Understanding how our brains work is key in a world where many are anxious, depressed, and tempted with delicious junk food. According to neuroscientists and psychologists, unlike hunger, cravings are typically psychological and not physiological.
Brain imaging studies have shown that foods high in sugar can not only trigger a euphoric feeling, but overeating sugar can alter our brain’s reward system, thus resulting in sugar addiction. To understand this, let’s take a look at your brain’s reward system. It is in charge of cravings and the ability to resist them. This brain circuitry consists of a group of neurons responsible for incentive such as motivation or desire. It is also associated with learning and positive emotions.
Dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone plays an important role in the reward system. Dopamine is associated with pleasurable sensations and joy that pushes us towards doing something. It boosts mood and promotes happiness. Low dopamine increases sweet and fatty cravings, such as chocolate (which contains tyramine, a compound that increases dopamine). Most diets fail because of this. We feel tired, anxious or depressed and our brain urges us to increase our dopamine levels.
Now that we understand how the reward system works, let’s see 5 psychology hacks that will make your weight loss journey easier:
1. Out Of Sight Out Of Mind
Everywhere we go, we see adverts for food with lots of added sugar, you go out the street BOOM: Burger and fries ad!
Open Instagram: BOOM pizza photo!
Turn on the tv: BOOM baking show!
This constant bombardment of advertising significantly affects the brain’s capacity to crave healthy foods instead of ultra-processed foods. And no joke, why wouldn’t your brain crave junk food? It’s filled with sugar and fats, your brain is designed to survive and, even if it needs healthy foods, it knows that cookies have more calories to keep it running. On top of that, high-sugar and high-fat foods not
only taste great to the palate, they also boost feel-good hormones. Since we can’t reduce the stimulus of donuts these days, we can turn to other strategies instead: Such as not bringing junk food to our home. Avoid getting ultra-processed foods. Try to aim at 80% wholesome and nutritious foods. Fill your fridge with fruit and veggies, lean meats (or if you’re vegan, grains). Fill your pantry with cereals and whole grain produce. If you want to include tasty and healthy alternatives. Get creative in the kitchen! There are so many good recipes in the Tone & Sculpt app! I personally love the 3 ingredient brownies and the nice cream!
2. Make Healthy Look Instagramable
I know, it sounds strange, but listen… Studies have shown that an attractive plate makes for a tastier one. This is something gourmet restaurants have studied to the teeth! Ever wondered why mommas make funny faces in their kids’ meals?
A study led by Charles Spence, at Oxford University, has proven that a good looking meal tastes better too. But, why? Eating is a sensuous experience. How food looks, smells, and tastes is important. All these things affect how you perceive your meal. Ultimately, if you go to Instagram and run a quick search on either food porn or gourmet food you’ll notice that both look colorful. Your brain associates the variety of colours with a variety of micronutrients. So, the more veggies the better, eat the rainbow!
3. Do Something More Productive
Are you really hungry or simply craving chocolate out of boredom? Really ask yourself this question. Try to become more in tune with your body and your hunger signals. Is this hunger? Is this a craving? Are you lacking nutrients? Have you worked out too much? Have you worked or studied too much? Exercise and brain work can be really exhausting. Your brain, which is only 3 pounds on average, takes about 20% of your energy. So, don’t be surprised if you are craving some energy when you are studying for your finals. If this is not the case and you’re simply bored, go for a walk, call a friend, or simply do something else that catches your attention! You could even journal or read a book, you’d be surprised how many books you can read by the end of the year only to take your mind off your cravings!
4. Transform Your Environment
Marie Kondo has changed my life, I’m not kidding you! When I started reducing the amount of belongings I had, I realized that living in a more minimalist space cleared my thoughts. This had a huge impact on my focus. According to the scientific literature, your
brain has limited choice making. Since the clothes, you put on in the morning to breakfast, whether to walk or take the bus, etc… This takes energy and the more decisions you make throughout the day, the harder it gets. Less is better. Minimize your choices by rearranging your surroundings.
5. Address The Root Cause - Don’t Cut Too Much
Hunger and cravings can be due to a lack of nutrients that can cause certain cravings. This is why it is so important you eat various proper meals throughout the day. This way, your body can get the nutrients it needs to keep you up and running. Thus,you won’t be craving as much because your blood sugar levels will be stabilized. Make sure to eat whole foods, such as fruits, nuts, or vegetables and be patient! Your body will thank you in time.
Guest Blogger Profile:
I am Mechi, a 28-year-old fitness enthusiast from Argentina. I fell in love with the healthy lifestyle 4 years ago after going through the worst moment of my life: Losing my father and my best friend.
I was overweight and in terrible shape. I smoked and couldn’t even walk up the stairs without feeling pain and agitated. I suffered from knee problems that would lead to getting a fake knee: But fitness saved my life, my knee, and most importantly, my mental health. After losing 30 kg (66 lbs) through strength training, a healthy diet (I love cooking), and the help of neuroscience & behavioural psychology which helped me build the discipline to stick to my meal and workout plans long enough to see real results.
I not only realised I changed my body completely, but the way I saw the world: My mindset shifted 360º from being a negative person with a victim mentality to becoming a strong, independent woman that sticks to her words and plans and that is completely positive about life.