruit). Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed or wheat grass powder to your breakfast drink or cereal. Drink a glass of raw vegetable juice (or V-8 juice) instead of bottled juice, which is full of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Also, avoid your food triggers, e.g. driving past a fast food place.

High blood sugar is the immediate response to the over-consumption of refined carbohydrates, fast food and junk food, creating a metabolic imbalance. When the metabolic control imposed by insulin and glucagon becomes disrupted, blood sugar and the neurotransmitter serotonin go haywire. Unnatural alterations in these two parameters – blood sugar and serotonin – conspire to produce a condition known as "hormonal hunger".

Hormonal hunger is insidious because, in addition to causing carbohydrate cravings, it, unlike real hunger, has nothing to do with a real need for food, and can lead to serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Countermeasure: Avoid these refined carbohydrates, fast food and junk food; and, eat more nutrient-dense foods, i.e. vegetables, legumes, whole grains.

Low fat intake causes a craving for cheese, animal meat, pizza, and other foods with a high fat content.

Countermeasure: Ensure all your meals including your snacks contain some fat, preferably the good fat found in fish, plant oils, lean organic meats, nuts and other plant foods.

Low salt intake causes a craving for potato chips, pretzels, French fries.

Countermeasure: Ensure all your meals including your snacks contain some sodium, but more importantly, eat enough foods that contain water and potassium, e.g. green, leafy vegetables, legumes. This will reduce the craving. If you find that you must have some potato chips, then, try baked tortilla chips with some guacamole (mashed seasoned avocado); or, organic potato chips, which contain more flavorful organic spices, less sodium and no hydrogenated oil. Use organic sea salt.

A mineral deficiency causes a craving for a food that contains that specific mineral. For example, a craving for chocolate may be due to a mineral deficiency in magnesium.

Countermeasure: If you have a craving for chocolate, eat the pure cocoa kind and stay away from the milk chocolate, which has more fat and more sugar. Review your blood work over the past two years with your doctor to ensure that you do not have any major mineral deficiencies.

Note: Foods with high levels of sugar glucose, such as chocolate, are more frequently craved than foods with lower sugar glucose, such as broccoli because when glucose interacts with the opiod system in the brain an addictive triggering effect occurs. The consumer of the glucose feels the urge to consume more glucose, much like an alcoholic, because the brain has become conditioned to release "happy hormones" every time glucose is present.

How to Reduce and Eliminate Emotional Cravings

The following is a list of countermeasures that you can take to reduce and eliminate different types of emotional cravings.

Stress eating is one of the most common reactions to dealing with stress because it boosts the production of cortisol, a hormone that facilitates your fight or flight response. According to a recent study, participants with higher cortisol levels tended to eat more in stressful situations.

Countermeasure: No matter how hectic your schedule, devote a few minutes a day to giving yourself a breather. Step outside the office or house and take a walk around the block. Do something – anything – that removes you from the rat race, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Anger eating is the No. 1 eating trigger for women, according to a study from the University of Wurzburg in Germany. Because anger resembles stress in terms of how the body reacts physiologically, cravings for sweet, high-fat foods such as ice cream and chocolate can increase.

Countermeasure: Reaching for fat, sugary foods such as ice cream is a natural reaction to anger, since fat and sugar boost serotonin, our brain’s feel-good hormone. But sugary foods also flood the bloodstream with glucose, which releases the hormone insulin, making blood sugar levels momentarily spike, then drop. When blood sugar falls, so does serotonin, leaving you feeling worse than you did before.

Instead, take a few deep breaths when you feel angry. Collect your thoughts and try to articulate them in a calm, coherent manner. Sometimes, just letting go of the emotion can release you from its hold. If you still want the ice cream, mix some fresh blueberries and walnuts in the ice cream to slow down its absorption into the bloodstream.

Sadness or depression often makes us seek solace in the cookie jar or container of ice cream. The reason comes down, again, to serotonin. Many of the most popular antidepressants alleviate depression by boosting the availability of serotonin in the brain.

Countermeasure: Talk to a friend – sometimes just talking releases the sadness. Or, get moving. Numerous studies indicate that exercise decreases mild depression as effectively as psychotherapy. A Duke University study stated that only 14 minutes of walking reduced negative feelings by 82 percent. In addition to the 20-30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, swimming, biking), include at least 15 minutes of weight-resistance exercise three or four times a week. If you think you’re suffering from clinical depression, consult your doctor.

Happy feelings occur during celebrations such as weddings, birthday parties, family picnics, reunions, graduations, anniversaries, holidays, or a night out on the town to celebrate that hard-earned promotion. And, we celebrate many of these happy occasions with big meals, cakes, and other goodies.

