It’s a rare phenomena to come across a woman who hasn’t suffered from cravings at some point in her life…I’m sure most of us can relate to reaching for a piece of chocolate to satisfy some deep craving that simply won’t disappear until you taste that sweet, creamy treat. Everyone has their own triggers, whether it’s the chocolate biscuits calling from the pantry, the ice cream beckoning from the freezer or the salty goodness of a packet of chips in the cupboard….
Is it actually the food that’s pestering you? Nope it’s cravings, we know the feeling but do we actually understand them?
Here are some of the common causes:
Your body produces the hormone leptin in your fat tissue. It’s job is to let you know when you’re hungry and when you’ve had enough. Problems with regulating this hormone happen when you get surges of leptin which trick us into feeling hungry, even when we’re not. There are two main causes for this – having a surplus of body fat and eating a diet high in sugary foods and processed carbs.
Low serotonin levels
Serotonin is our ‘happy hormone’ – it’s produced mainly in the gastrointestinal tract and is directly related to mood, appetite and digestion. The issue is that carbs and sugar increase the release of serotonin, lifting our mood, albeit temporarily. This is when we’re likely to dive into a sugary donut! Low serotonin levels can be a reflection of poor gut health, excessive alcohol consumption or mental issues such as anxiety and depression.
Endorphins make us feel good, nice and relaxed. Eating sugary foods and even salt will increase the production of endorphins in the body. When we eat these foods and feel good, we want more of them! This can in extreme cases, lead to food addiction. Past studies have shown that sugar can be more addictive than cocaine. The more you can avoid highly processed, sugar laden foods, the more control you will have over your food choices.
Poor gut health
A healthy gut is essential so it’s in the best shape to absorb nutrients from food and pump serotonin through your GI tract. Good gut health is largely reliant on a healthy balance of good bacteria – eating fermented foods and taking probiotics is a great way to keep on top of this.
This is definitely a biggie. Feelings of boredom, sadness, stress, poor self-esteem can lead us to reaching for foods that aren’t of high nutritional quality. Food cravings can often disappear within an hour so try to reach for something healthy or distract yourself by going for a walk to get your endorphins that way.
Now we know a little more about the causes, here’s some tips for keeping food cravings at bay:
Avoid processed carbs and sugary foods
To avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes that pump up your appetite stay away from these foods as much as possible. Reach for a healthy protein snack like some nuts or seeds or if you MUST have chocolate have a couple of squares of dark chocolate with a high cocoa content.
Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger – drink water throughout the day to help control hunger. Mix it up with adding some fresh lemon or lime or have a cup of green tea.
Exercise regularly and get a good amount of sleep
Avoid looking to food to make you feel happy. Head out for a walk or hike instead, better still grab a friend and catch up while getting some endorphins pumping. Exercise will also boost serotonin levels, this will help to make avoiding the sugar and processed carbs easier. A lack of sleep will decrease leptin levels driving up food cravings and your body will also store more fat.
Break bad habits but trying the 21 day rule
If you’re really keen to break food cravings stay away from your weakness foods for 21 days. Replace the sweets, donuts, chips and chocolate with fresh berries, guacamole and nuts. After 3 weeks your taste buds will adapt and your crave these healthy, whole foods instead. Think of this as ‘crowding out’ the not so good foods rather than restricting what you can’t have.
Most importantly don’t get despondent, if you succumb to your cravings don’t beat yourself up – we all slip off the bandwagon occasionally! Next time you feel the familiar feeling creeping in, reach for the healthier option, hit the pavement for a walk or go to your favourite yoga class and the craving will fade into the background.