We all know the scenario well. YOU started out on your health kick and a PESKY craving comes along intent on stopping you in your tracks and de-railing you from your mission!!!
Although some people dismiss cravings as a lack of self control, I have noticed that these people generally don’t tend to suffer from the impact of cravings – I prefer to dig a bit deeper and try to understand the reason for the craving.
Afterall, your body is SMART and may be trying to tell you something!!
Instead of GIVING IN to a craving immediately, here are some handy clues as to what your body might be trying to tell you… and some tips to stop your cravings from derailing you on your HEALTH PROMOTING GOAL so that you can think twice before reaching for high-calorie but low-nutritional value foods and instead give your body what it really needs and is asking for!
KNICKERBOCKER GLORY OR PENNY SWEETS
If you are desperate for SWEET STUFF chances are:
- Your SEROTONIN (happy hormone) has dipped or CORTISOL (stress hormone) has risen.
The sugar craving may arise because sugar rich or simple carbohydrate laden foods increase those feel good hormones.
- You need ENERGY due to your blood sugar levels taking a nose-dive or you are SUPER tired.
Simple carbohydrates provide easily-digestible, fast-acting energy which raises your blood sugar and fuels your brain.
- You are ADDICTED to sugar.
When we eats sugar, the brain produces huge surges of DOPAMINE. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) made in the brain. Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward and when we come to associate a certain activity with pleasure, mere anticipation may be enough to raise dopamine levels! We often find that someone who has stopped drinking alcohol has powerful sugar cravings as they are no longer getting regular sugar from alcohol intake.
TIP – Carbohydrate rich foods will help boost energy and serotonin levels but consider reaching for a handfull of raspberries instead. They will provide a sweet kick but will be more satisfying due to the higher fibre content. They will also have a less aggressive increase in your blood sugar levels and prevent that dreaded blood sugar roller coaster.
FIZZ POPPING SOFT DRINKS
- It could be your body has been trained to expect sugar or caffeine so this craving may more likely be just not the best habit!!!!!
TIP: Consider swapping out to a green tea or matcha but be mindful of the time of day. Green tea does contain caffeine but also contains l-theanine which provides balance. Either way set yourself a cut off point for caffeinated drinks in the day and maybe take a look at your sugar intake overall and swap some sugary foods for some whole intact fruits instead.
SALTY or CRUNCHY FOODS
- Are you STRESSED??
The adrenal glands are responsible for releasing CORTISOL. This hormone helps regulate blood pressure and manage our body’s response to stress. We sometimes crave salty foods when our adrenals have been taxed. We may also have a tendency to tense our jaw when we are stressed which may result in our body asking us for crunchy foods to release that tension we have held in our jaw.
- Are you DEHYDRATED?
This craving could be due to exercise causing your body to lose salt through sweat. Try eating a banana after exercise – this is a good way of replacing electrolytes, like potassium and magnesium.
- That DOPAMINE link again…
Salt can trigger the release of dopamine (that feel good hormone), making salty snacks pretty addictive.
Our brains and bodies are designed to enjoy the taste of salt because it’s necessary to survival. Over the course of human history, finding salt was difficult, so craving salt was a survival mechanism. Now however, the average person on a typical western diet eats too much salt. We need no more than one teaspoon of salt per day and its easy to exceed this is your diet is heavily weighted around processed foods.
TIP: Drink 1-2 small glasses of water to make sure you are adequately hydrated. Cut back on processed foods including fast food, breads, sauces, cereals, and tinned vegetables which can all be jam packed full of unnecessary sodium. Try cooking from scratch to keep a closer check on the sodium intake from your food. If you’re looking to cut back on salt without sacrificing flavor, give these ingredients a try: black pepper, garlic, seaweed, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, cirrus fruits (lemon / lime / orange) which can all fool your tongue into thinking you are eating salty foods when you are not. Seaweed really is rich in minerals, and it’s these that create a salty taste. Seaweed is especially high in potassium and magnesium, two minerals that guarantee flavour without the excessive sodium found in table salt. You can buy seaweed in a shaker which is a convenient way to add it into your diet.
