We all experience cravings on a daily basis. They are intense desires for specific foods, stronger than normal hunger. The types of food that people crave vary but often it’s processed food, high in sugar, fat and salt which can make maintaining a healthy diet difficult.
Every day we try to resist these temptations and blame ourselves if we succumb to them. We view cravings as a weakness, but really they are essential messages sent by our bodies to let us know something is missing. There is a good reason why you can’t resist certain foods even though you know they are not good for you. It’s not about your lack of willpower or weakness, it’s about specific biological processes that create intense cravings. Food cravings are caused by a part of the brain that is responsible for memory, pleasure and reward.
An imbalance of hormones such as serotonin, can contribute to food cravings. Serotonin is a feel-good chemical and when levels are low we crave sugars and carbohydrates. This is because the body uses carbs to make serotonin. Endorphins are basically opiates that make us feel relaxed, so when we eat sugary foods we experience this feeling of relaxation and we want more. Sugar and fat stimulate the brain’s reward centre exactly like any other addictive drug does.
When you are experiencing a craving, take a moment to slow down and deconstruct it. Consider what your body really needs; are you missing out on essential nutrients? Sometimes we over-eat in search of nourishment. Are you using food to replace a feeling? Are you feeling stressed, lonely or tired or looking for comfort after a stressful day? These cravings have nothing to do with physical nutrition. They are for connection, fulfilment and love.
Dehydration is probably the most common cause of cravings. Water keeps us full and reduces cravings. Dehydration can manifest as hunger and this may cause you to reach for unhealthy snacks. So the first thing you do when you get a craving is to drink a full glass of water, then wait a few minutes to see if it helps. Sip some herbal teas like peppermint or ginger. Licorice is also a great choice.
LACK OF NUTRIENTS
Are you missing out on a balanced diet? Eating a diet high in refined carbs and processed foods can often lead to food cravings. Our bodies are clever, it tells us when we are not feeding it properly. If you feed it sugar, and saturated fats and oils, it is going to send you a message that it needs more food. While you may be eating a lot your body is malnourished, so your brain tells you to keep on eating. Most people keep eating because they are under-nourished and over-fed.
Add more good fats into your diet, including avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil and coconut oil which slow down the release of glucose, meaning you stay fuller for longer. Include protein with every meal, sprinkle nuts and seeds into your smoothies, salads and stir-frys. Nuts and seeds provide protein, good fats and a range of vitamins and minerals. Cut out refined white carbs, only eat wholegrain – preferably gluten free ones.
If you want something sweet, choose foods that support you rather than deplete you. When you change your diet your palate changes over time. Go for a small piece of good quality dark chocolate (70% cacao or above). It’s full of antioxidants A little goes a long way.
GREENS AND MORE GREENS
Dark leafy greens are the best way to nourish your body. Juicing on a regular basis will flood your body with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and other goodies. It will reduce your craving for junk food.
LOW BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Low blood sugar levels will trigger hunger and carbohydrate cravings. To avoid getting extremely hungry, eat regularly and have healthy snacks close at hand. When we don’t get enough food earlier in the day, for example skipping breakfast and eating a light lunch, you will crave food in the evening, even if you’ve eaten a big dinner. Too little food eaten during the day can cause appetite-related hormones to be released later in the day.
Feeling dissatisfied with a relationship or your career, being bored, stressed or lacking an exercise routine may all cause emotional eating. We often use food to fill a void or to distract us from feeling bored or lonely. For example if we experience loneliness, we often reach for chocolate or something sweet to boost our mood. If we have experienced a stressful day and are feeling exhausted we crave a glass of wine or something sweet to release tension. Food can fill you, but not fulfil you.
Our bodies are always working for us, sending us important messages that are too important to ignore. It does everything it can to keep you alive and functioning.
Working to understand your cravings is one of the best places to start to build a nourishing relationship with your body. I don’t believe in willpower, I believe in taking the time to find out what your body really wants and needs.
The more you nourish your body and mind with what it needs the less likely you will experience cravings. Remember, small steps lead to big changes. Start with one of these suggestions and see how you feel.