Food cravings can often sabotage your attempts to create healthy habits in your life. Have you ever caught someone with high cholesterol or heart disease eating something that they shouldn’t? Or have you done it yourself?
Food cravings can be one of the most challenging parts of starting a new weight loss plan. They also prevent diabetics or pre-diabetes from eating foods that balance their blood sugars. Learning how to manage food cravings is one of the most important behavioral changes for your health.
There are several types of food cravings. Sometimes they are emotional, sometimes they are physical. Sometimes you can have a combination of the two.
Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found correlations between the memory centers and craving centers in the brain. The three areas of the brain that were studied were the hippocampus, insula and caudate.
When we eat certain foods they stimulate these centers of the brain similarly to drug addictions. So food can be an addiction too.
The pleasure centers of the brain are stimulated by the fat in foods. Fat gives foods flavor. This is why we love food loaded with fat. It helps us to associate positive memories with the foods we eat.
Our genes also make us want to eat fatty food or high calorie foods because we associate high calories with energy. Before the invention of modern day fast foods our genes wanted to storage energy.
As hunter-gatherers we didn’t eat on a regular basis and need the extra energy to survive. Our genes still want to store energy even though we now typically eat several times per day.
Huge swings in our production and release of insulin can trigger food craving. When we eat highly processed or sugary foods our bodies release extra amounts of insulin to help our high blood sugars after those meals get into the cells. The high insulin levels cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels making us feel hungry and triggering our craving start all over again.
Food craving can be used to calm emotional stress and anxiety.
Serotonin has a calming effect on our system and it is boosted when we eat carbohydrates. This is why we can crave carbohydrates when we are stressed.
When we speak of carbohydrates we are usually talking in code, referring to junk foods, foods that are high in carbohydrates, especially sugar and fat. Examples of these types of foods are potato chips, sweets, pastries, cookies, cakes, ice cream, as well as macaroni and cheese, just to name a few.
So how do we conquer food cravings? By eating balanced, nutritious and delicious whole food meals. When you do this you stimulate your pleasure centers and balance your blood sugars too.
Balance your blood sugars
When you eat a balanced meal including the right protein, carbohydrates and fats, your cravings disappear. The right type of protein includes lean proteins, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. The right type of carbohydrates include fiber-based carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables or whole grains. The right fats are healthy monounsaturated fats and essential fatty acids.
Eat your meals
Eat a healthy breakfast and don’t skip meals. This is key to keeping your blood sugars balanced and your craving down.
Practice stress management
Notice how you feel and take care of your emotions and yourself. When you give yourself permission to understand your feelings, you can make behavioral decisions that don’t include food to soothe your emotions and anxiety.
Understanding how your body uses food is the first step to controlling your food cravings. Creating the right behaviors to address them without food is the next.
Sometimes you can’t do it on you own, so if you need help call our office to get assistance in creating a plan that works for you.