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*Project CUE update*

So, if ever there were a time for me to discuss stress eating, this would be it. The last two days have been so incredibly stressful I have wanted to immerse myself in a jar of marshmallow fluff and eat my way out. I wish I could say that through it all I stuck to my plan and chose healthy alternatives and used exercise and yoga to de-stress and clearly identified my cravings and why I was having them.

But if I said that I would be lying.

Granted, I did not go so completely overboard as I have in the past (pint of Ben and Jerry’s anyone?) but I did slide down into the pit of voracious carb eating, you know the pit I’m talking about…it’s as if you are removed from your body, watching yourself eat piles of peanut butter crackers and sneak chocolate from anywhere you can find it. You know you aren’t hungry, you know…but still you continue, scrounging like a little squirrel for tootsie rolls and mini peanut butter cups, taking the stairs slowly and dropping each individual wrapper in a different trash can to hide the evidence.

Or is this just me?

Even as I write this post I have to struggle not to be ashamed and embarrassed, I have to struggle not to lie about it. But I told you this Project C.U.E. was about my journey and so I am laying it bare for all of you, because even if I am the only one with this type of behavior (and I know I am not) I might at least make you feel better about yourself!

Being the scientist and pragmatist I am I have of course been doing some research and have at least discovered some theories about these cravings and why I have them and why I can’t stop them. That way I can finish the post by at least discussing what I SHOULD have done and what I plan to do to try to keep this brief lapse from dragging me down. Among my pile of research books is the “Younger (Thinner) You Diet” by Eric Braverman, MD. I have been a bit skeptical about this one as there is some stuff I don’t know if I buy, but I certainly do buy into the whole brain chemistry bit. I mean, how else do you explain me; a relatively rational and successful person, closet eating peanut butter cups in the hospital bathroom? How else can you explain my inane desire to stuff my face with potato chips as I walk into a challenging and stressful meeting?

Dr. Braverman talks specifically about four brain chemicals; dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, and serotonin and he has a handy little quiz to determine what you are deficient in and how that affects your food cravings and addictions.

Dopamine, it looks so cute and harmless..but without it you might as well drown yourself in a vat of ice cream.

Dopamine is strongly associated with not just food addiction, but addictions of every kind. Dr. Braverman states that anytime there is a loss in dopamine we are vulnerable to the cycle of addiction. Dopamine keeps us focused, it gives us power and energy…it also spikes when we are hungry and smell food. When we eat those dopamine levels continue to increase, and in normal brains that translates to satiety and we stop eating when we are full.

For some people though, it goes haywire, instead of the dopamine spike just feeling good, it feels REALLY AWESOME. So awesome in fact that we continue to crave that euphoric feeling we get when we eat, so we keep eating. The problem is in a person with low dopamine it takes a lot more to achieve a level of satisfaction, so they keep eating in order to continue to get that “rush”. Unbalanced dopamine levels create that craving sensation and we become consumed with seeking that euphoric food experience.


I don’t know about you, but I definitely get a rush from eating a nice big spoonful of frosting…or a whole bowl. Perhaps a low dopamine is responsible for the feeling of intense rage I get when something is between me and the chocolate I crave? I mean, I almost wanted to throw elbows today to get to the bowl of tootsie rolls, that is just ridiculous.


Apparently when your dopamine level is low your brain also creates fewer dopamine receptors, which is real nice..it’s pretty much a vicious cycle it seems, and I was not all surprised when I scored REALLY high on the low dopamine quiz. That was pretty discouraging, as was reading the section about how low dopamine increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which makes us retain fat around our bellies. This just gets better and better…

I was just about to throw in the towel and go drown my sorrows in some…carrot sticks..when I got to the part about managing low dopamine. Surprisingly it seems pretty reasonable; remove sugar, simple carbs and high glycemic foods (no kidding). Increase those things in your diet that provide the raw materials for building dopamine; cottage cheese, beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, wheat germ, ricotta cheese. These all contain the amino acid phenylalanine which helps your body create more dopamine. Foods that contain leptin also help the body increase dopamine levels , these foods are; broccoli, apples, almonds, spinach, carrots, egg whites, salmon and pomegranate juice.

So I will be your guinea pig, I am going to try increasing these foods (there are a bunch of others as well) and I will let you know how it goes. So..because I am such a crazed muffin craving spaz right now I have planned my meals for tomorrow.

Breakfast: Egg whites and spinach

Snack: Apple and almonds

Lunch: Green Salad and Cottage Cheese

Dinner: Black Beans and a Salad with some mexican beer! (it’s my birthday night people!)

I do think it’s interesting to read this stuff, hey, it might help, it might not but as long as these are healthy options I don’t see the harm!

The other tip I want to stress is to enlist a buddy. I am very, very lucky to have a wonderful non-judgemental wife who when I sheepishly say; “Honey, I just ate 5 Hershey bars” , doesn’t jump on my back and chastise me, nor does she ignore  it and say it’s no big deal. She helps me get back on track and think of things that will help me with my cravings and she always tells me how beautiful I am no matter what (though she does encourage my healthy eating habits and doesn’t enable my bingeing).

One other tip, I have been listening to these meditation by Tara Brach who is just brilliant and amazing, I highly recommend them, she talks a lot about addiction and “grasping” and why we fall into these cycles. You can access her free talks on iTunes or go to her website.

As always I welcome your comments! I promise a food post tomorrow!