One does not simply start “eating healthy”.
If you’ve ever tried to cut back on the junk in your diet – you know that it’s easier said than done.
Especially if you’re trying to make too many changes at once (never a good idea).
Nobody enjoys the feeling of restriction. We get cravings and our brain demands these foods.
Some people have more control than others, but most of us find ourselves binging on entire tubs of ice cream, even when we’ve told ourselves we wouldn’t.
It’s easy to call these people “fat fucks” and blame them for a lack of willpower – but it’s much more complicated than that.
The truth is, junk food stimulates the brain in the same way as drugs like cocaine (but so does intense exercise).
Ice-Cream, Cocaine and Fat Loss
The reward system in our brain is designed to “reward” us when we do things that encourage our survival.
This includes primal behaviors like winning a fist fight, having sex , or eating.
When we eat, the brain knows that we’re doing “something right”, and releases a bunch of feel good chemicals – like dopamine.
This is the same chemical that releases when you fall in love, win lots of money, or ride a rollercoaster.
You see, we really are just a bunch of big, dumb animals – our brains are hardwired to seek out primal behaviors that trigger our reward system and release dopamine.
The problem is that our modern day junk foods can cause a reward that’s way too powerful for our own good.
For example – eating an apple or piece of chicken might cause a moderate release of dopamine, while eating an entire tub of ice-cream can be so incredibly rewarding that it will literally overload our reward center.
Tolerance, Cravings, and Withdrawal
When we regularly do something that releases dopamine (like eating ice-cream) – our dopamine receptors start to down-regulate.
The brain will literally start to remove dopamine receptors when it feels like our dopamine levels are too high.
When you have fewer dopamine receptors, you need a bigger dopamine fix to reach the same effect.
This causes us to eat more junk food to reach the same levels as before.
For example – maybe a scoop of ice-cream was enough to satisfy you three years ago. Today, you need the entire tub to get that same dopamine fix.
This is called tolerance and is usually the cause of addiction, along with it’s ugly inbred cousin, overdose.
Multiple studies show that we can become physically addicted to junk food in the same way as drugs.
A craving is an emotional state caused by your brain’s need for dopamine. It has nothing to do with your need for energy or nourishment.
Cravings are normal, and they dominate our attention.
If you’re on a “diet” that calls for restriction of certain foods, or has you making too many changes at once – you’re surely going to have a lot of cravings, and most likely going to ‘bounce back’ and start binging.
My clients are not restricted from any food (except soda).
Instead, we use the reward system to our advantage.
What To Do About Food Addiction
The reward system in our brain isn’t just a one sided beast that wants us to eat ice-cream, beat people up, and have sex.
It also rewards us for problem solving – in our case, making the right decisions with our diet and lifestyle.
When my rapid fat loss clients have a craving during the week – I instruct them to write that craving down, imagine eating it and how good it’s going to be, and drink a 12oz glass of water.
Given that they’re adherent for most of the week – they are allowed one epic cheat day, usually Saturday.
This day is meant to satisfy all of those cravings, and I encourage binging at your hearts desire.
This epic cheat day accomplishes many things both psychologically, and physiologically.
It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It satisfies cravings and should satisfy them for the rest of the week.
In a better case, you’ll realize that junk food makes you feel like crap, and will turn you off.
Either way, when you know you’re not completely restricted from things you think you love, you’ll usually be more willing to stick to a “diet”.
Cheat days help boost a fat burning hormone called Leptin – named after the greek word ‘Leptos’, meaning thin. This hormone controls our fat cells.
When Leptin levels are high, we burn fat faster.
When we eat fewer calories during the week, our Leptin lowers, which slows down fat loss.
It’s why burning fat gets harder the leaner we are.
Leptin is our body’s anti-starvation hormone.
Your body will slow your metabolism and hang onto more fat to keep you alive when it thinks food is scarce – which is why super low calorie diets always fail (and make you miserable).
But when we throw in an epic cheat day into the mix – our Leptin levels boost back up, speeding up our fat loss, and satisfying our cravings.
Now, before you go run off and eat 9,000 calories of ice-cream, just remember one thing:
The concept of a cheat day being beneficial to your goals only works if you’re [mostly] on track with your nutrition throughout the week.