Archive for General

Putting the future on sale: The economics of instant gratification

We humans have all sorts of mental tricks for convincing ourselves that the time to resist temptation is tomorrow and so we of the gigantic prefrontal cortices find ourselves giving in again and again to immediate gratification.

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Many of our problems with temptation and procrastination come back to one uniquely human problem; how we think about the future. This trait can get our present selves into trouble. The problem is that we cannot see the future clearly enough.

When people deprive themselves of what they really want for the fleeting satisfaction of a quick fix; economists refer to this as “delay discounting”. The longer you have to wait for a reward, the less it is worth to you; even small delays can dramatically lower the perceived value.

In a research experiment with college students, they were given the choice of having two sweets now or six sweets in two minutes. The majority of them (80%) chose to have the sweets immediately i.e. two sweets rendering the six sweets worth less. The value of each sweet shrank as it became more distant.

Delay discounting explains not just why some college kids took two sweets instead of six, but why we choose immediate satisfaction at the cost of future happiness. We take what we want when we want it (now) and we put off until tomorrow whatever we don’t want to face today.

The students were not bad at arithmetic; they were blinded by the “promise of reward”, which behavioural economists call “bounded rationality”; we are rational until we are not. We will be perfectly rational when everything is in theory, but when the temptation is real, the brain shifts into reward seeking mode to make sure we don’t miss out. This type of reversal is behind most failures of self-control. We all prefer the short term, immediate reward when it is right there, staring us in the face and the want becomes overwhelming. This leads to “bounded willpower”, which means we have self-control until we need it.

One reason we are so susceptible to immediate gratification is that our brains’ reward system did not evolve to respond to future rewards. Food was the reward system’s original target, which is why humans are still exceptionally responsive to the smell or sight of anything delicious. When dopamine was first perfecting its effects on the human brain, a reward which was far off, whether by 60 miles or 60 days was irrelevant to daily survival. The system we needed was the one that ensured we snapped up rewards when they were available. At most, we needed the motivation to pursue a near reward like fruit you had to climb a tree for or cross a river to get your hungry hands on; this is our primal survival mechanism in action.

When our modern selves contemplate immediate versus future rewards, the brain processes these two options very differently. The immediate reward triggers the older, more primitive reward system and its dopamine induced desire in contrast to future rewards that don’t interest this reward system so much; their value is encoded by the more recently evolved prefrontal cortex.

To delay gratification, the prefrontal cortex has to cool off the promise of reward. It’s not an impossible feat; after all, that’s what the prefrontal cortex is there for.

Although it is not easy, the good news is, temptation has a narrow window of opportunity. To really overwhelm our prefrontal cortex, the reward must be available now and for maximum effect, you need to see it. As soon as there is any distance between you and the temptation, the balance of power shifts back to the brain’s system of self-control.

Take for example, the students whose self-control collapsed at the sight of two sweets. In another version of the study, experimenters asked them to make the choice without putting the rewards on the table. This time, they were much more likely to choose the larger, delayed reward. Not being able to see the reward made it more abstract and less exciting. This helped the students make a rational choice based on mental calculations, not primal feelings.

This is good news for those who want to delay gratification. Anything you can do to create that distance will make it easier to say no. For example, one study found that just putting a sweet jar inside a desk drawer instead of on top of the desk reduced office workers’ sweet consumption by one third. By putting the sweets away, the constant stimulation of desire is being reduced.

Willpower experiment: wait ten minutes

Ten minutes might not seem like much time to wait for something you want, but neuroscientists have discovered that it makes a big difference in how the brain processes a reward. When immediate gratification comes with a mandatory ten minute delay, the brain treats it like a future reward. The “promise of reward” system is less activated, taking away the powerful biological impulse to choose immediate gratification. When the brain compares a biscuit you have to wait ten minutes for, to a longer term reward, like losing weight, it no longer shows the same lopsided bias toward the sooner reward. It’s the “immediate” in immediate gratification that hijacks your brain and reverses your preferences.

For a cooler, wiser brain, institute a mandatory ten minute wait for any temptation. If, in ten minutes, you still want it (e.g. the doughnut), you can have it. But before the ten minutes are up, bring to mind the competing long term reward (e.g. weight control and better health), that will come with resisting temptation. If possible, create some physical or visual distance as well.

