Ask a Health Coach: More of Your Cravings Questions Answered

Hi folks, we’re excited to have Board-Certified health and wellness coach Erin Power back to break down the emotional and psychological reasons we crave comfort foods. If you’ve vowed to stick to a Primal diet this year, you’ll definitely want to check out this week’s post. Got a question for our health coaches? Head over to our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group or ask it in the comments below.   Luke asked: “I’m a few weeks into eating Primal and I can’t seem to shake my cravings for comfort food. You know, mac ‘n cheese, beer, ice cream. I really want to stick to healthy eating this time and can’t understand why it’s always such a struggle.” You probably won’t be surprised to hear that sugar is highly addictive. And that includes foods that turn to sugar in the body, like mac ‘n cheese, beer, crackers, cereal…you get the picture. But what you may not realize is that when you consume those foods, you experience a temporary rise in serotonin levels and then a fairly drastic crash. That’s why sugar gives you such a high. And then leaves you craving more once you get those cranky, hangry withdrawal symptoms. Do Fat and Carbs Cause Cravings? The macronutrients fat and carbohydrates are two of the main components of comfort foods. Fat and carbs aren’t inherently bad, but when combined they tend to pack a punch, metabolically speaking. As I mentioned, carbohydrates raise the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, while fat has the phenomenal ability to soothe. In fact, this study found that when participants consumed saturated fat, they became less emotionally affected while watching a sad movie or listening to sad music. That’s why certain foods are so addictive. And the situation gets worse when you’re under stress. Not only that, research shows that the areas of the brain triggered by cravings (the hippocampus, caudate, and insula) are the same as those implicated with drug and alcohol addiction. These are the parts of the brain associated with our reward system and the emotional connection we develop every time we repeat a behaviour. Eat and Repeat: Creating Neural Pathways Every time you repeat an action, whether it’s one you want to keep doing or not, you reinforce your neural pathways. These are pathways that send signals from one part of the brain to another. Eventually, those actions become automatic. It’s like if you took the same route to work every day. After a handful of times, you wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. Your brain automatically knows where to go. The same thing happens with cravings. When you reach for a big ole bowl of mac ‘n cheese each time you feel low or stressed out, you engage in the process of continuous reinforcement. The emotion (feeling low or stressed) triggers the action (eating), which elicits the reward (feeling good). Basically, it’s not your fault that you have cravings. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them though. Cravings can also be a sign … Continue reading “Ask a Health Coach: More of Your Cravings Questions Answered”

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What Are the Best Probiotic Strains?

“You should take probiotics.” “I heard probiotics are good for you.” “Oh, probiotics are so, so important.” Yes, yes. These are all true statements. But they are broad. Which probiotics? Which strains for what purpose? Simply saying “probiotics” tells us very little about what we’re supposed to be taking. It’s like saying “You should eat food.” Technically accurate yet operationally useless. Today I’m going to rectify that. I’m going to describe the best probiotic strains for each desired purpose, because there is no single strain to rule them all. The probiotic strain that’s best for anxiety may not be the best probiotic strain for allergies, and so on. Of course, these aren’t the final word. What follows is the best available evidence as it exists today. That may change tomorrow. And it will certainly change based on your individual makeup. With all that in mind, let’s get right down to it. Instantly download your Guide to Gut Health Best Probiotic for Anxiety The existence of the gut-brain axis — that mysterious thoroughfare running from the gut to the brain and back again — and the presence and even production of neurotransmitters along the gut suggests that “gut feelings” describe real phenomena. Mental and gut health are strongly linked, and it’s most likely a bi-directional relationship where each affect the other. You know this already, though, don’t you? We’ve all felt fear or discomfort in our guts. We’ve all had instinctual responses to certain people that seemed to manifest in our stomachs (and later be proven). These are real. They aren’t figments of our imagination. For instance, we know that some strains of gut bacteria can produce GABA, the “chill-out” neurotransmitter responsible for sleep and relaxation. We know that feeding prebiotics (bacteria food) to people can lower their cortisol and induce them to focus on positive stimuli instead of negative stimuli. We know that the greater the intake of fermented food like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut, the lower the incidence of social anxiety. The best candidate for anxiety is Lactobacillus rhamnosus. Although no human anxiety studies for this strain exist (yet), there are plenty of animal studies that support it. One notable paper found that dosing mice with L. rhamnosus increased cortical expression of GABA genes and reduced cortisol and anxiety-like behaviors. Best Probiotic for IBS Irritable bowel syndrome is, well, irritating. Even more irritating is the fact that it describes a confluence of symptoms rather than a specific disease; two people, each with “IBS,” can have disorders with completely different etiologies. This complicates the probiotic you choose. In one study, IBS patients who took a combo of Saccharomyces boulardii, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus plantarum saw a 73% improvement in symptoms—but only if they also had small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). IBS patients without SIBO only had a 10% improvement. (Side note: since gastro-esophageal reflux disease, or GERD, usually presents with SIBO, there’s a good chance that this lineup of strains could also help there) Another paper, a meta-analysis from … Continue reading “What Are the Best Probiotic Strains?”