Countermeasure: Enjoy the celebration! Don’t spend your time looking over your shoulder and miss all the fun! Try to eat as many “live” super foods as possible with your meals and snacks the day before the celebration. This will reduce your capacity to overeat. Even if you overeat, just make certain that your next two meals at home are full of fiber and water to help remove the waste from the body as soon as possible. Increasing the duration of your next two exercise sessions will also help to reduce the impact of the celebration and help to remove the toxins and waste out of the body.

Stress, anger, sadness or happy feelings can also trigger the need for alcohol and/or recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.

Countermeasure: Find another food/drink alternative or ask your doctor for the name of a local support group that can help you, e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

General overeating is technically not a craving. Overeating may be due to an imbalance with the "hunger hormones," leptin and ghrelin.

Leptin is a hormone, made by your fat cells, that decreases your appetite by telling you that you're full so that you stop eating.

Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite by telling you that you're hungry, and also plays a role in body weight.

This hormonal imbalance problem occurs if you have leptin resistance; however, the Death to Diabetes diet addresses this type of hormone-related resistance along with insulin resistance.

Specific Food Cravings and Their Meaning

Sweets

If you crave sweets, you may be experiencing blood sugar fluctuations. Yo-yo-ing sugar levels cause spikes in insulin production, which can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Instead, choose a piece of whole fruit along with a handful of walnuts or almonds. And, in general, choose more high-fiber foods like vegetables, beans and legumes and complex carbohydrates like whole grains.

Chocolate

As mentioned earlier, chocolate cravings often indicate that your body may be deficient in magnesium. Many nutritionists estimate that over 80 percent of the population is lacking in dietary magnesium, which may explain why so many of us reach for chocolate.

If you must, choose dark chocolate that's about 75 percent cacao or higher. Additionally, eat foods high in magnesium, like nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy greens.

Salty Foods

Cravings for salty foods often mean stress may be taking a toll on your adrenal glands, which give us energy and help us to cope with stress. When you're overly stressed, your adrenal glands release cortisol, which can make you ravenous for high-fat, simple-carb foods that your body can use quickly.

Instead, try meditation, breathing exercises, or other stress-management techniques. If you really have to have the salt, add a shake of sea salt to some nuts and seeds.

Red Meat

Not surprisingly, cravings for red meat usually indicate an iron deficiency. Often people crave burgers or steaks. Menstruating women are especially vulnerable to iron deficiencies, which can make them more likely to suffer from PMS symptoms according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Beans and legumes, prunes, figs, and other dried fruits are high in iron.

Cheese

Cravings for cheese or pizza often indicate a fatty acid deficiency. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other joint problems.

Reach for raw walnuts, wild salmon, and flaxseed oil, and add ground flaxseeds to your diet.

To summarize, remember that most cravings are actually signals from our bodies that we are either dehydrated or missing a specific micronutrient.

But we misinterpret these signals as hunger pangs. By some estimates, 80 percent of people are chronically dehydrated. So before you reach for food to nix your cravings, quench them with some water. Then wait half an hour. More often than not, the craving will be gone.

Food Addictions

With the rise of diabetes and obesity in our society, it is not hard to imagine that the eating of excess amounts of the 5 "dead" foods and especially fast food and junk food is part of the blame.

There are several factors that drive us to eat "dead" foods, fast food and junk food. "Dead" foods, fast food and junk food include most cereals, most breads, processed foods, French fries, sweets, candies, pastries, pizza, fried chicken, tacos, hamburgers, and other fast foods. 

The factors that influence our behaviors to buy and eat these toxic foods include the following:

  • Marketing (TV ads especially) plays a huge role in the access and distribution of junk food in our society.
  • Cost: junk food is very inexpensive
  • Convenience: junk food is very easy to obtain
  • American lifestyle embraces a culture of eating junk food as part of normal recreational activity.
  • Chemical addiction: there are chemicals in these junk foods that make us addicted to these foods
  • Lack of Discipline: makes it difficult to change our poor eating habits
  • The Education System has failed to adequately promote nutrition education alongside physical education.

How to Overcome Food Addictions

It is clear that marketing, lifestyle, and education affect our ability to choose healthy food over junk food. They are connected in many complex ways, but the most important thing to remember is that if you want to eat healthy, you have to address all of these areas.

Take the following steps to eating healthier and avoiding these foods:

  • Try to plan your meals when going out. Bring your own lunch, but if you can’t, buy a salad instead of hamburger. You can add chicken to the salad for protein to help fill you up.
  • Try to read about why junk food is so unhealthy and ways to add more healthy foods to your diet. There are lots of free healthy recipes online, including this website. Take advantages of a few.
  • Read a book like Death to Diabetes to educate yourself and your family about healthy eating.
  • Read the Death to Diabetes Cookbook to learn how to enjoy healthier versions of your favorite junk foods.
  • Try donating to charities and good causes without accepting cookies in return. If you want something back for your effort, try a tax deduction instead.