Why is delaying gratification so important?

We may all have been born with the capacity for willpower, allowing us to delay gratification, but some of us use it more than others. People who have better control of their attention, emotions and actions are better off any way you look at it. They are happier and healthier, their relationships are more satisfying and last longer, they make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict and overcome adversity and they even live longer.

The “want it now” culture is at the root of most, if not all societal ills including; excess debt, poor health including obesity, alcoholism, gambling, divorce, depression, anxiety,elevated stress levels and unfulfillment in life and work.

Delaying gratification even enhances the ability of an individual to create wealth for themselves through entrepreneurship.

 

Dopamine: The false promise of reward

 

The neurotransmitter or brain chemical, dopamine is responsible for most societal ills in capitalist countries. If you read about “dopamine and the false promise of reward”, you will start to appreciate how futile the quest for pleasure, happiness and satisfaction through the constant pursuit of rewards really is, and the fact that they are not entirely connected.
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In fact the brain is not actually that interested in happiness; it is more interested in preserving our primal survival instincts like passing on our genes, climbing that tree for the nuts or fruits, hunting that animal for meat, fishing for that fish and taking on extra calories when the opportunity presents itself as extra insurance against famine or shortage.

Dopamine not only makes up part of our drive to survive and excel, but part of our reward system in the brain. Therefore in a cruel sort of way, the brain uses the “carrot and stick” approach to achieve its primary objective i.e. survival of the species.

We mistake the “promise of reward” for happiness
We mistake the experience of wanting for a guarantee of happiness and we are prepared to work and even suffer e.g. debt, for what we want as evidence that the object of desire must make us happy. We humans find it nearly impossible to distinguish the “promise of reward” from whatever pleasure or payoff we are seeking.

The “promise of reward” is so powerful that we continue to pursue things that don’t make us happy and consume things that bring us more misery than satisfaction.

This evolutionary survival mechanism worked effectively for our primal ancestors, but unfortunately it has found its way into our modern day living, where we are tempted with all the modern day convenience including online shopping, gambling, on demand sex and drugs, 24 hour supermarkets, fast food outlets and specifically engineered processed foods with the optimum combination of salt, sugar, bad fats and chemical additives to highjack the reward circuit in our brains.

Of course we can experience pleasure and satisfaction, which contributes to happiness, but only when we consume in moderation and adopt meaningful lifestyles. This is the “carrot and stick approach” the brain uses to keep you getting out of bed in the morning. However when you exceed the brain’s “pleasure budget”, the quest for happiness backfires.

I only learned this two years ago when I started doing research for my fat loss book and there is not a better example of this relationship between dopamine, the false promise of reward and happiness, than with food.

The obesity crisis is linked to this relationship and is exacerbated by the fact that there is so much choice and temptation, which has allowed this primal survival instinct to be responsible for an unhealthy relationship with food, including overeating and eating things that are not real foods.

Unfortunately these “foods”, which were never intended to be consumed by humans, hijack the reward circuit in the brain, flooding our systems with dopamine giving us that euphoric feeling, which we also get from many other modern day temptations such as gambling, drugs, shopping, alcohol, sex, collecting material goods.

The only problem is that it is short lived. Why? Because with every messenger chemical e.g. dopamine, insulin, leptin, serotonin, there is a receptor waiting to pick up the message or command. However when that chemical is circulating in high amounts, the corresponding receptor, in our case dopamine down regulates (reduces in density and functionality or becomes resistant to the signal) because it is being bombarded by excess dopamine from the excess stimulant (food, drugs, shopping, etc).

The result of this is that the “high” is never the same as the first few times you consume something in high quantities or with regularity and hence you get the “false promise of reward”. It never delivers the same hit and so you are constantly looking to increase the consumption to experience that initial euphoric feeling.

Just ask the alcoholic or cocaine addict who constantly chases the “high”; it becomes elusive with regularity and excess because the dopamine receptors have down regulated or became resistant to the signal.

