Food addiction is a real addiction which causes a lot of heath and social issues. Here we will discuss how to stop food addiction with the keto diet.
One of the areas that really shows just how health promoting the keto diet is, is it’s ability to affect our brains.
Following this diet, and being in ketosis has been shown to have many positive neurological effects. So it’s not too surprising that attention has been paid to how to stop Food Addiction with the keto diet.
Scientists have discovered that when too many carbs are eaten, especially refined carbs, areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward light up.
Over time, this habitual firing of the brain´s pleasure areas will lead to food cravings and increased hunger.
This study examined the role of the brain and its reaction to the ingestion of refined carbohydrates. They suggested that a high carb diet was involved.
“Beyond reward and craving, this part of the brain is also linked to substance abuse and dependence, which raises the question as to whether certain foods might be addictive,”
When a high carb meal is eaten, there is a corresponding sharp rise in insulin levels, followed by a crash after about four hours.
This crash in blood/glucose levels triggers excessive hunger and intense activation of the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain region involved in addictive behaviors.
The conclusion was:
“These findings suggest that limiting high-glycemic index carbohydrates like white bread and potatoes could help obese individuals reduce cravings and control the urge to overeat,”
Given those findings it would seem that the keto diet, which severely restricts carbohydrates, would be a useful tool in helping people with food addiction to overcome this life threatening condition.
Why do some people develop food addictions?
For many years’ food addictions were put down to lack of self-control, or habit. The person may have a “sweet tooth” or be eating because they are bored.
It’s now much better understood that food addiction is a real thing, and the basis of developing this disorder is within the pleasure centers of your brain.
This study sought to highlight the connection between food and addiction and to compare this type of addiction to that of drug addicts.
It is already known that rats can become addicted to certain foods. The neurological pathways between food and addiction were found to be the same as those between drugs and addiction. (1)
The study concluded by saying that addiction to food was a real addiction, and it may be helped by using some of the same techniques used to help drug addicts.
What is a food craving?
It is known that cravings are at the very core of food addiction.
A craving is an intense emotional experience, where the person longs for a particular food and cannot rest until they are able to eat the food that they are thinking about continually.
These cravings can be triggered by the sight or smell of the desired food. Simply seeing a picture of the trigger food can be enough to set off a powerful urge to obtain and eat it.
Just walking past a bakery may make the food addict salivate, and they will feel the full strength of their crave.
Cravings can also be bought about when feeling lonely, sad or excited.
When a craving is given into, and that slice of pie or cake has been eaten, it’s been proven that this triggers the release of the neurotransmitter Dopamine, which is the body’s feel good chemical.
When viewed in this way, it is possible to see that a craving for highly processed carbs may be a way of the effected person seeking to self medicate in order to satisfy an addiction or to avoid negative thoughts or feelings.
In line with any addiction, the more often the person gives in to their addiction, the more often the brains pleasure pathways will be used.
This constant use will only serve to strengthen the pathway, and make the addiction worse.
This study also demonstrated that at the core of addiction are cravings. They concluded that by focusing on the cravings, this could be a successful intervention approach to food addiction.
When a food addict gets a taste of the food they crave, it becomes almost impossible for them to stop eating.
Reaching for one or two biscuits will always mean that the entire packed is polished off.
Suggesting that a food addict can limit their food would be the same as telling an alcoholic that they can have just one drink a day.
Nobody would ever suggest that an alcoholic could have just a few drinks each day and no more.
Food addicts are in the same place.
When they are faced with the food they crave, they cannot stop until that food is no longer available.
So what could help a food addict to over come their addiction?
As has already been mentioned, the more a pathway in the brain is used, the stronger it becomes.
In relation to a food addict, this would mean that they would need to completely stop the foods that they are addicted to.
They’ll need to find different foods that do not trigger the same damaging pathway.
If your thing is donuts and ice cream, never buy them or store them in your house.
Don’t let yourself have as much as a lick of these foods.
Take measures to avoid your favourite stores, where you know you can obtain your target foods.
Don’t watch food shows on TV.
In other words, do everything you can to minimize the amount of times that the thought of your problem foods crosses your mind.
If feeling bored or lonely is a trigger for eating, set about finding ways that you can make this less of a problem for you.
You could begin to exercise, not just for the health benefits, but to also fill your time, or help you to spend more time out of the house.
As the pleasure centers in your brain are triggered by this food less often, they will weaken.
