During my senior year I would stop by Safeway after my school day ended and before working as a cashier at our small-town Ace Hardware. I would buy a bag of chips, Diet Pepsi, and Snickers as ‘lunch’. There was usually a bag of bite-sized Three Musketeers in the glove box of my car. And when my brother and I would road trip together? We stocked up on Red Vines and Monster energy drinks.
I was nothing short of a junk food junkie. My health showed it with bad skin, extra weight, and low energy, but I craved sugar like nothing else!
But since making a quick temporary adjustment to fix my gut flora, I’ve completely kicked all my sugar cravings
And know what’s the best? I don’t even have to avoid sugar completely to keep the cravings in check any more. I can have a cookie here or there (usually to be polite – since I only crave sugar once a month <yeah, that time still gets me, but it’s not bad!>)
How did this work? How can cravings change just from a temporary gut reset?
Our bodies contain trillions of bacteria cells. And the balance of bacteria in their body, especially their gut, plays a large part in dictating what they (and we) crave to eat. Healthy balanced bacteria craves a healthy balanced diet. An imbalance of pathogenic bacteria actually send signals through the bloodstream to the brain, which demand their preferred food – starch, sugar, and other carbohydrates.
What are the conventional methods for getting over cravings to avoid overeating?
- Only take a small helping, don’t deprive yourself of what you (or your gut flora) want, just cut down on how much you eat to stay within your calorie goals
- Eliminate entire food groups through a vegan, paleo, ketogenic, or other diet
- Eat as much junk food as you (or your gut flora) want, it’ll reset your metabolism and your body won’t fear starvation any more (the Matt Stone method)
- Make substitutions with lower calorie or fake-sugar options for your favorite foods.
Is this working for us?
I’m thinking that it’s not. As a child of the 80s, I’m pretty concerned that not only is my generation on average over weight more than ever before, but our children are as well. (source) Not only that, but we struggle with eczema, infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety, lethargy, digestive trouble, brain fog… In rates higher than ever before.
The phrase: A healthy appetite…
How often do you see people who happily enjoy a variety of foods, without intense sugar and starch cravings (yes, the soda and beer habit fall in this category of sugar and starch cravings), who are chronically sick? It’s not often.
People who are healthy crave healthy things to eat.
What to do about gut-flora-caused cravings and overeating
First, we need to make sure to just break the habit. As adults (and my kids do too, but that’s another post), we should be able to go 4+ hours without food and stick to 3 meals a day. This isn’t deprivation at all, and when we are truly hungry before we eat, we feel truly satisfied after eating. Rather than residing in the never-hungry-never-full limbo of snacking all day long, or having ‘small frequent meals’.
Next, we try an elimination diet. It’s so common that removing foods that often are allergy-causing, inflammation-causing, and cause a leaky gut. Removing dairy and/or gluten will most often relieve picky eating to a manageable level. Once the cravings are under control, we can work on restoring gut flora balance and healing the gut.
When the gut flora is balanced, we don’t have the intense cravings for starches and sweets, to the exclusion of unhealthy food.
How to re-set Gut Flora with an elimination diet
To starve out the pathogenic bacteria in your low cut that are causing the cravings, temporarily eat just what’s on the GAPS diet food list. This is eliminating complex sugars and starches, but it still allows simple sugars in the form of fruit and honey, and filling options like meat, fat, and vegetables prepared in many different ways.
How long does this take? For me it took about 3 days to get over the initial cravings, and an additional 30 days of eating completely clean (no refined or complex sugars or starches) to be able to once again eat sweets in moderation without it bringing the cravings back.
Why is the gut so important?
Our gut, where we digest food, keep most of our immune system, and even have brain tissue, is much more important than most people realize. The gut normally is populated with a hefty balance of good gut flora (microorganisms – yeasts, fungi, and bacteria).
It normally is healthy tissue with intestinal villi that work with the gut flora to extract nutrients needed from food, and pass them through the gut wall into the blood stream. These villi move food along the digestive tract, break it into smaller pieces so that nutrients can be extracted, and secrete enzymes needed to break down food (source).
The bacteria in our gut line the gut walls, and actually pre-digest our food for us. They line our guts to prevent food from being passed through the gut walls without first being broken down sufficiently. This gut flora is also a large part of our immune system.
When our gut is unhealthy, the flora in our gut is not protecting food from being passed through, vitamins and minerals are not able to be extracted properly from food, the body is unable to detoxify normally, and the immune system is not functioning as it should. Lastly, the pathogenic bacteria, which aren’t kept in check by the good bacteria, send out chemical signals as part of their metabolic process through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and then make it to the brain.
So yes, survival instinct is kicking in, it’s just those billions of ‘bad bacteria’ that are in survival mode, and they’re drowning out your survival instinct to consume healthy food.
Oh, so that’s why it’s so hard to diet!
Yes! It’s not just a matter of ‘eat this and then stop until you eat that and then stop’. There are chemical signals, like drugs, in your body telling you what to eat. With this knowledge, we can be better equipped to deal with them, though.
It’s not just me saying this, here are some other supporting articles that show the same connection between gut flora and picky eating:
What else can help heal the gut to speed up the time til you no longer have sugar cravings?
When we’re working to heal our gut we need a multi-step process (click here to get a free printable checklist for a 30-day plan to get this started in simple steps):
1. Remove inflammatory foods that are difficult to digest and high allergen: Gluten, other grains, sugars, and chemicals in non-food items (food dyes, preservatives, etc)
4. This whole process is in the Gut and Psychology Introduction Diet – see more about that here
5. Depending on your symptoms, you may be able to modify this protocol and still see great results; possibly just removing gluten, any known allergens (often eggs or dairy), and increasing probiotics for a time.
How did this work for me?
After starting GAPS, and quickly starving out the pathogenic bacteria in my gut that caused sugar cravings, I noticed that I just don’t crave sugar any more after less than a week of eating completely ‘clean’. I easily walk past the candy bowl, let plates of cookies sit on my counter without being tempted at all, and instead choose meals made of nourishing protein, fat, and some carbs.
My gut flora stopped yelling to my mouth to eat eat eat junk, and now I love in-season fruit, and can really feel what I’m hungry for (usually protein!) and my body responds with clear skin, maintaining a healthy weight, and abundant energy to care for my three little munchkins.
I’ve been there – a slave to either giving into or fighting my sugar cravings, and I can tell you it’s worth it to kick them to the curb once and for all!
The 21-day sugar detox is a program that follows these principals to get you to kick those cravings to the curb. You can read more about this here.
More posts in this series: