One subject that comes up a lot around here is how to deal with cravings. For our podcast series, I recently spoke to the Cravings Whisperer, Alexandra Jamieson. She’s a best-selling author, as well as a holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach. She offers remarkably sane advice on how to detox, live healthfully and feel fantastic.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation…
Steve: At RealDose, we have a lot of folks who are battling how to lose weight and get healthy. Cravings are consistently on the top of the list of things they’d like to know about, so I was really excited to be able to talk to you. This is your passion and one of your deep areas of expertise. Let’s start with just the basic definition: What is a craving?
Alex: A craving is really anything that you want, that you desire, that you go for. You have a pull to get it. It can be anything from a food or drink, to an I’m craving connection or I’m craving friends right now. I’m craving some kind of physical state of being.
Steve: So it doesn’t have to be food?
Alex: No. It’s really mostly beyond the food. My early life history was craving sugar, but now I can see that a craving for sugar was really a craving for happiness. Most of the time we’re craving foods that get us to a desired state of being, whether it be to relaxation, to get more energy or to gain more productivity.
A lot of our cravings are really habits that are built into the brain, into the gray matter. It’s a 3-part system. You have a trigger, you take an action, and that gets you a reward. It’s trigger, action, reward.
For most of us, that action piece is a food. The reward that you seek, the reward, the state of being that you really crave is, again, usually relaxation, comfort.
Steve: Or to come back to connection, you want to connect to someone.
Alex: Yes. Connection, intimacy.
Steve: So how do we avoid cravings? Or turn them into something healthy?
Alex: I take it into the place of habit transformation. First you need to figure out, how did those habits work in your life? A habit forms in your brain because you take the same path over and over again to get to that reward. Your brain builds it into your gray matter, a little path. It’s like if you are wheeling a wheelbarrow down the same path over and over again, it creates a groove, and then your brain just likes to do that same thing over and over and over again.
A lot of our food cravings are just a habit that helps us feel relaxed — and most of us are super, super stressed out.
Steve: Can these habits ever be eliminated?
Alex: In order to change it, you need to change the action part of the habit. You’re still going to get triggered every day, and you’re still going to seek that reward, that desired state of being, that relaxed, happy place. The trick is to transform the action in the middle to be more well-being oriented.
So, for example, when you’re stressed at work and you normally go for the chocolate chip cookie, transform the action. Do you need to take a break? Do you need to get away from your desk and go move around? Get up. Move.
Do you need that connection that we were talking about? Grab a friend and go for a walk around the building. Do you need a timeout? At my desk, I have all these little bottles of essential oils: sandalwood, bergamot, lavender. They all have a beneficial aromatherapy action on the body that your body is looking for sensory release, sensory relaxation. We forget that we have other senses besides our tongue. The nose is powerful, and if you surround yourself with delicious, sweet scents, then your body gets that relaxation. You transform the action to get the same reward.
Steve: I think some of our customers are thinking, That all sounds well and good, but when I have a craving for something sweet, I don’t want to smell oils. I want to eat something, right?
Steve: Maybe can they eat something that’s almost as satisfying? I have raw cashews and raw almonds and pecans. It’s not the same satisfaction as a chocolate bar, but it gets me 80% of the way there.
Alex: Right. I surround myself with delicious food all the time — because sugar is still my No. 1 craving, and hey, your cravings may never go away completely. It’s about learning to master them, so that you feel in control and that you can still enjoy the amazing foods that this life has to offer.
I hope you enjoyed my chat with Alex. Let me know your thoughts and questions by commenting below.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
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