Food cravings. We’ve all had them at one time or another.
I’m not talking about the pregnancy tuna and chocolate pizza type but rather your straightforward hankering for a big plate of pasta, chips or the sweetness of chocolate. When the cravings begin, it’s hard to say ‘no’ your body – and bang goes your healthy eating routine for another day or two.
But what causes these pesky food cravings? And how do you get round them? Well, that’s what we’ll go on to discuss in this article. First though, there’s not just one thing that leads to a food craving, there are actually quite a few possibilities, such as:
Causes of food cravings
You may have heard of Leptin. It’s had quite a bit of press in recent years due to its connection with Type 2 diabetes (it’s as much a culprit when it comes to the illness as the hormone insulin). Also a hormone, leptin can be found in the body’s fat tissue. It’s responsible for stimulating your appetite then letting your know when you’re full. It’s easy to see then that constant surges of leptin will make you eat more by tricking your brain into believing you’re hungry (even when, physically, you’re not). It will do this if (a) you have too much body fat and (b) your diet is high in sugary foods and processed carbs.
Contrary to what many of us believe, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter serotonin is mostly found in our gut (rather than our brain). This is despite the fact it affects our mood. Being in the gastrointestinal tract though, it’ll also affect our appetite and digestion. It’s why we get such a high (albeit temporary) after eating sugar and refined carbs. So it’s not illogical for us to unconsciously or consciously reach for a bar of chocolate or packet of crisps when feeling a bit fed up or down. It’s a process of using food as an anti-depressant drug.
This is a biggie. Sadness, boredom, stress, poor self-esteem, negative body image etc etc can prompt us to raid our kitchen cupboards at any time of the day or night. Its hunger brought on by emotional triggers. We’re not actually hungry, we just think that eating something sweet will make us feel better (see previous point). But instead of scoffing a giant tub of Ben and Jerrys or a huge slab of Dairy Milk after a break-up or nasty row with your boss, a better idea would be to ring a mate or go for a swim. In other words, do something that you know will make you feel good and positive about yourself.
The main thing about food cravings is that they’re temporary. Like the yearning for a cigarette by someone’s who’s just quit smoking, food cravings will also pass. Here’s how to make sure they don’t arise in the first place:
How to prevent food cravings
Feeling thirsty can often manifest as a food craving. Next time you get a craving experiment by getting a glass of water and drinking it quickly in big gulps (rather than little sips). Walk around at the same time and think about something other than food. When finished, put down the glass and go and do something. That craving will have gone.
Don’t eat ‘rubbish’
Replace sugar and high carb foods with healthier options which contain more fibre and quality proteins. That means introducing more dark chocolate into your diet as well as cakes and biscuit treats made from almond, cassava or bean flours. None of those ingredients will trigger a food craving.
Exercise and rest
Exercise suppresses our appetite and boosts our serotonin levels. Researchers agree that morning exercise is best because it fires us to be more active for the rest of the day. Rest, meanwhile, allows us to recharge our batteries which is essential because it’s when we’re ‘running on empty’ that our blood sugar levels go haywire and we reach for ‘quick fixes’ such as sugar and processed foods with poor nutritional value.
Meditate and seek the sun
Meditation means taking time out for you and is essential in this ‘constantly connected’ age. It’s also important to get outdoors for at least 15 minutes every day to let the sunlight seep into your bones and brain in order to boost both.
Avoid trigger foods
Our taste buds have a fantastic memory. They remember the foods they love. Make them forget by not eating those foods for at least 21 days. Go for healthier options. Instead of a Wispa reach for some berries when you want a little sugar. Try replacing a craving for toast and butter with rice cakes and hummus. Instead of a biscuit at 3pm reach for a handful of unsalted cashews instead.
About the author
Dominica Roszko is a nutrition and well-being specialist, and the founder of vegerasta.com – a site dedicated to healthy living.