Dear JJ: I always start the day with good intentions, but someone will bring fresh-baked cookies or whatever into the office and inevitably, I succumb. Or I will go to a dinner party and give in to dessert after eating healthy. How can I curb those cravings when they unexpectedly pop up?
While difficult to tame, knowing what kind of cravings you're dealing with could be the key that finally helps you break free of your sugar addiction.
Cravings could be part of your unique genetic wiring. If you've got a sweet tooth, you know it. Just one change to a single gene could explain why you break into a sweat trying to resist dessert, while your friend could care less about the hot lava cake topped with whipped cream.
The other major cause of cravings comes from eating high-sugar impact foods, which provide quick energy ﬁxes but ultimately trigger a vicious cycle of cravings for the very foods that create cravings.
These two sources of cravings may seem pretty far apart -- one you inherit and one you create -- but your body responds to both the same way. The insulin spikes and blood sugar dips that come on the heels of eating sugar make you a metabolic rag doll, with your hormones and defense system being thrown all over the place, at the mercy of whatever you've eaten, and how much.
You know the inevitable outcome. "Some nights, chocolate calls from the cupboard," writes Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. "A tractor beam emanates from the cookie jar. Our cravings drive us, whether for love, money, power, fame or simply those sea salt caramels."
Cravings can become tricky, but I've found these seven strategies can dial them down so an 11 p.m. brownie batter hankering doesn't become a full-blown dietary disaster.
1. Keep the enemy out of the house. We all have one: An unhealthy food that creates a downward spiral into overeating, or a healthy food that becomes unhealthy because we overeat it. Mine falls into the latter category: almond butter. A few spoons become... Well, more than a few spoons. Keep that food outside your range and you've eliminated one serious potential dietary debacle.
2. Make breakfast a protein shake. Devour a high-sugar impact muffin for breakfast and you've set a slippery slope into hunger, cravings, and overeating. My No. 1 needle mover for fast, lasting fat loss -- a protein shake -- keeps you full for hours and takes less time to make than placing your coffee shop order. Blend non-soy, non-dairy protein powder with frozen raspberries, avocado, leafy greens, freshly ground flax seed, and unsweetened coconut or almond milk. Easy and done.
3. Stabilize with the right foods. "Blood sugar highs and lows drive primitive food cravings," writes Dr. Mark Hyman. "If you get famished between meals, that's a sign that your blood sugar is crashing." Create steady all-day blood sugar and energy levels with clean, lean protein, healthy fats, tons of leafy and cruciferous veggies, and slow-release high-fiber carbs.
4. Eat by the clock. Meal timing becomes crucial to stabilize your appetite and reduce cravings. Have a protein shake within an hour of waking up, since breakfast sets your day's metabolic tone. You'll then eat by my perfect plate formula every four to six hours and stop eating three hours before bed. Skipping meals, spacing meals too far apart, or otherwise erratically pacing meals practically becomes an invitation to go face down in the molten lava chocolate cake.
5. Write it down. One groundbreaking study found people who wrote everything down lost twice as much weight as those who didn't. If a supplement made that claim, you would be all over it. Let's say at 4 p.m. you have this crazy craving. You can back and go, "What did I do at lunch? Did I blow it at lunch? Did I stick with the plate?" Writing down everything can pinpoint where hunger and cravings evolve.
6. Incorporate lateral shifts. Deprivation only exacerbates cravings. Instead of abstaining, make lateral shifts or healthier alternatives for your favorite foods. If you love white potatoes, sub faux-tatoes (steamed mashed cauliflower with salt and ghee or grass-fed butter). If your coworker's hot walnut brownies become irresistible, keep a little "emergency" dark chocolate nearby. Be creative and any food becomes a lateral-shift opportunity.
7. Follow my three-bite rule. If you're practically contractually obligated to sample your aunt's chocolate-pecan chess pie, do your meals correctly and then enjoy three polite bites -- we're talking what you would eat on national TV, not alone in your kitchen -- and step away from the pie. If you have gluten or other food intolerances, even those few bites could create reactions, so proceed accordingly.
Even with these seven strategies, curbing cravings can become a Herculean battle. That's where I need your help. What one tip would you add to this list? Share yours below. And keep those great questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.