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Deconstructing Cravings: Part one

So many times we have great intentions for cleaning up our diet and we know WHAT to do, but we don’t follow through and do it.

If only it were as easy as setting the intention. (And if only our mind and bellies always agreed!)

Let's look at the three major reasons that we crave particular foods, starting with addiction.



There are very real addictive properties to some of the food we eat. One of the most powerful is sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Eating foods sweetened with either of these has the same affect on our brain as a drug- and just a small taste leaves us wanting more! In fact, sugar has been shown to be twice as addictive as cocaine.

If you’ve ever tried to quit sugar cold turkey, you may have experienced withdrawal symptoms- headaches, moodiness, fatigue, etc. But giving it up is one of the best ways to get your cravings back under control if you believe you are addicted. (And my sugar detoxers can attest to the fact that it gets easier with each round!)

There are other foods that have addictive properties as well- many processed foods are packed with preservatives that are addicting. Carbohydrates create a high with the release of dopamine. Fat coupled with either salt or sugar (think chips or donuts) is a double whammy as fat is another extremely pleasurable food. The casein in cheese can be addictive as it releases casomorphins that can have an opiate effect.


Michael Moss wrote the book Salt Sugar Fat, in which he dissects the $1 trillion processed food industry. Sugar, salt and fat are the top three substances making processed foods so addictive. In a Time Magazine interview discussing his book, Moss says:

“One of the things that really surprised me was how concerted and targeted the effort is by food companies to hit the magical formulation. Take sugar for example. The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the ‘bliss point.’ Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon, and send products flying off the shelves. It is the process they’ve engineered that struck me as really stunning.

When it came to fat, it was the amazing role of what the industry calls the ‘mouth feel.’ That’s the warm, gooey taste of cheese, or the bite into a crisp fried chicken that you get. It rushes right to the same pleasure centers of the brain that sugar does…

When it comes to salt, what was really staggering to me is that the industry itself is totally hooked on salt. It is this miracle ingredient that solves all of their problems. There is the flavor burst to the salt itself, but it also serves as a preservative so foods can stay on the shelves for months. It also masks a lot of the off-notes in flavors that are inherent to processed foods.”

A little disconcerting, isn’t it?

Be a little kinder to yourself- sometimes food cravings are much more complicated that simply a lack of willpower. I’ll discuss the other major reasons for our food cravings in follow up posts.

Do you think you might have an addiction to any of the foods listed above? Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms from trying to break a sugar habit?

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