Obviously this is a lot easier said than done, and anyone who has suffered an addiction of any type will tell you how difficult this stage can be .
There is something else that could be contributing towards a high carb or sugar craving.
There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that when your gut bacteria is unbalanced, you will feel the effects.
When one particular strain of bacteria comes to dominate your gut, it will send signals to your brain in order to get you to eat what it needs for its own survival.
Gut bacteria are known to be able to trigger the need for sweet things. For a more in depth look at this read:
Could the keto diet help with food addiction?
If your food addiction is based around sweet, carb heavy foods then it is my belief that diet has a lot to offer you.
The keto diet is based on severely restricting the amount of carbs that you can eat each day, while drastically increasing your fat intake.
The normally suggested ratios for each food macro are 5% of your daily nutrition from carbs, 20% from protein and 70% from fats.
The keto diet could help you in a number of different ways.
By limiting you to just 5% carbs, you will not be able to include most of your trigger foods. The 5% rule works out at eating 20g net carbs or less each day.
The average cookie contains between 7g net and 12g net depending on size and ingredients. A slice of white bread has 14g net carbs.
To stay within a very low carb allowance, cakes, cookies, grains, ready meals, most fruits and below ground vegetables are off the menu.
Carbs are a major cause of insulin spikes, which in turn cause you to feel tired and hungry when insulin drops after a few hours.
This drop in insulin is also known to trigger craving, so another good reason to walk away from the carbs.
However, just reducing your carb intake isn’t going to help you on its own. If this was the case then you wouldn’t still have your food addiction.
This is where the other feature of the keto diet will help you to reach your goals.
Fats will make up 70% of your daily intake, which is a lot more than most people eat on the standard American diet.
Fats are an important part of the keto diet, and have several healthy effects on your body:
Good fats include:
- Olive Oil
- Coconut oil
When you eat these good fats they not only have numerous health benefits (1) but will also:
- Keep you feeling full for longer
- Stabilize blood/glucose levels, so you’re less likely to want to binge, or experience craves.
- Help you to maintain ketosis – which will suppress your appetite, stabilize blood/glucose levels and improve your mood.
What will help to reduce craving as quickly as possible?
There are several things that you can do which will help you beat your cravings as quickly as possible.
- Get your intake of carbs down to 20g net each day or less on the first day of your keto diet, and stay at that level. Measure and track your carb intake, don’t guess. The sooner you’re fully fat adapted the fewer cravings you’ll experience.
- Make sure you’re eating all the fat you need. There is no need to go lower than your macros suggest for you. If you’re unsure of your macros use this keto diet calculator.
- Accept that you’re going to be in for a rough few days. The first week is always the worst. Find ways to distract yourself, go for a walk, talk with friends. Remind yourself that this stage will pass soon.
- Eat plenty of nutritionally dense foods, and experiment with new recipes. Make sure that any food you eat is not reduced fat.
- Check out these quick keto snacks. Plan ahead and have a few of these in your store cupboard for when a crave hits.
- Take a drink of water. Thirst is sometimes mistaken for hunger
- Think about how you’re feeling when a crave comes hard. Are you upset, bored or lonely? Try to think of ways that you can do something fun for yourself.
Cravings are at the very core of addictions, and once you have learned to over- ride your craving, you will be on your way to doing something about your addiction.
The less you give into cravings, the less you will activate the pleasure pathways in your brain.
Pathways that are not regularly used will fade, and the cravings will diminish with time.
It may be your gut bacteria that are causing or adding to your desire to eat sugar and carbs.
After a few weeks on a low carb diet, you will have changed your gut bacteria enough that this is no longer happening to you.
Even 24 hours on a low carb diet will begin to alter the balance of your gut bacteria.
Consider starting a keto diet, or a low carb eating plan.
The lack of carbs will balance your blood/glucose levels, and lessen the amount of times you feel hungry.
More stable levels of Insulin will also mean fewer cravings, and less hunger.
By eating more fat, you will also keep yourself full for longer and experience fewer times when you crave carbohydrates.
Ketosis will not only help you manage and reduce your cravings, it will also make you feel more relaxed and happy.
Remind yourself when you’re longing for carbs that you’re not deprived. You’re doing something that will have an amazing benefit for your health and your addiction.
You’re not being forced to do this, you have chosen to do this.
With some planning, knowledge and patience you can overcome your addiction and very probably improve your mood, self esteem and lose any extra weight you may have.
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