How many times have you felt that mid-afternoon or late-night craving of desperately wanting chocolate, cookies, pastries or chips? I’ll raise my hand to that one! It just seems a constant battle doesn’t it? Lets also be honest, it’s often a battle we lose!
But where do these cravings come from, and can they be beaten?
Cravings are the result of both a mental and physiological trigger that respond to either our emotions or something our body is missing. Therefore feeling sad, bored or lonely can be a trigger as can nutritional deficiencies. What will often happen though, is that reaching for these types of foods during these times can easily turn into a habit and then you really have a problem as a habit is so much more difficult to break than a one off craving.
As humans we will often connect food to different experiences, certain times of year, the holidays or a vacation, which ultimately means it becomes tied to our emotions. So when we’re feeling stressed or sad, it’s no surprise that we tend to seek comfort in the larder or fridge. However, there is also a science behind why we’re reaching for chocolate instead of kale.
Certain foods will trigger a “high” feeling, stimulating the “happy” hormone serotonin. Therefore, when we are feeling low, stressed or sad these foods will literally take us to that “happy” place in our brain. Unfortunately this high can become addictive, turning cravings into a habit every time you feel down.
Repeating a behavior creates a pathway in the brain. You wont even realize you are doing it until it is too late and the pathway has been created and that very pathway becomes incredibly difficult to undo.
Lack of sleep can have an even bigger impact on our cravings than stress. If we’re not getting sufficient sleep, all of our hormones become out of whack and we don’t shut off our appetite when we should making us hungry even into the early morning hours. Being tired can also increase our hunger hormone, which means we continually look for sweet, savory or salty foods.
As previously mentioned craving can also be a signal of nutrient deficiencies. Noting the type of food you crave will give you an indication of what you may be lacking. Sugar cravings can indicate mineral deficiencies and blood sugar imbalances, while salty foods like chips or pretzels could mean you have a mineral deficiency, such as sodium. A constant chocolate craving could be a sign that your body needs more magnesium, while salt cravings could be related to stress or PMS.
If your cravings are based on a nutrient deficiency, looking for a healthier alternative would be advisable. Therefore if you crave chocolate due to a lack of magnesium in your diet try eating a healthy nut butter, sunflower seeds, almonds, or seafood. Eat plenty of berries, apples, pineapples, or kiwi, you can also satisfy a sweet tooth by adding cinnamon to many foods.
If it is salt you are yearning for, reach for edamame beans. You can buy them from the supermarket frozen or pop them in the microwave to steam them. Add a little salt and you have met your salty craving but at least the snack is high in nutrients. Instead of reaching for energy drinks or sodas for a boost in the day, drink sparkling or infused water instead.
If you feel a craving coming on, take a walk outside, fresh air and exercise can help increase blood flow to the body and give you more energy. Also instead of consuming calories you are burning them.
You may like to consider increasing your intake of protein. Being aware of the quality of your meals and including the right amount of protein that will leave you feeling fuller for longer and have the biggest impact in the reduction of your cravings is key.
Increasing your intake of minerals and vitamins, especially those found in leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and eggs, can do wonders for naturally boosting energy levels and curbing cravings.
There is some good news! Total deprivation almost always leads to failure so enjoy the occasional treat, guilt free, this will curb the craving and reduce the risk of binging.