Cheating the Cheat: Recalibrating Your Sweet Tooth
Caveman Doctor recently received an email (whatever an email is) asking for recommendations to help avoid carbohydrates and sweets. The email read “Not all of us have your discipline, can you give me some pointers?” This confused Caveman Doctor, as he used to have the sweetest tooth around the cave. In fact, Caveman Doctor’s caveman parents would laugh if they heard this.
Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. My old cheat. It never actually satisfied my sweet tooth and only made it worse.
Everyone cheats when it come to their diet. Everyone.
The difference is how we cheat. Everyone needs a break from “healthy” foods to periodically eat some foods that satisfy our sweet tooth, often venturing into chocolate, ice cream, cookies, cakes, candy, etc. However, in Caveman Doctor’s time, the sweetest food available was wild fruit and this fruit had a much higher content of vitamins, minerals, and protein with lower carbohydrate content. Wild fruits also contain more glucose and some fructose as compared to modern day farmed fruits with much higher levels of sucrose, making them even sweeter1. Modern sweet foods and their high levels of sugar seem to send a message to our brain to consume more, often creating a drug-like addiction. Caveman Doctor used to love sweet foods…until he recalibrated his sweet tooth.
For example, I have a coworker who lives a relatively low-carb lifestyle. When she gets cravings to sway from her diet, she eats a special cheese that contains lemon. It is her dietary delight, and when she talks about it, she gets a twinkle in her eye and her excitement is easily noticeable. She thoroughly enjoys it and looks forward to eating it. The cheese, made up of mainly fat and protein with little to no carbohydrate, results in very little spike in blood glucose levels and therefore has little associated insulin response2,3. As a result, it has little to no increasing effect on her weight. However, it does take the place of a cookie or cake, so in this regard, it has a large effect on her weight (negative that is…)4. And her results have been amazing. This anecdote is a simple example of methods to overcome our sweet tooth.
When we shift away from sugars and carbohydrate sources as our cheats and pleasure foods, and switch toward fat and protein-based foods, several things happen:
- As we have already read, we feel full after the cheat.
- We don’t crave more of the cheat food after the cheat (i.e. sugar5).
- Our insulin doesn’t fluctuate like crazy after the cheat, leaving us hungrier6-8.
- We are left less down and depressed and shameful from our cheat.
- Over time, we begin to recalibrate our sweet tooth to actually favor less sweet foods.
This helps to avoid the hungry-sugar-binge-hungry again cheat, which leaves us frustrated, unhappy, and not satisfied (the whole point of the cheat!). It also leaves our sweet tooth intake craving less sweet foods.
As A Side Note:
You are reading this article, written by the person that possibly had the sweetest tooth in the world several years ago. My cheat foods now are wine, cheese, dark chocolate, berries and cream, and macadamian nuts. For those of you confused with the macadamia nut cheat, when I eat them I turn into a ravenous monster that can’t stop. Therefore, I only eat them infrequently. I literally can only buy one small bag because I know if I eat one, the rest will follow. The same used to happen with me when I ate cookies. Somehow, I transformed my cheat from a box of cookies to a package of macadamia nuts. It took a while, but I have all the confidence that you can get to this same point.
Macadamia nuts: one of my new cheats
Recalibrate your sweet tooth by changing your cheat.
Rules of the Cheat:
1. If a cheat food is in your house, you will eat it.
No more buying ice cream now and saving it for next weekend. You and I both know that the ice cream will get eaten in 2 days. Buying cheat foods in small amounts immediately prior to consumption was a large step in the right direction for me. I can now even have some cheat foods in the house without an ensuing binge-fest. While I no longer crave these foods that I had to by in small doses, this is an important first step that cannot be ignored.
2. Cheat with foods that actually satisfy your cravings and make you feel better afterwards, not those that leave you hungrier, down/depressed, and shameful about the cheat.
If cheating with a bowl/pint/carton of ice cream makes you crave more afterwards, did you really satisfy your sweets craving? If sweets and cheat foods “make you happy”, why do you feel so down after eating them?
Do not cheat with foods that cause a massive insulin spike, as they will only make you hungrier6-8. Did you know that a treatment for anorexic patients is to inject them with insulin9 as the response is a rapid increase in appetite? It was known for a long time that insulin and foods that increase insulin result in increased appetite. In fact, looking at the references below, this was well established in the 1920’s; yet it seems that modern medicine often forgets or ignores this fact.
