Low Carb Dietitians Johnston RI
Conquering Carb Compulsions
By Thomas Barclay
Do cookies, cake, and other carb-heavy goodies sing a sweet song
New Year’s resolutions come in all shapes and sizes, and some are easier to follow through on than others. Perhaps the hardest resolution to keep is one that involves controlling a craving, especially a craving for high-carbohydrate foods. What makes falling off the resolution wagon even worse is the guilt that follows.
How can you alleviate both the guilt and the compulsion? By gaining some insight into why your brain makes you susceptible to overindulgences and how a few lifestyle changes can keep your carb cravings—and your weight—from getting out of hand.
Research has established that our brains are vulnerable to food addiction just as readily as they are to drug addiction. Magnetic resonance images (MRI) of brains show that when food cravers think about food and the drug addicted think about drugs, the same brain areas sparkle.
“This is consistent with the idea that cravings of all kinds, whether for food, drugs or designer shoes, have common [brain and body] mechanisms,” says Marcia Levin Pelchat, PhD, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Center in Pennsylvania.
While a vivid imagination can make your life more interesting, the research at Monell shows it can make your food cravings harder to resist. During a craving, you can’t help but imagine how the food tastes and feels in your mouth. The combination of imagination and memory of your past experience with that food creates an obsession for it.
As Dr. Pelchat puts it, “During a craving we have a sensory memory or template for the food that will satisfy the craving. The food we eat has to match that template for the craving to be satisfied. It’s as if our brain is saying, ‘It has to be chocolate ice cream, lemon pie just won’t do.’” She adds, “Cravings are also like habits. We often reach for a craved food without thinking of it.”
Other research indicates that cravings are influenced not only by the presence of food but also by images or messages about eating. It’s bad enough that the food in the house is irresistibly tempting, let along being barraged by luscious images of gooey desserts. If you want to dodge your craving for something like donuts, you not only shouldn’t buy those fried goodies, you should watch less commercial television.
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory recently used an x-ray technique called positron emission tomography to look at the brain circuits that are activated by drug addiction and food cravings. Their pictures show that the mere display of food, along with a mild smell and taste of it (they dabbed tiny amounts of food on people’s tongues), lights up brain circuits. The reason: When your mind is obsessing over a favorite food, metabolism in the right orbitofrontal cortex, the p...