Statistics show that a measly 5% of dieters are successful at keeping the weight off after a
two-year period. It's no wonder that so many North Americans are discouraged with the diet industry. Yet these are the
same people spending in excess of 60 billion dollars a year on diet products, and doing the same thing they've always done
yet expecting different results! Isn't this the definition of insanity? The fact remains that many do not understand
the true mechanisms involved in long term fat loss. Weight gain is a very complex issue and research shows that there
are numerous hormones, enzymes and brain chemicals in the human body that play a role in how much fat we store or burn.
majority of diets would probably succeed (at least to some degree) if we were able to stay satisfied on them long enough to
see the results. Many times when people make a commitment to lose the weight (the old, "this time I'm serious syndrome"),
its usually those insatiable cravings for the sweet, starchy and fatty foods that gets the best of them. So why do we seem
to always have the same cravings for the very foods that make us fat and keep us there? Because we usually follow the
most extreme method to weight loss. We forget that it took months and years to gain those unwanted pounds, and we want them
gone yesterday! We reduce our calories to the point of actually slowing our metabolism, we get rid of all the fat (forgetting
that the brain is 60% fat) and raise our fat converting carbohydrates through the roof or we get rid of the carbs all together.
When we take the "all or nothing approach" to dieting, we offset the intricate biochemical balance of the body and invariably
create cravings that cannot be ignored.
As it pertains to how your 30 billion fat cells behave, it's not always the
actual size of your meals that matter, but instead the size of your appetite does. Your body's ability to up regulate
fat storage may be directly linked to the degree to which you desire and crave foods rather than solely the degree to which
you consume them. Why? These insatiable cravings send false starvation signals to your body, switching it into
an extreme fat-storing mode. While in this state, your body will slow its metabolic rate and stop "burning" excess calories,
opting for stockpiling them for a perceived famine. This makes sense since we share the same genetic structures with
our prehistoric ancestors going back almost 40,000 years.
majority of our cravings are due to the extreme fluctuations in our blood sugar levels. The more high glycemic (simple sugars)
carbohydrates we consume (even when they are void of fat) like, grains, pastas, and even fruit juices, the more dramatic the
rise in our storage hormone insulin. High blood sugar levels and high insulin levels create a hypoglycemic (low blood
sugar) response due to the higher half-life of insulin, which tends to remain active even after blood sugar levels are lowered.
This initiates a craving response on the brain for sweet carbohydrate rich foods that are able to once again raise blood sugar
levels. This rise and fall of insulin and blood sugar also creates an enhanced environment conducive to fat storage
by preventing the metabolism of fats for energy, instead setting into play the usage of sugars and proteins as energy substrates.
Without a steady supply of high quality protein and essential fatty acids (omega:3 and omega:6), our bodies cannot deal with
the onslaught of these sugars as they are broken down into glucose (a simple sugar). Protein is responsible for boosting
your metabolism by stimulating the release of the hormone glucagon, which helps to balance blood sugar and stimulate the necessary
enzymes for fat burning.
is some evidence that certain cravings may reflect a primitive mechanism within the body, which uses appetite to a person
to foods containing the missing or needed elements. It is suggested that bizarre cravings for food combinations (i.e. ice
cream and pickles) may actually have a logical biological explanation once all the elements are considered. As the late
Dr. Lendon Smith, pointed out in his best selling book, "Feed Your Body Right," pregnancy cravings for foods like ice cream
may represent a need for extra calcium, while pickles would represent the need for acid to absorb the calcium.
know that chocolate is the most frequently craved of all the foods, especially during a woman's menstrual cycle. This
may be in part due to a magnesium deficiency, as treatment with magnesium has been shown to reduce chocolate cravings.
Another important nutrient is the trace mineral chromium, which is essential in normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.
