Food cravings are very common, particularly in Winter. Whether it is a craving for specific food types, like chocolate, foods high in sugar or carbohydrates, cravings seem to constantly get in the way when it comes to staying on track with exercise, nutrition and weight loss.
There seems to be a connection between food and mood and a frequently proposed theory is that a lot of people eat (carbohydrates) to elevate mood. This occurs through increases in a neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin is known to have a positive effect on mood.
Chocolate is the food most typically associated with reports of food cravings. Chocolate cravings are endorsed by 40% of women and 15% of men and although many chocolate cravers report and overall preference for sweet foods, most report that other foods will not suffice to satisfy a craving for chocolate. While all food promotes a reward response in the brain in a negative energy balance as a means of encouraging eating, high sugary foods have been shown to elicit larger amounts of pleasure and reward neurotransmitter dopamine which plays a role in habit formation.
A blood sugar dip due to many hours between eating or in response to high simple carbohydrate intake can make your body scream for something sugary! Emotions can also cause a sense of ‘need’ for non-nutritious foods.
How do we beat these cravings?
- Eating regularly (every 2 hours) is key to avoiding a dip in blood sugar levels and in turn having cravings for food with little to no nutritional value.
- Eating smaller meals more often will stop you going into starvation mode which causes a change in neurotransmitters and hormones.
- Prioritise nutrient-rich foods like nuts or substitute your chocolate fix for a sugar free chocolate protein bar.
- Enforcing regular meals and snacks comprising of complex carbohydrate and protein will help to stabilise blood sugar levels.
- Retrain your brain by having a period of abstinence from sugar and simple carbohydrates. Break the circuit!
- Plan your meals for the week so that you have nutritious meals and snacks on hand.
- Having a well balanced diet including protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables and grains will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Snacking on foods like nuts and berries will also provide other nutrient rich alternatives to chocolate and sugary foods. Balance is all about eating well, but also being able to treat yourself without binging.
References for Food Cravings:
- Nutr. March 1, 2003, vol.133 no 3 835S-837S
- Women health & fitness, December 2015, vol.21 no.12