Friday, June 4, 2010

Break the Cravings Pattern with the Stop! Watch! Method

1. When a craving arises I ask my patients to set a stopwatch (which I provide) for fifteen minutes; during this time they are advised to drink a large glass of water and eat a protein snack. This allows their blood glucose to become normalized (if it had dropped) and, by "waiting out" the urge, they gain control. It sounds simple but it does work. We have all experienced this phenomenon: on the treadmill, when we want to stop with ten minutes to go and we just count down the minutes; when sitting in a boring lecture and we watch the minutes tick away until the time that the class is over; or even when we give children a "time out" when they are having a tantrum.
All of these situations have the same idea: holding on until a specific amount of time elapses. A stopwatch quantifies the time that a craving lasts. And for a dieter to know that there are only a few minutes left is enormously helpful!
2. Drink a big glass of water. Because our brain may misinterpret the signal for thirst as a signal for hunger, drinking water eliminates unrecognized thirst from the picture. You may just be thirsty, so go for the water first. Drinking a glass of water is filling and good for you, too.
3. Have a protein snack. If the snack that you chose is in the form of a high-tryptophan source, which include turkey and dairy products, then so much the better. L-tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that impacts satiety, mood, and cravings. Recall how relaxed you feel after having turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, or how soundly you slept after having a glass of milk prior to retiring. These effects are due to the calming action of serotonin. There is a potent class of antidepressants that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain (serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIS), and guess what they are used to treat? Binge-eating disorder! I am not implying that if you experience cravings you will develop, or you have, a binge-eating disorder. Binge eating is a recognized psychiatric diagnosis whereby an individual experiences a loss of control and consumes far more than a normal individual would eat within a given period of time. But it is interesting to note that serotonin is implicated in this disorder. By consuming food that can be converted to serotonin, we may be able to help ourselves resist the temptations of normal food cravings; at least, that is what my patients tell me.
Your snack should be a food that will benefit your body and that you find satisfying. By the latter, I mean there are times when you might want a food with a creamy consistency -- in such a case, low-fat yogurt is a great choice. At other times, you may desire a crunchy texture -- here I would suggest baby carrots or raw celery stalks. And don't forget to drink at least one 8-ounce glass of water; this assures that you are not misinterpreting the signal for thirst as a hunger signal.

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