Chromium deficiency can lead to elevated insulin levels, which then create a low blood sugar environment, creating the need
for more sugar. The interesting thing is that most of our soils are depleted in this essential element causing a possible
deficiency in the major population. Many excessive sugar eaters (i.e. processed food) lose a tremendous amount of chromium
through the urine as a by-product of metabolizing the sugar.
Another mineral essential in insulin integrity is manganese.
When manganese is deficient in the diet the result is abnormal insulin production producing impaired carbohydrate metabolism.
Sugars in the body also act like a vacuum for B Vitamins. And without the B vitamins, your body cannot produce efficient
energy or manufacture the necessary neurochemicals for proper brain functions (one of the reasons B vitamins are so important
in alleviating some depressive states). Which brings us to our final reason for cravings.
Brain Chemical Imbalances:
Our bodies have a remarkable way of self-medicating
themselves. When we are feeling down, depressed or stressed out we instantly reach for the sweetest foods we can find.
One of the reasons for this, is because through sugars we are able to increase insulin levels, and by elevating insulin, we
are able to raise certain levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (chemicals that relay messages from one neuron
to the next) that culminate in a sigh of relief. Unfortunately this escapade quickly dissipates and the brain calls
out for more sugary medication. In this case the medication would come from the neurotransmitter serotonin which balances
our moods by creating feelings of calmness and satiety to the rest of the body. Out of 40 known neurotransmitters,
serotonin is the most important in terms of appetite and sleep. Balanced serotonin levels are important
in any fat-loss program because they provide a calming and appetite suppressing action, which allows you to feel
satisfied without needing to cheat. When serotonin levels rise, we are greeted with instant gratification in the reward
centers of the brain. Serotonin levels decline throughout the day and are replenished during the sleep phase.
Many people who have sleep difficulties also have serotonin deficiencies. This would also account for why people who
consistently stay up late tend to binge eat the most. Serotonin levels are also quickly depleted during times of stress.
And with the stressful lives we subject ourselves to day in and day out, it is not hard to imagine our serotonin tanks are
running on half empty at most times.
As mentioned earlier, serotonin levels are increased in response to high carbohydrate
foods, especially those that break down into sugars rapidly, but why? Because blood sugar raises the hormone insulin
and insulin creates an easy access to the main building block of serotonin- the amino acid tryptophan.
proteins prevent tryptophan from entering the brain. In fact, tryptophan, which occurs in smaller amounts than all the
other amino acids in protein (we consume about a gram or two each day), is actually bullied out of the way as it competed
for passage into the brain. When you raise insulin in response to incoming sugars (carbohydrates), the insulin lowers
the blood sugar along with all the amino acids in the blood except one-tryptophan. This elimination of the competition
allows tryptophan to pass through the blood/ brain barrier and induce a feeling of calmness and satietybut only for a short
while. Within an hour or two, your brain is once again screaming for its carbohydrate fix.
by consuming a proper balance of the three macronutrients, protein, essential fatty acids and low-glycemic carbohydrates at
regular intervals throughout the day (eating every 2 ½ - 3 hrs.) you can stabilize blood sugar levels and create a proper
balance between insulin and glucagon. This is why the all or nothing scenario never works for long. It always
offsets the homeostasis (balance) of the body and cravings ensue. For added health insurance, you can also supplement
your diet with a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement making sure it has adequate levels of the B vitamins, vitamin
C and minerals such as magnesium, chromium, manganese and zinc. For extra craving control there are also natural herbs
such as griffonia and rhodiola rosea that can help to balance the neurotransmitters. But remember when it comes to effective
long-term fat loss without the subsequent cravings, balance will always win the Fat Wars.
Brad J. King
Brad King is a performance nutrition researcher from Victoria, BC. He
holds a master's degree in nutritional science and is certified as a master of fitness science by the International Sports
Sciences Association. Brad is the author of the international bestseller Fat Wars: 45 Days To Transform Your Body as well
as the national bestseller Bio-Age: 10 Steps To A Younger You