Has evolution given us any tools to cope with the endless choice and temptation?
As a matter of fact, yes we have a chunk of brain at the front of the head (see diagram above) called the pre-frontal or frontal cortex (in blue), which has developed over time to help us adapt to the challenges of modern living.

This includes the ability to exercise willpower when we need to make important decisions that will prevent us from harm or help us stay on the path to reach our long term goals; for example, resist that chocolate cake in order to lose the excess fat and live a healthier, happier and longer life.

This part of you recognises that the cake threatens your long term goals and so it will do whatever it can to deal with this threat by helping to control intense emotions and impulses. This is your willpower instinct.

The problem is modern day stimuli like alcohol, drugs, stress, sleep deprivation actually impair this sensitive part of the brain to the extent where it mimics actual brain damage, albeit temporary. This can impair our ability to think rationally and make the correct decisions to reach our long term goals.

The paradox of reward
There is nothing wrong with desire until we mistake the wanting for happiness. A life without wants may not require as much self-control, but it’s also a life not worth living.

The “promise of reward” doesn’t guarantee happiness, but no “promise of reward” guarantees unhappiness; listen to the “promise of reward” and we give in to temptation.

Without the “promise of reward”, we have no motivation. To this dilemma, there is no easy answer. It’s clear that we need the “promise of reward” to keep us interested and engaged in life. If we are lucky, our reward systems won’t stop serving us in this way, but hopefully they won’t turn against us either. We live in a world of technology, advertising and 24 hour opportunities that leave us always wanting and rarely satisfied.

If we are to have any self-control, we need to separate the real rewards that give our lives meaning from the false rewards that keep us distracted and addicted. Learning to make this distinction may be the best we can do. This isn’t always easy, but understanding what’s happening in the brain can make it a little easier and we may find just enough clarity in moments of temptation to not believe the brain’s “big lie”.

Desire is the brain’s strategy for action. As we have seen, it can be both a threat to self-control and a source of willpower. When dopamine points us to temptation, we must distinguish wanting from happiness. In the end, desire is neither good nor bad; what matters is where we let it point us and whether we have the wisdom to know when to follow.

Final thoughts
Big business, including retailers and advertisers know all this and go to great efforts to trigger the “promise of reward”. Knowing that cues have been carefully chosen to tempt you can help you see them for what they are and resist them.

In summation, the only way to achieve a stable level happiness is to balance the amount of dopamine and dopamine receptors, which can only be achieved by a combination of strategies.

These strategies include proper diet (limiting sugars and grains, eating good fats, meats, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and minimising processed junk foods), intermittent fasting, proper exercise (high intensity), proper sleep, stress management, meditation, the pursuit of interests, hobbies and meaningful relationships with friends, family and spirituality. This ensures a balance of dopamine and optimum functioning of dopamine receptors in concert with other hormones and neurotransmitters, which is what the body strives for, aka homeostasis.

It’s that simple! But why don’t Governments teach this in schools? We know the answer to that and that is there would be no mass consumerism/consumption or at least not to the same extent or scale.

If you like the article, fee free to share it with friends.

References
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/addiction-pay-attention
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201105/dopamine-primer
http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-the-prefrontal-cortex.htm
“Maximum Willpower” by Kelley McGonigle

Controlling Your Urges: What’s the Best Way?

Controlling our urges or cravings is not easy when we are being constantly being hijacked from all angles in our day to day lives, especially with the over abundance of food and food outlets.

There are various psychological techniques for exercising self-control in order to deal with all the temptations that face us on a daily basis be it food or any other vice. However they are temporary at best and will not solve your problems on a long term basis; that is achieved more with a change in key lifestyle factors.

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What leaves us vulnerable to these daily temptations?
Many factors contribute to this vulnerability including; sleep deprivation, excess stress, excess alcohol consumption (drunkenness), anxiety and depression.

Why does this happen?
A small chunk of brain in the front of the head called the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for our conscious and rational thinking, including impulse control. When you are subjected to the aforementioned scenarios, the body is drained of energy, which the brain requires huge amounts of in order to be able to make the right choices; suffice to say our self-control or impulse control goes out the window. In essence the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain has temporarily been impaired, in turn robbing you of the ability to think rationally when it comes to your long term goals like weight loss or weight control.

Are there any exercises or techniques we can practice?
Although psychological techniques can be very limited in dealing with impulsive moments or urges e.g. to scoff that chocolate cake, there is a physiological or biological component to controlling these urges, which may prove more fruitful at least until you sort out the key lifestyle factors.

This component is something called heart rate variability, which measures the variation in the time interval between heartbeats; a measurement most people have never heard of, but one that provides an accurate look into the body’s state of stress or calm. Heart rate variability is such a good indicator of self-control that you can use it to predict who will resist urges and who will cave in.

Recent studies [1] demonstrate that people with higher heart rate variability have an inner strength and show extra effort in working at and completing tasks even in the face of negativity, are better at ignoring distractions, delay rewards rather than seek immediate satisfaction and deal with the day to day stresses of modern living.

Many factors influence your willpower, including lifestyle factors and anything else that stresses your body or mind, which will interfere with self-control and in turn sabotage your ability to resist temptations and urges.

However focus meditation is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve the physical component of willpower, by increasing our heart rate variability. Anything else that you do to reduce stress and improve your lifestyle will improve your ability to resist temptations.

There are not many quick solutions to curb potentially destructive urges, but one way to immediately have an impact is to slow your breathing down to between four and six breaths per minute; that’s ten to fifteen seconds per breath. Although this is more than you normally breathe, with a bit of practice and patience you will soon get the hang of it.

What Actually Happens?
Slowing the breath stimulates the pre-frontal cortex, increasing heart rate variability, which allows the brain and body to switch to self-control mode. A few minutes of this technique should make you feel calmer, more in control and capable of handling cravings and temptations or other situations requiring rational thought or self-control.

It’s a good idea to practice slowing down your breath before you’re staring at some chocolate cake or.. You could begin by timing yourself on the number of breaths you normally take in one minute, then start to practice by slowing your breaths down, but be mindful not to hold your breath as that will only induce stress. Focus on exhaling slowly and completely, which will help you breathe in more fully and deeply without struggling. If you can’t quite manage four breaths per minute, don’t worry; heart rate variability steadily increases as your breathing rate drops below twelve per minute.

Research shows that regular practice of this technique can make you more resilient to stress, in turn enhancing your self-control, lowering your propensity to act on urges and temptations. Therefore, when you face your food related willpower challenge, practice the technique for a few minutes to boost your resolve.

It may not be a magic bullet, but until we gain control over the key aspects of our lifestyles, it can serve as a short term tool or a useful adjunct.

If you like the article, feel free to visit the blog at blog.thefatlosspuzzle.com

References
[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17444926

Alco-Gain-X

Preventing fat storage from alcohol consumption

Let’s quickly review how nutrients are stored and burned after a mixed meal.

  • Carbs and protein suppress fat oxidation via an elevation in insulin. However, these macronutrients do not contribute to fat synthesis in any meaningful way by themselves.
  • Since fat oxidation is suppressed, dietary fat is stored in fat cells.
  • As the hours go by and insulin drops, fat is released from fat cells. Fat storage is an on-going process and fatty acids are constantly entering and exiting fat cells throughout the day. Net gain or loss is more or less dictated by calorie input and output.

If we throw alcohol into the mix, it gets immediate priority in the substrate hierarchy: alcohol puts the breaks on fat oxidation, but also suppresses carb and protein oxidation.

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This makes sense considering that the metabolic by-product of alcohol, acetate, is toxic. Metabolizing it takes precedence over everything else. This quote sums up the metabolic fate of alcohol nicely:

“Ethanol (alcohol) is converted in the liver to acetate; an unknown portion is then activated to acetyl-CoA, but only a small portion is converted to fatty acids.

Most of the acetate is released into the circulation, where it affects peripheral tissue metabolism; adipocyte release of non-esterified fatty acids is decreased and acetate replaces lipid in the fuel mixture.”- Hellerstein MK, et al (1999).