The following steps can help you change your lifestyle to the point where you avoid junk food on a subconscious level, which is more ideal than counting calories.

The four keys to kicking junk food are super foods, planning, pacing and sticking to it. Remember to take as long as you need to get these new habits ingrained, 3 weeks is a minimum. 

In addition, don't forget that the super meals and snacks will help your body detoxify and remove the chemicals that are causing the addiction.

How to Enjoy Your Favorite Comfort Foods!

However, It's unrealistic to expect people to be deprived of all of their favorite foods and comfort foods for the rest of their lives!

Instead, we have designed some ways for you to enjoy some of your favorite foods and comfort foods and still maintain your blood glucose level within the normal range. For example:

Ice Cream: Make your own homemade ice cream with a blender, low fat cream, vanilla extract, and frozen fruit. Add a handful of walnuts and a half-cup of blueberries to your bowl of ice cream to provide some fiber and protein and slow down the absorption of the sugar.

If you purchase your ice cream, do not buy the low fat versions because they contain more sugar and are less filling. Instead buy the rich ice cream, but eat less of it with some nuts and fruit.

French Fries: Using sweet potatoes or the crunchy vegetable called jicama (pronounced hik’-a-ma), you can enjoy crisp, salty fries now and then. And since white potatoes can raise blood sugar more rapidly than even table sugar, you’re wise to avoid them.

Fruit: Eat your favorite fruit with a handful of walnuts and almonds to offset the carbs from the fruit.

Pizza: Buy ground flax pitas, spread your favorite tomato sauce over it, and add a mix of vegetables, sautéed peppers and onions, mushrooms, broccoli, olives, plenty of herbs and spices, a drizzle of olive oil, and shredded mozzarella. Bake in an oven at 400°F for 7-10 minutes.

Potato Chips: Make them yourself or buy organic baked chips or soy chips.  

Note: For more ideas about your favorite foods and comfort foods, refer to the Death to Diabetes book (Chapter 17), the Death to Diabetes Cookbook or the Food Tips PDF.

Salt, Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee

People often think it is “normal” to crave sugar, salt, chocolate, or caffeine for a better mood and energy. Though it is a common phenomenon, it doesn’t mean it is “normal”.

When your body is craving certain types of food, most likely, it means a specific organ is malfunctioning because it is deprived of a certain nutrient.

Sugar, salt, chocolate, and coffee are four of the major foods or chemicals that everyone has questions about when they decide to make changes to their eating habits. Why? Because these four foods/chemicals drive many of our cravings and health issues.

Sugar

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the average annual consumption of refined sugar was only 5 pounds per person. Today, the average American consumes more than 130 pounds of sugar annually with almost 20 percent of the daily calorie intake being some form of sugar. This is due to our addiction to sugar and not being aware of the many sources from which we get sugar.

Sugar is found naturally in milk, fruit, vegetables and grains, but food manufacturers add sugar to many foods, especially “low fat”, “fat free” and so-called “diet” products.

Because refined sugar is absorbed very quickly causing the blood glucose level to rise, manufacturers developed sugar substitutes (artificial sweeteners) that do not cause this rise in the glucose level. However, studies have shown some health concerns with some of these sugar substitutes. Fortunately, there are natural sugars that do not raise these health concerns, including stevia, xylitol, and d-mannose.

Additional sugar options include organic spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, anise and mint, which add a sweet taste to foods without adding the sugar or calories.

Salt

The body does not need sugar or chocolate to live, but it does need salt. “Salt” is actually a chemical term for a substance produced by a reaction of an acid with a base. The terms “salt” and “sodium” are used interchangeably, but technically this is not correct.

“Salt” is sodium chloride, or, in chemistry terms, NaCl. By weight, “salt” is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Sodium is an essential nutrient, a mineral that the body cannot manufacture itself but is required for life and good health.

Salt was seen as a valuable food and commodity for centuries. In fact, wars were fought over its possession and civilizations rose and fell in pursuit of what came to be called “white gold.” In times past, common rock salt was given to the common people and the highly valued crystal salt, like Original Himalayan Crystal Salt®, was reserved for royalty.

Salt has a long history of use in rituals of purification, magical protection, and blessing. Salt has been used throughout the ages as a ward against negative energies or evil spirits. There are even Biblical references to salt. For example, in the New Testament, Matthew 15:3, Jesus speaking to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.”

