Sweet is the first taste humans prefer from birth
Sweet is the first taste humans prefer from birth…
Does that morning Danish leave you craving another treat two hours later? Do you grab a candy bar to cope with your afternoon slump — and then reach for a cola to get out of your post-slump slump?
If you’ve found that munching sugary snacks just makes you crave more sugary snacks, you’re not alone. Eating lots of simple carbohydrates — without the backup of proteins or fats — can quickly satisfy hunger and give your body a short-term energy boost, but they almost as quickly leave you famished again and craving more.
The most common foods we crave are sugar, carbohydrates, chocolate, salt and, for some, cheese. First, let’s walk through the main causes of these cravings, and then I’ll share a few helpful tips for overcoming them.
There are many reasons why we go for sweet things.
Carbohydrates stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Sugar is a carbohydrate, but carbohydrates come in other forms, too, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
The taste of sugar also releases endorphins that calm and relax us, and offer a natural “high.”
Sweets just taste good, too. And that preference gets reinforced by rewarding ourselves with sweet treats, which can make you crave it even more. With all that going for it, why wouldn’t we crave sugar?
The problem comes not when we indulge in a sweet treat now and then, but when we over-consume, something that’s easy to do when sugar is added to many processed foods, including breads, yogurt, juices, and sauces.
Causes of Food Cravings
Leptin is a hormone your body produces in your fat tissue. It’s primary job is to stimulate your appetite and tell you when you’re full. This all works fine when your stomach and your brain are in the same reality. But, the problem starts when constant surges of leptin trick your brain into feeling hungry, even when you’re not. What causes this? One culprit is having too much body fat—more fat means more leptin is produced. Another cause is eating a diet high in sugary foods and processed carbs. The sugar triggers your fat cells to release surges of leptin. Whatever the reason, constant surges of leptin can lead to leptin resistance, which creates a feedback loop and further dulls your ability to perceive your real appetite. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to keep a normal balance of leptin in your body and, therefore, reduce your chances of being swept away by cravings.
Low levels of serotonin
Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter produced mainly in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It’s directly tied to our mood, appetite and digestion. Eating carbs and sugar increases the release of serotonin, making us feel fabulous (temporarily). So, when our levels are low, our brains think, “Oh! That candy bar or bagel is going to fix this!” A low serotonin level can be due to a variety of things, including poor gut health (90% of serotonin is made in the gut), alcohol consumption, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more vulnerable to sugar and crappy carbohydrate cravings when I’m feeling down in the dumps.
Endorphins and Food Addiction
Eating sugary foods, and even salt (hello chips!), increases the production of endorphins in your body. Endorphins are basically opiates that make us feel relaxed. So, when we eat these foods and experience this feeling, we want more—like the way drug users get addicted to narcotics. In fact, a recent study shows that sugar can have a more intense feeling of reward than. It’s that powerful. Therefore, the drug Naloxone (an opiate-blocker given to stop heroin and other narcotics from affecting the brain) also blocks the appeal and overeating tendencies for sugar, fat and chocolate. Another recent study looking at the addictive qualities of foods found that highly processed foods that are filled with fat and sugar can cause addictive eating because of their rapid rate of absorption. So, the more you can avoid packaged and processed foods, the more control you’ll have over your food choices.
This is a biggie. Sadness, boredom, stress, poor self-esteem, negative body image (and the list goes on) can prompt you to cruise the pantry. Who doesn’t want a sleeve of Oreos when they look back on a painful breakup, losing a job or just having a bad day? This is called phantom hunger. But since food cravings are often fleeting and disappear within an hour, choosing to eat a healthier food or opting for a mood-boosting activity may give you enough satisfaction in the moment while the craving passes.
Now, let’s discuss some more strategies for how to stop food craving
Tips for Tackling Food Cravings…
Thirst and dehydration make you feel hungry, and may kick up your food cravings. Drink water throughout the day to help you stay hydrated and control your hunger.
Avoid sugary foods and processed carbs
To prevent leptin surges and blood sugar crashes that pump up your appetite, avoid processed carbs and sweets as much as possible. You can still enjoy tasty treats, just whip them up with lower sugar, higher fiber and higher protein ingredients, like dark chocolate, almond flour, cassava flour and bean flours. These ingredients won’t trigger cravings and feed an appetite that just won’t quit.
Exercise and stay rested
Rather than relying on French fries and cookies to help you feel relaxed and happy, go for a brisk walk during the day and get into bed a little earlier in the evening. These habits produce endorphin’s just like the best tasting truffles on the planet. Plus, the exercise may boost your serotonin levels—something that should help you skip sugar and extra carbs more easily, too.
Make meditation and sunshine a priority
Taking a few minutes every day to meditate and getting 10-15 minutes a day of sunshine or light therapy may boost serotonin levels so you’re not reaching for Snickers to turn your mood around. Check out my meditation album + sample a free track here.
Avoid trigger foods for 21 days.
Your taste buds have a fantastic memory! If you really want to break food cravings, one of the best ways is to avoid eating those foods for a set period. Find healthier options to grab when you’re craving candy, cheese or chips—stuff like low-glycemic smoothies and desserts, fresh berries, guacamole or hummus with veggies or rice crackers, raw cashews and nut “cheese”.