Guide To Food Cravings
A food craving is more than a preference for particular foods, or an impulse to buy certain snacks. A food craving is an insistent desire for a type of food (eg. candy, pizza) which we often go to some lengths to satisfy. Cravings for high-sugar or high fat foods are especially distracting for anyone on a calorie-controlled diet or who is struggling with a weight problem. Fortunately, with a little forethought and planning, it is not too difficult to curb such cravings, although the more support you can get when doing this, the better.
What Causes Food Cravings?
The general consensus among most doctors and dietitians is that cravings stem from a complex combination of emotional, hormonal and biochemical factors. Blood sugar imbalance is seen as the foundation for most cravings, but emotional and hormnal factors are also contributory factors. A small number of cravings can be the result of a food allergy – we crave the very food to which we are allergic! – and a few people still believe that we crave certain foods because our body is “telling us” to remedy a specific nutritional deficiency, although in view of the fact that most of our cravings tend to be for less healthy high-sugar or high-fat foods, this view is now less popular.
The most common emotional or psychological triggers for food cravings include: stress, depression, boredom and a general need for comfort. In severe cases, cravings can lead to binge eating and other types of eating disorders. If your yearning for certain foods is causing episodes of uncontrolled bingeing, you must seek help from your doctor.
The fact that the strongest food cravings occur in the week prior to menstruation, or during pregnancy, suggests that hormonal swings have an influence on this type of urge to eat. Also, it’s interesting that men – who typically are less affected by hormone imbalance than women – tend to develop fewer cravings.
Low Blood Sugar (Blood Glucose)
A major trigger for food cravings is low blood sugar. This is typically caused by lack of food as a result of going too long between meals/snacks, or following very low calorie diets.
Blood Sugar Imbalance
Studies indicate that people with cravings, especially regular dieters, often have an underlying blood sugar imbalance: meaning, their blood sugar levels fluctuate too much because they eat too much of the wrong type of carbohydrate. Fluctuations in blood sugar can cause cravings, water retention, excessive thirst and mood swings.
How To Reduce Your Food Cravings
Although there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for controlling cravings, most of these urges to eat can be reduced by stabilizing your blood sugar levels. To achieve this, try these healthy eating tips.
1. Eat At Regular Intervals During The Day
If you skip meals (eg. breakfast) or go too long without eating, your blood sugar levels will fall too low, which is a perfect recipe for food cravings, overeating and even binges. Allowing 3-4 hours between meals/snacks is a sensible maximum for women, although 3 hours is better. Men typically can safely wait 4-5 hours. And you don’t need to eat much: even a single oat-cake can be enough between meals to keep eating urges at bay. As well as maintaining stable blood glucose levels, regular eating helps your metabolism to burn calories at an efficient rate. Finally, studies show that regular eating helps to reduce cravings associated with Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).
2. Do Not Reduce Your Calorie Intake Below A Safe Level
Diets containing fewer than 800 calories a day should ONLY be followed under medical supervision. Weight loss diets with fewer than 1000 calories are not recommended and even those with 1100 calories should only be followed for a short period of time (eg. 14-days). If you want to lose weight, aim for a minimum of 1200 calories, and choose nutrient-dense foods (with high nutritional content) rather than empty-calorie foods/drinks (eg. candy, ice-cream, regular sodas, alcohol).
3. Choose Low-GI Carbs For Optimum Blood Sugar Control
During digestion, the carbohydrate in our food is converted to glucose and then absorbed into the bloodstream to provide energy. Unfortunately, certain types of refined carbohydrate (those with a high-GI value) are absorbed too quickly and raise blood sugar levels too high causing what’s known as a “sugar-spike”. This in turn causes the body to “overreact” and depress blood glucose levels below normal. This yo-yo effect causes all sorts of problems for our mood and appetite, and is a perfect recipe for cravings. To avoid these problems your daily diet should include more low-GI carbs and fewer high-GI ones. Eating less high-GI carbohydrate definitely helps to reduce cravings for sweet things. Here are some specific tips.
4. Too Much Added Sugar or Salt Can Make Cravings Worse
If “healthy” foods like fruit, vegetables, beans and oats seem too bland to you, chances are your diet includes too many additives, like sugar or salt. Typically, the biggest culprits are processed or refined foods (eg. canned soup, breakfast cereal, soy sauce, candy, sweets, cakes, cookies, ice cream, regular soda). Since overconsumption of these foods can aggravate cravings, it makes sense to reduce your intake. At the same time, do not add extra sugar or salt to the food on your plate.
5. Reduce Your Intake of Drinks That Act As Stimulants
According to some experts, stimulants (eg. sugar, caffeine in tea/coffee, caffeinated soft drinks) can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, and thus should be avoided or at least consumed in moderation. Switch to herbal teas, spring water and diluted pure fruit juices.