I’ve had a few recent run-ins with dark-chocolate M&Ms. Here’s what happens: I’ll grab a few of the candies then sit down
at my computer to meet a writing deadline. Type a few words, then walk back the cabinet for more M&Ms. Two sentences.
Three M&Ms. The more difficult the subject matter, the less I’m able to focus on writing and the more overwhelming is the
pull of the M&Ms.
In the March/April issue of EatingWell, science writer
Rachael Moeller Gorman tackles the topic of food addiction
—the idea that food can overtake the same brain circuits
involved in drug and alcohol addictions. Could I be addicted to chocolate? I could
be: people who chronically crave
food aren’t so different from people who suffer drug or alcohol addiction, say some experts, including Nora Volkow, director
of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But I’m not addicted to chocolate. For me, overeating M&Ms is situational—the latest manifestation of a chronic
procrastination problem that gets worse when I’m under the gun and low on sleep. And, in fact, dealing with issues like
stress and too little sleep can help “cure” food cravings, Volkow told Gorman recently. Here are her tips to stave off
1. Anticipate moments of weakness.
“You preset yourself [to say], no matter what, you’re not
going to allow yourself to be tempted by the food,” says Volkow. “It’s much easier to control your urges if you do it
beforehand than if they take you by surprise.” For example, if you tend to binge on candy while working at your computer, cut
up melon and keep it on your desk so you’re less likely to visit the vending machine.
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2. Take one flavor at a time. “If I give you just one item, say, apples, you will get
saturated with the flavor of apples,” says Volkow. “But if I mixed different alternative flavors, you actually can go from
one to the other,” eating a lot more than if you only had one type of food on your plate. So keep your meal relatively
3. Ban eating in the car and in front of the TV. “Set up a space for eating so these other
activities and spaces don’t get conditioned with the food,” suggests Volkow. Then eat only at the table, using a plate and
doing nothing but eating and talking to your tablemates.
4. Don’t skimp on shut-eye.
“It has now been recognized that sleep deprivation increases the
risk of overeating and obesity,” says Volkow. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night for
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5. Keep your cool
. “When a person is stressed, that decreases their ability to exert control
over desires,” says Volkow. Squelch your stress with exercise: you can schedule daily workouts for a natural high. Volkow
also recommends keeping your workout bag packed and ready to use during high-pressure times. “If I am in a very stressful
condition,” she says, “I go and I run.”
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*Note: If thinking about food (and/or overeating) is overtaking your life, seek help from a professional. Find one at