Tuesday, July 16

The best way to resist junk food cravings



The need for something gooey, crispy, or sweet seizes everyone’s brain at some point. But you don’t have to reach for junk. Fight back against the four stages of cravings with these tips from neuroscientists Peter Hall, Ph.D. of the University of Waterloo, and Nicole Avena, Ph.D. of Mount Sinai Health System.

Trigger: An urge arises

The smell of fries drifts through the food court; pepperoni sizzles in a pizza commercial. Your senses lead to your brain retrieving memories from your hippocampus and moving them into your working memory. Feel-good neurochemicals dopamine and opioids start to trickle into your reward-focused areas.

How to fight it:

If you intervene right now, you’re more likely to resist the temptation. So try to distract yourself by taking a brisk stroll or playing a visual game that commandeers your working memory, like Tetris.

Drive: Desire swells

Your orbitofrontal cortex hops into the game. This region evaluates memory, senses, and current experiences to determine how good the decision is to ingest chocolate or Cheetos. The drive to repeat a past pleasant experience grows stronger and turns physical, firing up your autonomic nervous system.

How to fight it:

Escape further cues by placing physical barriers between you and temptation. Stash the ice cream way back in the freezer. Choose a route home from work that won’t take you past the yellow arches.

Decision: Self-control checks you-or doesn’t

Your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, situated toward the front of your head, factors in any long-term consequences of your actions, social norms, and other motives for restraint. And fair warning: If you’re hungry, sleep- deprived, or stressed, you’re far more likely to cave in to your junk-food craving.

How to fight it:

Focus on the downsides or imagine that doughnut fell on a filthy floor. A brain-imaging study showed that these thought exercises immediately increased activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Concession: Doomed at first bite

One nibble engages nearly all your senses, delivering a payload of sensory data to your gustatory cortex. Flavor-seeking cells throughout your digestive system send signals of pleasure back to your brain. Dopamine and opioids flow freely, and it’s hard to stop eating before the whole bag, bar, or box is kaput.

How to fight it:

Regular exercise strengthens your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, perhaps by sparking the flow of blood-rich in oxygen, hormones, and stored glycogen. The more often you sweat, the stronger your discipline may be.