Acetate in itself is an extremely poor precursor for fat synthesis. There’s simply no metabolic pathway that can make fat out of alcohol with any meaningful efficiency. Studies on fat synthesis after substantial alcohol intakes are non-existent in humans, but Hellerstein (from quotation) estimated de novo lipogenesis (conversion of carbs to fat) after alcohol consumption to ~3%. Out of the 24 g alcohol consumed in this study, a measly 0.8 g fat was synthesized in the liver.

The effect of alcohol on fat storage is very similar to that of carbs: by suppressing fat oxidation, it enables dietary fats to be stored with ease. However, while de novo lipogenesis may occur once glycogen stores are saturated, DNL via alcohol consumption seems less likely.

How to lose fat or prevent fat gain when drinking
Now that you understand the effect of alcohol on substrate metabolism, it’s time for me to reveal how you can make alcohol work for fat loss. Alternatively, how you can drink on a regular basis without any fat gain, without having to count calories.

Apply this method exactly as I have laid it out. If you’ve paid attention, you’ll understand the rationale behind it. I’ve tested this on myself and it works pretty well.

The rules are as follows:
For drinking days, restrict your intake of dietary fat to 0.3 g/kg body weight (or as close to this figure as possible).

Limit carbs to 1.5 g/kg body weight. Get most carbs from fibrous veggies (e.g. asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens etc) and the carbs in some protein sources (e.g. beans, but NOT tinned baked beans). I would also recommend the less starchy root vegetables like squashes, celeriac and turnip. You’ll also want to limit carbohydrate-rich alcohol sources such as drinks made with fruit juices and beer. A 33 cl/12 fl oz of beer contains about 12 g carbs, while a regular Cosmopolitan is about 13 g.

Good choices of alcohol include dry wines (includes most reds), which are very low carb, clocking in at about 0.5-1 g per glass (4 fl oz/115ml). Sweet wines are much higher at 4 to 6 g per glass. Cognac, gin, rum, Scotch, tequila, vodka and whiskey are all basically zero carbs. Dry wines and spirits is what you should be drinking, ideally. Take them straight or mixed with diet soft drinks. No need to be super-neurotic about this stuff; drinks should be enjoyed after all. Just be aware that there are better and worse choices out there.

Eat as much protein as you want. Yes, that’s right. Due to the limit on dietary fat, you need to get your protein from lean sources. Protein sources such as low fat cottage cheese, protein powder (see one of my shake recipes below, which is taken from my new eBook The Fat Loss Puzzle), chicken, turkey, tuna, pork and egg whites are good sources of protein these drink days or any days really. I would go as far as advocating 2 eggs (organic free range) on drinking days, as one whole egg only has about 5g of fat. If using in shakes, use only the yolk (see recipe below). One egg yolk in shakes (for convenience if you don’t have time to cook on those days) would give you 5g of fat since the fat is in the yolk, with about 5g to15g to play with depending on your body weight. It’s not exact, so as long as you are close, it will pay dividends.

If you are short of time or are going out straight after work, you could have another shake beforehand. If you want a food option then use any of the above listed foods with minimal fat e.g. you could have Cajun chicken breast, done in a dry pan for about two and a half minutes each side served with a load of spring greens wilted in a pan with just a small knob of butter or small teaspoon of virgin coconut oil (remember you need some fat for nutrient absorption), mainly the oil soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. You could have the chicken with the greens and some celeriac or squash or turnip mash (the less starchy carbs) with just a small amount of fat (even spot of milk and seasoning) for mashing.

You could have omelette or any type of frittata (low fat ones) remembering to use only a small knob of butter or other fat with any vegetables you like, including greens to accompany your meat, fish or poultry. Wild salmon or smoked mackerel frittata anyone? I have a great recipe in The Fat Loss Puzzle eBook.

Apply the protocol and you will avoid fat gain or even achieve fat loss on a weekly basis as long as your diet is on course for the rest of the week, sprinkled with some exercise and you are not guzzling wine every day. Even alternate days should still keep you at a steady weight, provided you follow the protocol and eat nutritious foods throughout the week. If you use your drinks mainly in place of other treats, this will also help.

