—- In today’s blog I answer a question about how to control those crazy cravings that often show up at night, and I share one of my personal keys to eating healthy. If you have a question that you’d like me to answer in a future blog, send it in by leaving me a comment. I hope you’re enjoying a healthy day! (Please tell me you’ve already got in your workout for the day or you’re planning to do it later. =) ~Bill—-
Question: Bill, I need help with my eating habits. I’ve been unable to overcome cravings for junk food at night. Each day I promise myself I’m not going to binge or overeat. But I end up blowing it on most days which is so frustrating. How can I get away from my cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods?
Answer: This is a question which deserves a complete answer, so here it is…
First of all, it’s important to remember, especially during the first month of making a change, that our bodies crave what they’re used to, not necessarily what they need. And this is how eating patterns work. Very often, these patterns go back years, even decades; they are well engrained within our “neural network” (brain circuitry), and it does take some time before we can re-wire the system.
“Our bodies crave what they’re used to, not necessarily what they need.”
Re-aligning our biological or neural pathways is one of the most powerful things people experience when they go through the transformation process. And it happens, of course, whether you know about it or not. I believe that being consciously aware of the process can be an advantage, especially in terms of “relapse prevention.” In this context, I’ll say relapse is completely falling back into old and unhealthy eating habits.
Think of it this way – the old circuitry in our brains is like a dry river bed. It’s always there, and as long as you’re consciously diverting the energy flow in a new direction, it’ll remain inactive. However, if we drift back into our old style of thinking, coping and behaving, slowly but surely, it’ll eventually get to a point where it’s like a damn bursts and the energy of those past patterns and it’s like water gushing through the river bed again. When this happens, the pull of those cravings and thoughts may even be stronger than they were before. Anyone who’s yo-yo dieted, losing weight for a few months, only to fall back into unhealthy eating habits, and subsequently gaining all the weight back and more, has first-hand experience of this.
The good news is, there’s a solution and a sustainable one at that. A big part of it is being informed and armed with knowledge; you’re working on that right now by reading this blog. Another aspect of the solution is to complete the ‘Healthy Spaces Makeover’ I talked about in my blog a few days ago. And now, I want to tell you about something else that helps me control my cravings and it doesn’t have to do with any diet; it’s all about how intense workouts can help transform the brain and calm those crazy cravings.
“The more intensely I exercise, the more I feel like eating right.
The more I eat right, the more I feel like exercising intensely.”
When I work with people who are seemingly stuck in any unhealthy pattern, one of my first recommendations is to get moving with high-intensity interval training. An example of this type of exercise would be climbing up a steep trail for 1 minute, then walking down, then climbing back up, walking down, then climbing again, completing about 5 intervals. The 20-Minute Aerobic Solution which I featured years ago in Body-for-LIFE is another highly effective interval training method. And my new 5-25 workouts (where I teach both intense interval aerobics and intense interval weight lifting) featured in my blog last week are based on the latest, greatest exercise research findings. (5-25 workouts are absolutely more effective for me, in terms of mind and body benefits, than any other exercise method I’ve ever tried!)
Intense, interval training has been scientifically shown to double, even triple, the amount of fat the body burns, compared to longer duration (an hour or more) of moderate intensity exercise. It does this by boosting mitochondria size and number within cells and that can dramatically increase the oxidation and metabolism of stored bodyfat for many hours after your workout is over. That means the “calories burned” reading on exercise equipment is very under reported. What we really want is to burn more fat calories all day not just while we are doing our workout.
Another one of the powerful benefits of intense interval training is that is releases healthy amounts of neurotransmitters called catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine), which satisfy the primary reward centers of the brain, boost energy and further accelerate fat loss. These reward centers all too often become chemically depleted by our modern way of life (inactivity, high stress levels, all work no play lifestyles). When neurotransmitter levels burn out, it can make us vulnerable to bad habits like binge eating.
More good news: Intense training also increases endorphin and serotonin levels (which make the brain happy); so much so, that over a period of a few months, it is more effective in treating depression than the most widely prescribed (212 million prescriptions written last year) anti-depressant drugs. And what do you know, the intense exercise no side effects which can’t be said for the prescription drugs.
“It is what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that shapes us.”
Moderate exercise like a good steady three-mile walk doesn’t completely produce this profound cascade of feel-good neurotransmitters — it doesn’t produce the level of new energy and healing like the high intensity work does. I can tell you from direct experience that the days I get in 25 minutes of intense training are by far and away my most productive, energetic days. They’re also the days when I just naturally, without much effort, feed my body the right way. After my workout, there’s nothing I crave more than a protein and vitamin-rich nutrition shake. And 2-3 hours after that, I’m craving a healthy meal, not junk food. And that’s a good sign. In fact, my intense interval workouts put me in a completely different state of mind. On the days when I don’t workout intensely, well… it requires much more conscious effort to eat healthy and stay on top of my game and in line with my plan.
All that being said, sometimes even I give in and overeat at dinner or late at night. Remember this: It’s all about progress not perfection! Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip now and then. It is what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that shapes us when it comes to nutrition and eating right.
So here’s my recommendation: If you want to flip the switch from an unhealthy to a healthy appetite and enjoy all the benefits which come with that, be sure to incorporate high-intensity interval training into your body and life transformation work. It will help you break free from old patterns and crazy cravings. It will also help you create new ones. And that, in turn, will help you enjoy improved results that you can sustain for a long, long time.