3. Cheat with foods that will result in less cheats over the long term.
I used to cheat with candy, cookies, ice cream, and similar foods once a week. I actually had a “cheat day”. It was usually on a Friday or Saturday. However, these cheats never actually satisfied my cheat cravings. I found myself craving more cheat foods days later. Sometimes I would have more than one cheat day a week. Sometimes I would have several in a row. Clearly the cheat foods were not satisfying my cravings and needed to be changed. Once again, like Rule 2, if a cheat leaves you hungrier and craving more of it afterwards, it is probably not a good cheat. As I have repeatedly discussed, this is what happens with the consumption of carbohydrates, as they not only increase hunger, but they actually increase cravings for more carbohydrates when your blood sugar drops. Or, as better stated by Geiselman in his work5:
“Rather than increasing appetite and hunger in general, however, insulin-induced hypoglycemia may specifically increase appetite and hunger for more carbohydrates, especially sugar.”
Dark chocolate rarely leaves me craving more after I eat it, unlike cookie dough ice cream…
4. Keep your eye on the prize.
The prize of avoiding heavy-carb cheats is a better mood, better physique, less cravings, and better health. Keep this in mind constantly. An easy way for many people to keep a perspective regarding this is to think about how terrible they feel after the post-cheat crash period and how their cheat goal of satisfying their cravings is never actually accomplished this way. I fully understand that, like an addictive drug, when the carbohydrates are in your face it is difficult to think in perspective.
5. Give it a try and reap the benefits.
Just as in Rule 4, over time you will eventually gain that perspective. The first of many cravings are difficult. But avoid the carb cravings, and after several times (over at least a month), you will start to recognize the pattern – No further cravings after the cheat and no down in the dumps moods after the cheats. Sooner or later, you will start to realize how much better you feel when abstaining from the “drug”. It does not happen overnight, so keep at it.
6. If (and likely when) you cave in, try, try again and keep on going.
If you are human, you will likely cave in. Actually, you will most likely cave in several times. However, after getting back on the wagon each time, you will start to realize how much better you feel. Along these lines, know when you need a cheat, or are just being bad. Sometimes the cheat is more of a desire to eat a very large meal and your craving can simply be satisfied with dinner. Eat first, preferably a filling meal, wait 15 minutes and see if you are still craving a cheat.
7. Start to notice how those around you feel after cheating with carbs.
By no means are we as Cavemen dieters elitists. However, once you start to realize that those around you, including your friends and coworkers, feel terrible physically and emotionally after these carb-cheats and binges, and this was how you used to feel, you will start to get a feeling of gratification that you overcame such an addictive spiral of crave-carbs-crave-depression.
8. Watch the weight drop, the moods improve, and your health soar.
Congratulations. Now that your sweet tooth is on the backburner, you can play around with different cheats and see how your body responds, i.e. which make you feel better or which squelch your cravings more than others.
Train yourself to no longer crave sweets and you will be thanking yourself for years to come.
My cheats (including more basic food types that make me happy):
Non-Caveman/Paleo Cheat Foods that satisfy my sweet tooth:
- Dark Chocolate
- Coffee (with cream)
- Whipped cream (whip it myself, no premade fake stuff) with berries
- Pre/post-workout smoothies (frozen fruit/berries, and whey protein)
- Red Wine
Random “fake” cheats that I love:
- Macadamian Nuts
- Rare sweet potato with butter and cinnamon after a workout
As another side note, I have watched my cravings for all sweets decrease, but it is best exemplified in which wines I drink. I literally have watched my taste in wine morph as I have recalibrated my sweet tooth. I previously enjoyed drinking red wines with more fruit, but now have found myself not enjoying them much at all. Now my favorite wine is from Cahors, where the wines are dark with tannins and have barely any fruit flavor. This is likely why I also don’t even enjoy sweet foods anymore either. Fortunately, very few non-sweet foods make you want to binge-eat. In fact, my sweetest food is dark chocolate, and even when I crave it, after a couple bites I’m usually pretty satisfied and have no desire to eat more.
Train yourself to crave less sweet foods as they naturally contain less insulin-spiking sugar and carbohydrates. Admit defeat and avoid foods that will stand in your way to an optimal diet and optimal health.
You may actually find yourself no longer craving or enjoying sweets. From there, it’s easy.
1. Milton K. Nutritional characteristics of wild primate foods: do the diets of our closest living relatives have lessons for us? Nutrition. Jun 1999;15(6):488-498.
2. Radulescu A, Hassan Y, Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ. The Degree of Saturation of Fatty Acids in Dietary Fats Does Not Affect the Metabolic Response to Ingested Carbohydrate. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. June 1, 2009 2009;28(3):286-295.
3. Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ. Effect of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Blood Glucose Control in People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes. September 1, 2004 2004;53(9):2375-2382.
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