So, salt had a good reputation until the latter part of the 20th Century when so-called "experts" began telling us that salt was causing high blood pressure -- which led to the "low-salt" diet.

This was an major mistake! -- the real issue was not the salt -- it was the over-consumption of processed foods (which contain high levels of sodium) combined with the under-consumption of vegetables and beans (which contain high levels of potassium, magnesium, and zinc).

This led to the sodium-to-potassium ratio becoming excessively high. Instead of strictly reducing salt intake, a better strategy may be to increase the intake of potassium-rich foods. This will trigger the cells to pump sodium out and potassium in via the “sodium-potassium pump”. This pump is in the membranes of all body cells, and one of its most important functions is preventing cellular swelling. If sodium is not pumped out, water accumulates in the cell, causing it to swell and ultimately burst.

According to the latest science, a proper balance of sodium, in addition to potassium and magnesium, is more important than severely reducing or eliminating sodium completely to achieve a healthy body. Sodium, potassium and magnesium help to regulate fluid balance in the body and allow nutrients and oxygen to travel to their necessary destinations within the body.

To provide a better balance of these minerals, use Himalayan salt or organic sea salt, which has a sandy color and contains magnesium and other nutrients and is not overly-processed and refined like the traditional (white) table salt.

Also, flavor your food with garlic, onion, peppers, herbs, and other organic spices. More importantly, eat potassium and magnesium-rich foods such as vegetables and beans to naturally reduce and normalize the sodium level in the body.

Also, avoid processed foods such as canned tomato juice, soups, and lunch meats because they tend to contain high levels of sodium. And, be wary of some salt substitutes that may contain too much potassium chloride, which can cause numbness, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure (dizziness, weakness, fatigue), coma, and, even a heart attack.

Chocolate

Chocolate is made from tropical cacao beans, and is transformed by machines into a bitter, brown paste of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. The darker chocolate contains lecithin and flavonoids called epicatechins that act as antioxidants and modulators of hormone-like compounds in the body; and, also, contains oleic acid, a fatty acid that promotes normal cholesterol levels.

However, chocolate contains caffeine and other stimulants that make it addictive, and, given its high fat content, excess indulgence can contribute to obesity and heart disease. Many women report particular chocolate cravings when they are pre-menstrual or pregnant.

This is possibly because chocolate contains magnesium, a shortage of which can exacerbate pre-menstrual tension. Similar cravings during pregnancy could indicate mild anemia, which could be helped by the iron content in chocolate. Others crave chocolate because of the caffeine, sugar, or the fat.

There are very few good substitutes for chocolate, but, in general, if you choose the less-sweetened versions, you will be taking in less sugar. Some alternatives include carob, dark chocolate, and cocoa.

Note: Chocolate contains naturally occurring compounds such as phenylethylamine, theobromine and anandamine. These compounds trigger the release of endorphins in the brain that produce a mild feeling of euphoria, elevate mood, increase circulation and enhance sensory perception, mimicking the sensation of being in love.

Coffee

With over 2 billion cups consumed every day, coffee is the world’s most popular beverage. Coffee contains natural antioxidants called flavonoids (e.g. chlorogenic acid, hydroxycinnamic acid,quinine) that are known as disease protectors.

Caffeine acts as a mild stimulant to the central nervous system, that results in better memory, alertness, mood and sensorial activity.

However, some studies indicate that drinking more than 2 to 3 cups a day may have a negative effect on your health, e.g. high insulin levels, jitters, teeth stains.

If your blood sugar or blood pressure doesn't rise due to the caffeine, then, you may be able to reap the benefits of the high level of antioxidants in coffee.

The key is to use organic coffee beans, make your own coffee and drink it black. That means avoid adding any of the following to your coffee: milk, cream, sugar, and artificial sweetener.

Healthier alternatives to traditional coffee include but are not limited to: chicory, soy coffee, organically grown coffee with mushroom extract, roastaroma, and tea, which contain lower amounts of caffeine, and provide other health benefits.

Maybe more importantly, do not use tap water, or add artificial sweetener or cow's milk to your coffee, making it even more damaging to your health.

Note: Eating super meals, and drinking raw juices and green smoothies will help to reduce and eliminate cravings for processed foods, fast foods, sweets, etc.

For more information about how to overcome food cravings and addictions to fast foods, get the DTD How to Overcome Cravings and Food Addictions PDF.

References
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  3. ^ a b Yanovski, Susan. "Sugar and Fat: Cravings and Aversions". The Journal of Nutrition. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/3/835S.abstract?sid=519c5f5c-893e-4e32-9a4a-e9872a74e517.
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