Many people struggle with food cravings. The fact that you’re experiencing them doesn’t mean that you’re weak or unmotivated; it’s a sign that your body is calling out for help. Once you understand where the cravings are coming from you will be able to fight back and reverse them for good. Cravings are a common challenge that people face when dealing with health and hormone imbalances.
It’s important to figure out if a craving is coming out of real hunger or for another reason.
The four most common reasons behind uncontrollable cravings are: Improper feeding schedules, blood sugar instabilities, emotional eating and stress.
Most of us have never been taught how to properly feed and take care of our bodies. We walk around with these incredible machines and yet have no understanding of what they are trying to tell us. To achieve true health, we need to merge our bodies and minds and have them communicate together so we can better understand our own needs.
Improper Feeding Schedules: Did you know that your body cannot tell the difference between hunger and thirst? If you skip meals, or wait longer than 3-4 hours in between meals, this could be the problem. Find out if you are truly hungry. Drink a 12-oz. glass of water and see if you were just thirsty instead. If the cravings are still strong think back to when your last meal was. How many hours ago was that? If your last meal or snack was more than three hours ago you probably need to eat. Have an early lunch. In this situation, your body is truly hungry and the cravings are showing up because of a need to get more calories in.
Blood Sugar Instabilities: If you feel yourself getting “hangry” in between meals or if you skip meals this is most likely your issue. Symptoms of low blood sugar include feeling lightheaded, dizzy, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, angry, short, irritable, weak or fatigued. When cravings come on due to this they hit hard and fast and you find yourself quickly grabbing for anything that will pick you up before you say something you will regret, pass out or hit the floor. In this situation, your blood sugar is too low. Cravings are hitting hard because your body is sounding the alarm bells. You need to get sugar into your blood stream pronto. People who struggle with this need to eat three solid meals per day and have at least 2 snacks. Do not go more than 2.5 hours without eating. By eating regularly, you will avoid those dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar.
Emotional Eating: Many of us were taught early in life that food was a form of comfort. You may recall some incident when you scraped your knee and got a lollipop to make you feel better. These associations made early in life form neural pathways in the brain. When you are scared, nervous or sad it changes brain chemistry and your body defaults to a state of want. If we have become accustomed to looking for something outside of us to make us feel better, it perpetuates the cycle into adulthood. This typically shows up as cravings for dessert, chips, chocolate, or sugar. Ex-smokers fall into this category as well. Nicotine changes brain chemistry and nicotine withdrawal triggers brain cravings in a similar way as discussed above.
For many, emotional eating can be unconscious. You may not even be aware that you are eating out of an emotional need instead of a physical one. Step one is awareness. If you just ate a meal check in with yourself and see if something emotional is brewing under the surface.
Stress Eating: Stress is all around us. When faced with stress there are two ways to approach it. We can react to it or we can respond to it. This may just seem like a twist on words however the shift is profound. When we “react” to something there is a negative vibe to it. Something happens “to” us and we are put on the defensive. It all happens instantaneously in our bodies on a physical, emotional and mental level.
Conversely, when we “respond” to something there is a positive vibe to it. Something happens “for” us and we are put on the offensive. This too happens instantaneously.
When a stressor is perceived as negative our adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol. Our body goes into fight or flight mode. When this happens digestion and immune function slow down, the brain demands more glucose (sugar). Adrenal glands require minerals and electrolytes. The brain robs sugar from the blood and liver and this causes blood sugar to drop. With these changes the body flips into survival mode. When your brain is out of glucose, the adrenals are running on low battery and no more is available the cravings hit. This really should be called the “hungry brain” syndrome. Glucose boosts hormones in the brain and allows it to function normally. It makes sense then that we would reach for chocolate or salt or both to combat the internal urges. In this situation, what your body really needs is glucose from fruits and mineral salts from leafy greens, celery, spinach and cucumber to restore balance. Resorting to refined sugars and salty snacks is only a quick fix. The big picture here is to carefully watch how stress affects you and focus on being centered so you can respond to it instead of reacting to it.
Here Are a Few Takeaways to Implement Now:
- Start your day by ALWAYS eating breakfast. Never skip this important meal, even if you’re not a “breakfast person.” Breakfast should be well balanced with protein, vegetables, fruit and resistant starch. The standard breakfast of cereal and milk is not well balanced and will trigger more cravings throughout the day.
- Avoid refined, processed, and packaged carbs and sugars. These products will continue to stimulate more and more cravings just like cereal in the example above.
- Cravings cannot be ignored. Instead, reach for something with better nutrition. Replace that craving by snacking on some raw nuts, fruit and veggies. Think of your body as a wood-burning stove. To maximize function, we need to put fuel in that will allow it to burn long, slow, and evenly without the flames expiring. In other words, you wouldn’t want to use sticks and leaves which burn out fast. You would want to use nice-sized logs that burn long and strong, and when the fire starts to burn out, you would want to grab another log to put on the flames. Processed carbs and sugar are to our bodies what sticks and leaves are to the wood-burning stove. When we experience cravings, it’s as though the fire is starting to burn low. In those moments, you may notice that your body craves things like sugars and carbs, which are like “quick fixes” or leaves on the fire. One of the best snacks to reset the cycle is a bowl of fresh berries with raw honey drizzled on top. (Here are some more of my favorite healthy snacks while on the go: Buffalo jerky, 2-4 apples, protein bars, trail mix, dried fruit, individual packets of olives, almond butter, and rolled oats. Mary’s gone crackers, celery and carrot sticks, individual serving cups of hummus or guacamole.)
PLAN FOR SUCCESS
Quick fixes do not provide the nutrients you need, they are only a Band-Aid. Over time, you become more depleted and have more and more cravings instead of suppressing them.
The best way to kick cravings to the curb for good is to plan ahead. Be sure that you have nutritious snacks with you on a day-to-day basis. Knowledge is power, with these three tips in mind, you should be able to take action steps to help overcome cravings. Remember that we are here to help. Reach out to us if you need help in managing cravings. We will work together to tackle cravings and provide you with the help you need to get focused on your journey toward better health.