How to Curb that Craving!

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Food cravings are experienced by everyone from time to time but some people, like me, find it more difficult than others to control them without a daily hit of chocolate or chips just to get through the day. Think of that 3pm slump!

Distinguishing the underlying cause for food cravings can be challenging, since they usually stem from a combination of emotional, hormonal and biochemical factors.

Physical and biochemical factors

A major trigger for food cravings is low or fluctuating blood sugar levels. This is typically caused by a lack of food as a result of going too long between meals. Your mid-afternoon cravings may be your body’s way of telling you it has been too long since lunch and you actually need to eat.

A piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts - I always have some in my bag - can get the blood sugar levels back up and prevent you from reaching for that decadent chocolate bar you’ve been craving.

Food cravings can sometimes be due to a nutrient deficiency. You may find yourself craving a particular food because your body is looking for the specific nutrients contained in it. Craving red meat can be a sign of iron deficiency, for instance, while craving dairy products may indicate a calcium deficiency and a craving for dark chocolate may be a sign of magnesium deficiency.

Some of the strongest food cravings for women often occur while pregnant, suggesting that hormonal swings have an influence. And let's face it, at that time of the month cravings for sugar laden, processed foods increases, doesn't it ladies!

Emotional and psychological factors

Emotions such as anxiety, frustration and loneliness play a big part in food cravings, too. The most common emotional or psychological triggers for food cravings include stress, depression, boredom and a general need for comfort.

I always tend to reach for a bag of biscuits, or a bowl of ice cream in order to comfort myself in these times, and then it can possibly become a regular habit.

A study published in 2001 showed that carbohydrate cravers reported feeling distressed before their cravings while protein cravers reported feeling anxious before their cravings.

The brain contains a neurotransmitter called serotonin that is involved in the regulation of mood and induces happy, feel-good emotions.

Other studies have shown that consuming high-carbohydrate meals raise serotonin, while fatty or protein-rich meals tend to lower serotonin levels.

Foods that are high in sugar or have a high glycaemic index are quickly absorbed and cause blood sugar levels to climb, which then causes the pancreas to release insulin, leading to a “sugar crash” and resulting in a vicious cycle where you are always looking for the next “high” from the sugar hit.

If you think that eating a whole block of chocolate in one sitting is purely due to your weak-willed nature, then think again. Chocolate may be craved for a number of reasons and not just for comfort, and for its fat and sugar content. Certain alkaloids that have been isolated in chocolate raise brain serotonin levels and chocolate craving may be due in part to a serotonin deficiency.

In fact, eating any type of sugary foods releases a short burst of serotonin, which makes you feel temporarily better. Unfortunately, this temporary “high” is then followed by a bigger crash, making you feel worse than you did before reaching for a treat and causes the craving to return.

So how do you curb cravings?

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  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritionally adequate diet to help stabilise blood sugar levels and decreases cravings
  • Eliminate simple sugars, increase complex carbohydrates, consume adequate protein, avoid caffeine, increase essential fatty acids and decrease saturated fats and fried foods
  • Eat regular meals based on slow energy-releasing foods such fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrains (rather than refined white rice and breads), beans, meat and fish
  • Have regular protein snacks that are low on the glycaemic scale, such as eggs and nuts as protein
  • Increase serotonin and tryptophan, which can be found in foods such as meat, tofu, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • Have adaptogen herbs as they enable the body to adapt to stress with fewer fluctuations in appetite, mood and sleep patterns. Because of this, they are ideal for people who overeat because of emotional stress, i.e. ME!
  • Key nutrients that help improve blood sugar control including chromium, B vitamins, particularly vitamins B3 and B6, magnesium and zinc. In particular a deficiceny of vitamin B6 can lead to mood alterations that, in turn, can exacerbate cravings.

Other Mummy Mojo Tips

  • Relax with deep breathing exercises or meditation
  • Remain hydrated. Sometimes hunger can actually be a signal that you’re thirsty
  • Think of your favourite foods as a reward, a small treat after you’ve finished your exercise for the day. I can't go a day without at least two pieces of my dark Loving Earth chocolate. A girl has to live!