ATLANTA - If you crave foods you know aren't good for you, the reason may be all in your head.
Because Emory Healthcare internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist says salty, sugary, high-fat foods stimulate the reward center in our brains, triggering a rush of the "feel-good chemical" dopamine.
"So, for your body, that's the same as gambling, drugs, or sex," says Dr. Bergquist. "They all stimulate dopamine. So, you can get addicted to sugar. It's really hard to tell yourself you're going to have one piece of chocolate, or one potato chip."
To curb your cravings, plan ahead. Don't try to rely only on willpower.
"You're going to get misguided," says Bergquist. "Your body is giving you false signals about hunger. And you have to have your brain override those signals."
It's hard to say no when you're starving.
So, try not to let yourself get to that point.
"Don't skip meals. You need to have 3 meals a day," says Bergquist. "And it's helpful to have two snacks, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon."
Protein-based snacks will keep up your energy longer than carb-based snacks.
"Nuts are a great snack, peanut butter, a hand full of almonds," says Dr. Bergquist. "Seeds are also good, like pumpkin seeds. Yogurt, if you get low-fat without the fruit on the bottom that is full of carbs. That is a great way to do it."
Portion control matters, too, but Dr. Bergquist says you don't have to be overly-strict.
"You just have to be sensible," she says. "The most important thing is just to make sure your calorie intake is what you think it is."
That is where exercise comes in. It's your weight loss BFF.
Because you want to make sure you're burning more calories than you consume.
Dr. Bergquist says many of us think we're doing more, and eating less, than we really are.
"For example people will go for a 20-minute walk," she says. "And then they'll think they can eat 3 cookies."