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Fitness Matters

Fight food cravings by going to the source

May 29, 2013 - Question: I have some pretty serious cravings from time to time. Is this because my body is deficient in certain nutrients that these foods provide?

Answer: Generally speaking, no! And this is true whether you're craving brownies, spinach, or Taco Bell tacos. Unexplained cravings can pop up during pregnancy however, and amazingly, a deficiency of one particular nutrient, iron, can lead people to crave non-food items like dirt and clay (a condition called pica). But aside from this scenario, almost all other cravings are emotional responses to a particular food or food group. Maybe your diet is too boring, too restrictive, or you simply won't let yourself have something you like, but feel you shouldn't have.

These scenarios can easily set the stage for a craving, but minimizing and/or eliminating its effect is achievable. If you can identify the cause of the craving, managing it becomes much easier. In other words, if your diet is, in fact, too boring, then try to spice things up a bit while staying within established healthy eating guidelines. If your diet is too restrictive, liberalize a bit. It really can be this simple, but if you're finding your cravings to be a real challenge, then seek out the counsel of a registered dietitian.

Question: I've heard that a raw food diet is the way to go. True or false?

Answer: It's really neither true nor false. Going raw is really just a lifestyle choice, and if you choose to consume only raw, unprocessed foods (mostly plants by the way), then by all means do so. In fact, there are definitely some advantages to consuming a raw food diet. For one, the diet is very nutrient-dense and includes a ton of fiber. It also tends to eliminate things like trans fats and includes only small amounts of saturated fats, salt, and sugar.

It's also true that some nutrients are destroyed when foods are heated. But despite all of this, there are some real drawbacks to the raw food movement as well. For starters, many of the claims made by raw foodists are not backed by scientific evidence, and many advocates ignore the advantages associated with the cooking process. For example, some foods, like tomatoes and eggs, are more nutritious when they're cooked. And other foods that are very healthy need to be cooked so our bodies can process and assimilate the nutrients. Beans and lentils are great examples.

There's also the issue of food safety. We shouldn't forget that cooking is one of the best ways to reduce harmful pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses. And lastly, there's the issue of prep time. Raw advocates typically spend quite a bit of time cutting, peeling, and dehydrating their food, and many people just aren't committed enough to do this day in and day out.

In my humble opinion, eating raw exclusively is unnecessary and makes food consumption overly complicated. I would rather incorporate both raw foods and cooked foods into my meals, and then focus on getting as much variety into my eating plan as possible. But in the end, the choice is yours.

Question: I've been a yo-yo dieter for the past few years, and for some reason, whenever I re-commit and start a new exercise program, I always seem to gain a little weight before the actual weight loss process begins. Can you explain this?

Answer: Yes, this is actually a pretty common phenomenon, but one that most people simply aren't aware of. When a sedentary or somewhat inactive individual starts an exercise program, several changes occur in the body to respond to this new exercise stimulus. The sum of these changes can add a bit to the scale, despite your hopes for the exact opposite.

First of all, the muscles can increase in size, and the added protein in the muscle actually stores additional water. The body will also start to store more sugar in the muscles, and again, water storage plays a role here as well. Several enzymes that process oxygen will also increase in quantity within the muscle cells.

And if this isn't enough, your connective tissues will toughen and thicken, and your total blood volume can increase by up to one pound within a week. All of this better prepares your body for more frequent exercise bouts, and helps to improve your workout efficiency. At this point, you're probably wondering what can be done to mitigate these effects?

The answer is not much. The key is to be consistent with your workouts, and avoid the scale if you're likely to get discouraged by what you see. It's important to remember that this is simply your body adapting to exercise.

Believe me, your weight will trend down in the long run as you continue your program. Don't forget the old adage—good things come to those who wait!

Contact Heidi Duffy at heidi.anytimefitness@comcast.net.

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