Basically, the nutritional strategy I have outlined here is all about focusing on substrates that are least likely to cause net synthesis of fat during hypercaloric conditions. Alcohol and protein, your main macronutrients on drinking days, are extremely poor precursors for de novo lipogenesis (conversion of carbs into fat). Alcohol suppresses fat oxidation, but by depriving yourself of dietary fat during alcohol consumption, you won’t be storing anything. Nor will protein cause any measurable de novo lipogenesis. High protein intake will also compensate for the weak effect of alcohol on satiety (fullness) and make you less likely to blow your diet when you’re drinking.

By the way, a nice bonus after a night of drinking is that it effectively rids you of water retention; you may experience the “whoosh” effect. That in itself can be motivating for folks who’ve been experiencing a plateau in their weight loss.

Always eat before you drink
Research suggests it’s wise to factor in those drinks calories, but it’s actually more important to eat right than to eat less. Skimping on food in order to “make room” for drinks will only backfire and send you straight to the bottom of the nut bowl. Here’s why: most drinks are loaded with simple carbs, so during a night of drinking, people end up with soaring blood sugar, followed by a ‘crash’ that leaves them ravenous.

You can help counteract that effect by having foods as previously described that provide long-lasting energy before you go out. An added benefit of grabbing a bite beforehand is that the Merlot or Chardonnay or other drinks will be absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, minimising its diet-damaging effects.

In addition to revving your appetite, tippling also makes you lose your eating inhibitions (“I only live once so I’ll have a kebab!”). It temporarily impairs the prefrontal cortex (mimicking brain damage), the smarty-pants part of the brain that allows you to think clearly and rein in impulsivity. So after a certain amount of alcohol (and it’s different for everyone), you’re going to feel yourself not caring and letting it rip with food and probably drinks. A few glasses can also make you forgetful, as in, forgetting that the chocolate fudge cheesecake is not on your eating plan.

The trick is to have an easy-to-follow strategy in place before you take that first sip. Protein, some carbs, some fibre and a little bit of healthy fat to help control blood-sugar levels and improve nutrient absorption making you feel satisfied and less prone to fat storage and hunger pangs.

Know that some drinks make you hungrier than others
So if you’re going to drink, have something straight up and simple like wine or spirits. Wine lovers rejoice!

Beware of that starving feeling the next day
The morning after poses a new diet challenge. As if a hangover weren’t punishment enough, you’re fighting cravings for large amounts of cheesy, greasy fast food. Part of the problem is that you’re dehydrated (don’t forget, alcohol is a diuretic) and that can make you feel even hungrier. But that’s not the only thing at play. The body needs energy to resolve the effects of a big night of drinking, so it wants the richest source of energy it can find, which is fat especially greasy foods, which tend to settle the stomach a bit.

To avoid this, when you’re out, drink a big glass of water for every drink you have. Then, before going to bed, have some more, along with a snack that is mainly protein and/or veggies or if you can’t be bothered take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. You’ll get important nutrients into the body that were lost during alcohol consumption.

Apply this with good judgement and don’t go to extremes. Remember, it doesn’t give you a license to binge every day of the week, but this is as good as it gets if you want to be able to drink freely without significantly impacting fat loss progress or causing unwanted fat gain.

Other considerations
For some other killer strategies to prevent fat storage either in general or with alcohol, read The Fat Loss Puzzle eBook.


Pure Protein Shake (Serves 1)

Ingredients:
100ml of full fat organic milk or unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp of plain full fat, organic Greek bio yogurt (leave out!) or use regular
25g scoop of plain whey protein, unsweetened
½ medium banana
½ tsp of cinnamon
1 organic free range (FRO) raw egg yolk (optional)
Splash of full fat coconut milk (leave out!)
1 tsp of nut or seed butter (e.g. almond, sunflower, tahini), optional (leave out!)

Method:
Throw everything in a blender and blend for 20 seconds until everything is blended.

NB Raw egg yolks have a lovely vanilla taste albeit subtle and they are also the most nutritious in the raw state. Also we only use the yolk because raw egg white binds to the B vitamin, Biotin preventing its absorption. This shake is a real hunger killer throughout the day. The cinnamon also regulates blood sugar, allowing a slower insulin response.

