After almost 15 years in the holistic health business, and 10 years of learning and using the most cutting-edge techniques for overcoming self-sabotage and emotional eating, I still have food cravings. Surprised? Don’t be. No, I haven’t mastered a completely neutral relationship with food, but that’s okay. I never pretended I was completely free from food’s alluring call. I still believe it’s possible, and that I’ll probably get there eventually, but for those of us that started turning to food for comfort when we were still in our formative years, despite having incredibly powerful tools to re-wire the brain and change our biochemistry, it’s not something that most people just miraculously overcome. It can take A LOT of work.
I’ve helped tons of people lose weight, get their confidence back and become healthier and happier in the process. I feel better about my body than I’ve ever felt in my life, I’m strong, healthy and fit and I know I’m going to stay that way, yet those emotional foods like chocolate, candy and ice cream still call to me.
After all those years of searching, I have found a TON of tools to manage those siren songs. Now I can look at what’s going on in my life and recognize that when thoughts of food obtrusively enter my mind when I’m not hungry, it means I need something, something other than Haägen Dazs Peanut Butter ice cream.
I’ve been a curious observer of the things that drive me to reach for food, and the situations in which I truly feel neutral about food for years now, and I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon.
I’ve learned that one of the physical, biochemical causes for carbohydrate cravings is an imbalance in key brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. When a woman’s brain is low in the effects of dopamine, it can create an overwhelming urge to consume some carbohydrates ASAP!
Here’s where things get interesting; one of those times in my life when I felt completely neutral about food, meaning I couldn’t care if I never ate again, but I was blissfully happy, was when I was falling in love.
Author and love researcher Helen Fisher has noted that newly “love struck” couples have higher levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is correlated with reward, motivation, wanting and craving. Dopamine stimulates an intense rush of pleasure, similar to a hit of cocaine and also causes an increase in energy, less need for sleep or food and focused attention.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of” food is love”. It’s a common theme that comes up over and over again in my weight loss work and most people that have looked at the psychology of overeating have discovered the obvious connections we make between food and getting love. If you fall and scrape your knee and your mom gives you a cookie to make you feel better, you get the subliminal message that food represents mom’s caring and love. A mother breast-feeding her infant is another common situation that programs the food is love connection.
Now biochemistry is explaining that when have those carbohydrate cravings, we could, in a way, really be CRAVING LOVE! I know what you’re thinking; someone needs to figure out how to bottle love. Well, someone kind of already has. We can take supplements that are the building blocks of dopamine. One that I’ve been using and recommending for years is glutamine. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in our bodies and is used by the body to make dopamine. You can purchase pure glutamine powder at any health food store. When you’re taking it to raise dopamine levels you need 2000-3000mg per day on an empty stomach, or at least away from other protein sources. Try it first thing in the morning for at least three weeks and see if your cravings abate. It comes as a powder, of which 1 teaspoon will provide 5000mg (5g) or in capsule form. Consult your health care practitioner if you’re taking anti-depressants before introducing glutamine.
I should say, not everyone’s carbohydrate cravings are solved with a little glutamine, it really depends on your unique situation, but for some people it works very well, and a little extra glutamine doesn’t hurt, it’s also needed for immune cells and recovery from exercise.
If you’d rather not get your love from a bottle, I hear you, and you don’t have to. I’m convinced that cultivating our sense of self-love and also our connection to divine love is a very important piece of the puzzle to filling this “void” we all feel when we’re not madly in love with another human being. After all those rushes of dopamine are more likely in the new stages of love, when we move into a more comfortable connection phase, different brain chemicals are involved.
Try this, the next time you’re craving carbohydrates put your hand on your heart and say “I love you”. Don’t let the words be empty, if you can’t feel the love for yourself, imagine saying them to someone you truly love, or to the divine. The key is to feel love in that moment and increase your “love” neurotransmitters.
Keep in mind, you do need the basic raw ingredients in your diet so your body can make those neurotransmitters, so if you choose not to use glutamine, make sure you’re getting at least 60 grams per day of high-quality protein from your diet.