One view of the new Baywatch trailer will probably have you saying, “Holy buff Zac Efron!” The actor plays an Olympic swimmer-turned-lifeguard in the film, and he looks more toned and muscular than ever. We found out his body transformation didn’t come without hard work. Last year, Efron told Men’s Fitness magazine that he trained for 10 weeks for the film, working out five or six days a week, and sometimes twice a day. He paired his intense fitness regimen with a strict low-carb, low-sugar diet, too. He shared some of his healthy meals on Instagram, and they actually looked downright delicious. And Efron said sticking to healthy #eeeeeats helped to curb his junk food cravings.
“After a while your body stops craving junk food and you look forward to these meals,” he told the magazine. “You go, ‘Holy cow, I want kale and vinaigrette shredded with beets and a little bit of sweet potato!'”
He’s right: Eating healthy for a sustained period of time can turn us off from our unhealthy cravings. Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., founder of the F-Factor Diet, tells SELF that studies support Efron’s statements. “There’s science that supports why the cravings minimize, and there are studies that support that when you start eating healthier, you start craving healthier foods,” Zuckerbrot says.
Let’s explain junk food cravings. When you eat any type of carb, whether it’s a complex carb (found in foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) or a refined carb (like white bread, cakes, pasta, and white rice), your body breaks it down to its simplest form—glucose, a form of sugar. When glucose enters the bloodstream, insulin gets secreted to carry the glucose to cells for energy—that’s the body “burning carbs” for energy, which is the primary fuel for the body. Complex carbs break down slowly, but refined carbs flood your system with this glucose (often with more than you can use at one time). If you eat refined carbs regularly, your body starts to expect a pattern of glucose. “The one day you choose not to have carbs, the body has secreted the insulin anyway—that’s the vicious cycle,” Zuckerbrot says. The insulin is there, and your body is begging for all those carbs you promised it. “When people stop eating carbs or sugars or some of these refined foods or junk foods, the first few days they go through withdrawal. They don’t feel well—they feel weak, tired, shaky, cranky.”
On top of this, sugar itself is seriously addictive. When you eat it, you get a hit of the feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and seratonin. It’s the same basic brain response elicited by cocaine. “You then become addicted to that feeling, so every time you eat it you want to eat more,” Gina Sam, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at the Mount Sinai Hospital, previously told SELF.
The good news: Zuckerbrot says you can kick those cravings in a few weeks by sticking to a diet that’s high in fiber and low in refined carbs. (Efron says it took him two to three weeks to get his sugar cravings to subside.) When your body is experiencing “withdrawal” symptoms, it’s in a state of very low blood sugar and trying to get back to a stable level. High-fiber foods, like complex carbs, take your body longer to digest, meaning glucose will be released more gradually and evenly. “When that blood sugar spike isn’t experienced, the subsequent cravings aren’t experienced either,” Zuckerbrot says.
Even your taste buds will change to accommodate your new habits. Taste buds regenerate about every 11 days, so by the end of your withdrawal period you’ll actually have a tongue that’s more used to eating less sugary food, and you’ll lose your taste for the sweet stuff (at least to some degree).
And as your body gets used to how good it feels running on healthy fuel, you might find yourself jonesing for kale and beets just like Zac Efron does.
Check out Efron’s results below:
h/t Men’s Fitness
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