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How to Manage Unproductive Anger

If you ask the average person on the street to list “Primal emotions,” anger will be one of the first examples they offer. You understand why: It’s raw. It’s overpowering. It feels like it comes from deep down below, from somewhere instinctual. To most people, anger is the realest emotion of all because it’s so sure of itself. There’s no mistaking anger.

Though anger has a negative connotation these days, it’s there for a reason. All emotions have a purpose. If they didn’t, emotions as a physiological category wouldn’t have arisen and survived millions of years of evolution. An emotion is an adaptation to an environmental condition. Anger exists because it promotes—or promoted—a survival advantage. Those animals who felt something approximating anger outcompeted those who didn’t. That’s what it comes down to.

On the surface, anger is a self-protective adaptation. By showing anger, we display a capacity for aggressive action to those who would threaten us or our tribe—and most socially astute, reasonable people (and even many animal predators) will retreat in the majority of situations. Anger, in this way, is part of the “checks and balances” system inherent to our social contracts. It gives the other party pause to consider whether it’s really worth the trouble to encroach.

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Can You Eat an Intuitive Keto Diet?

When you first start following a keto diet, overthinking is pretty much part of the package. For better or worse, keto newbies spend a lot of time learning what they can and can’t eat, meticulously weighing and measuring food, and tracking everything that goes in their mouths. Weighing, tracking, and restricting become understandably tedious after a while. I do know some people who are happy to maintain this level of dietary vigilance for months or even years, but most people fizzle out. Those who don’t want to return to a more relaxed way of eating like Primal look for a compromise position—a keto diet without all the fuss. This raises the question: is monitoring and careful control of your food intake simply part and parcel of keto, or is it possible to follow a keto diet intuitively? What Does Intuitive Keto Even Mean? There’s an apparent contradiction between eating intuitively and keto dieting. Eating intuitively means listening to your body, honoring the signals it sends you, and not controlling or restricting your food intake based on external rules. Keto diets come with an inherent set of rules and restrictions. At the very least, keto diets have to be low-carb by definition. In practice, this means there are many high-carb foods that you can’t eat in any appreciable amount. Even a small serving could interfere with ketosis. Many folks also set parameters around their keto diets, like they have to be gluten-free or sugar-free. As I have explained previously, that’s not technically true, but those are common values in the keto community. If your inner voice urges you to eat a couple candy bars, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, or even a large bowl of mango, you can’t comply and still be ketogenic. You can’t listen to your intuition. Thus, if such a thing as an intuitive keto exists, it has to involve some sort of compromise. That said, I believe when people say “intuitive keto diet,” they mean keto without all the fuss and micromanaging. That is possible. Lots of people do it by: Eating mostly animal products, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fats (all low-carb foods) Eating when they are hungry, not rigidly adhering to a set eating window Allowing hunger to guide how much and how often they eat in any given day Not tracking macros That’s how I would define an intuitive keto diet, anyway, and the definition I’ll use for the rest of this post. One could argue, though, that that’s neither keto nor intuitive, not really. Eating Intuitively Versus Intuitive Eating It’s impossible to talk about intuitive keto without clarifying the difference between eating intuitively and Intuitive Eating (with a capital I-E for clarity). The former is loosely defined as eating according to your body’s hunger cues and desires for different foods. The latter is a specific eating philosophy developed in the mid-1990s by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, that is still popular today. Any kind of purposeful … Continue reading “Can You Eat an Intuitive Keto Diet?”

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New and Noteworthy: What I Read This Week—Edition 162

Research of the Week

Humans gained energy surplus by getting better at acquiring energy, not conserving it.

Another protective gene variant against COVID has been found.

Cheese is great for gains.

Hormesis is universal.

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Ask a Health Coach: Why Starting is So Hard

This week, Board-Certified health and wellness coach Chloé Maleski is here to answer a few of your questions regarding New Year’s Resolutions, specifically why starting them is such a challenge. If you’re struggling to get going, you’ll definitely want to check out Chloé’s recommendations in today’s post. We love getting your questions, so drop them in the comments below or in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.

James asked:
“I’m committed to eating healthier this year, but if I see pizza, corn chips, or cookies in the pantry or fridge, I can’t resist. I’ve tried keeping fresh veggies, bison burgers, and salmon on hand, but I always give in to the junk food first. Got any tips for staying on track?”
If you want to start eating differently, you have to set your environment up for success. Think about the foods in your pantry and fridge right now. Does keeping pizza, corn chips, and cookies on hand get you closer to your results or further away? Sure, buying fresh produce and protein-rich foods is a great place to begin. But if you really want to get off on the right foot, you’ve got to purge the junk, especially if they’re a trigger for you. People tend to believe that their healthy habits are formed by motivation and willpower. It’s actually your environment that pulls the biggest lever.

According to habit expert, James Clear, “If you want to maximize your odds of success, then you need to operate in an environment that accelerates your results rather than hinders them.” That being said, my first recommendation is to do a pantry purge.

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