To keep our fat to the recommended amounts when drinking alcohol, we need to leave out the nut or seed butter, leave out the Greek yogurt or use regular yogurt (e.g. Yeo Valley organic 4.5g of fat per 100g) and leave out the coconut milk. Add some extra liquid (water) if you like.

Cravings

Are they Psychological or Physiological?

A bit of both would be about the right answer. Psychological cravings usually originate from our childhood or even in the womb. Our childhood memories of apple crumble and custard for example are brought to the fore when we feel the need or urge to fill any void or issues we may have in our lives. When we experience these feelings, we turn to what gives us comfort, hence the term comfort foods.

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Physiological cravings generally originate from either foods that have opiate peptides sometimes referred to as exorphins (e.g. breads, dairy products) or when you are stressed or sleep deprived. Stress and sleep deprivation elevate cortisol levels, kicking off a cascade of hormonal events. High cortisol levels interfere with insulin’s ability to do its job of shuttling glucose to the muscles for energy. When this is disrupted, you have less energy, which in turn leads you to feel cravings and a higher propensity to overeat.

Women often experience cravings when menstruating due to hormonal fluctuations.

As oestrogen levels fluctuate, so do levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The body wants to keep these levels even, so it turns on the fight or flight response, causing us, the innocent bystanders of this whole thing, to crave carbohydrates and fat. Bring on the ice cream and crisps.

But there’s another culprit here; serotonin. Serotonin is that brain chemical that increases feelings of contentment. Foods can trigger serotonin, as can exercise and other lifestyle factors. If cortisol, the stress hormone is high, and serotonin is low, we’ll crave simple carbohydrates and fats, usually sugary treats like sweets and chocolate. This is because these simple carbs will up our serotonin fast. If cortisol is elevated, but serotonin is normal, we’ll crave carbs and fat, but not necessarily that sugary treat. You may find you crave croissants or bagels loaded with cream cheese. Now that those cravings make sense, we can adjust our eating habits to curb the craving without completely destroying out healthy diet plans.

There are steps you can take to avoid this act of nature sabotaging your weight loss aspirations.

The Fat Loss Puzzle deals with both the mental and physical induced urges and shows you how to keep your long term weight loss goals on track.

Inspiration for the eBook

I decided to launch the blog, website and subsequently the eBook in response to my sister’s chronic ill-health as a result of failed multiple diets, which led her down the final desperate path to gastric bypass surgery and the associated health complications.

The emotional and hormonal rollercoaster began with Slimming World to Weight Watchers to Tesco diets to Jenny Craig to Diet Chef and on and on.

Like every woman (and man), the self-esteem and confidence issues start to raise their ugly heads just because they just can’t follow the diet. The news is the diets are not fit for purpose and this is by design rather than incompetence; after all they need people to come back for more as their business model is based on repeat business.

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Like psychic readings, lotteries and astrology hotlines, the weight loss industry sells hope to desperate, vulnerable and insecure people.

The Huffington Post has a great quote in a previous article: “The diet industry is the most successful failed business in the world”.

In the UK, obesity has increased tenfold since the 1970′s. Clearly it cannot increase tenfold again or 250% of us will be overweight. However, the prediction of the Foresight report is that 90% of today’s children will be overweight or obese by 2050. We cannot allow this to happen.

Consider these alarming statistics for the USA:

  • Obesity is the number 2 cause of preventable death in the United States.
  • 60 million Americans, 20 years and older are obese.
  • 9 million children and teens ages 6 to19 are overweight.
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of health conditions and diseases including: breast cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, colon cancer, hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke to name a few as if that wasn’t enough.

All this and what do the UK and US governments (or any government really) do about it? Nothing! Why? Because there is too much money and vested interests at stake.

See the blog under nutrition for a taste (literally) of what you are up against – “The Science of Junk Food” describes the whole process behind the creation of mass produced, highly processed (adulterated) crap, specially formulated (yes it’s a chemical laboratory process) by food industry hired scientists to come up with the right ingredients, artificial included and in just the right quantities to hijack your reward circuitry in the brain, which ensures you stay hooked.

Scary stuff!

The Fat Loss Puzzle eBook looks at the diet industry in detail and their tricks as well as a large case study look at the junk food industry.