- If you are choosing to eliminate bread (for gluten sensitivity, coeliac or just because you find yourself eating too much of it and never feeling quite satisfied) it might fast become your WHITE BEAR PROBLEM..
Also known as IRONIC PROCESS THEORY OR IRONIC REBOUND, the white bear problem refers to the psychological process that occurs when deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface.
For example, when someone is desperately trying not to think of a white bear they are more likely to imagine one, picture it and often think of nothing else! BREAD can then become that white bear. Don’t look at it, don’t talk about it, chances are all you can THINK about is BREAD!!!
- OR you may be low in the amino acid TRYPTOPHAN.
It is well known that DIET can alter plasma and brain concentrations of neurotransmitter precursors (building blocks for our chemical messangers), thereby impacting the production and release of our very important brain neurotransmitters.
The best example of this is mood and sleep-regulating SEROTONIN, whose production may be limited by the availability of its precursor, TRYPTOPHAN, in the brain.
When we eat TRYPTOPHAN or a CARB RICH but PROTEIN POOR meal, this INCREASES brain levels of tryptophan and serotonin. Although a carbohydrate meal itself lacks tryptophan, the meal causes insulin to be secreted. Insulin, in turn, decreases plasma levels of large neutral amino acids that would naturally compete with tryptophan for transport across the blood-brain barrier. The result – higher levels of tryptophan available and ready for conversion.
TIPS: Check that you are getting enough tryptophan rich foods in your diet and always make sure you eat a little carbohydrate alongside. If you aren’t Gluten Free, try a slice of Sprouted Whole Grain Bread and some banana.
Caffeine is considered a drug because it can be habit-forming and it can result in withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of adenosine, which calms the body.
Caffeine can alter the effects of several hormones.
- ADENOSINE: Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of adenosine, which calms the body. This can make you feel alert in the short run, but cause SLEEP distrubances later.
- ADRENALINE: Caffeine gives you a temporary boost, but possibly making you fatigued and depressed later.
- CORTISOL: Caffeine can increase CORTISOL which can lead to other health consequences ranging from us gaining weight, being lower in mood, as well as increasing our risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
- DOPAMINE: Caffeine increases dopamine. This can make you feel good at first, but after it wears off you can feel low. It can also lead to physical dependence.
If you drink coffee every day (or a caffeine containing energy drink etc.) you can develop caffeine dependence over time. If you are a daily coffee drinker and you decide to take a break, expect to experience some symptoms of withdrawal. Consider cutting down your caffeine intake gradually.
TIPS: Limit after 2pm. Enjoy before exercise! Don’t drink too much.
Alternatively, if you are craving coffee, it might just be that you are DEHYDRATED! Water is required for many metabolic processes and we start to feel sluggish and our energy drained when we become dehydrated. When this happens we reach for foods or drinks that will give us an instant hit of energy.
Try drinking 1-2 small glasses of water first and take a look at your water intake. We should be aiming for 2lts plain water (may include herbal teas) and gym water is in addition to this.
If you can’t seem to get enough water in your day, consider habit stacking and adding a small plain glass of water alongside every hot drink you make. The idea behind habit stacking is to add a new habit onto an existing habit to make it easier to build into your routine.
If you are craving chocolate your body may be low in Magnesium. It could also be a sugar craving depending on the richness of chocolate you reach for. Dark chocolate is a good choice as it is packed with magnesium, phytonutrients and antioxidant compounds. Just look for a bar that is 70% cacao. Anything less has more sugar and fewer protective flavanoids.
FRUIT AND VEGGIES!
This is a good problem to have….
Does this ever really happen I hear you ask??!! Well YES!! Think back to that post Xmas or post holiday period when all you want to eat is FRUIT SALADS, SMOOTHIES, BIG BOWLS OF SPRING SALADS AND WHOLESOME HANDFULLS OF GREENS….
It might be that you need more Vitamin C or vitamins and minerals in general and it might be your body’s way to ask you for a bit more balance and have a post holiday reset.