5 Common Causes of Food Cravings and How to Stop Them
Everyone gets cravings at some point in their life. But, what causes food cravings, and how do we stop them? It’s that sudden urge to devour a whole bag of potato chips or to reach for just one more piece of chocolate. Sometimes it’s the result of feeling stressed or tired in the afternoon. Before you know it, you’ve eaten all of it! Then the guilt sets in—you’ve done it again. You’ll probably feel a bit heavier tomorrow, feel bloated, or have a new breakout on your chin. These are the more common results of giving in to food cravings.
Why do we get cravings?
Cravings are usually the result of a biochemical reaction that’s trying to tell you that something is amiss. We are all about getting to the root cause around here at Glover Health. Your body may be needing some extra fuel, or your blood sugar levels keep crashing and it’s trying to rectify that. It starts sending signals that it needs food, usually high in sugar and carbohydrates so that it can be converted to energy quicker. Your brain might also be urging you to eat compulsively because it’s become addicted to the calming hormones that get released after a carbohydrate-heavy meal. You may just be tired, stressed, or anxious. You may be dehydrated. All of these can be contributing to your feelings of cravings.
If you are someone that’s constantly on a diet, you may get worse cravings than people who are not. Most diets, especially crash diets, encourage cutting down on calories. This usually causes a dieter to take in fewer essential nutrients, healthy fats and proteins that are needed for optimal brain and bodily functions. When you drastically start cutting down on calories, your body will naturally send out messages that it needs extra nutrients, resulting in overwhelming cravings.
First of all, you will have to determine the cause of your food cravings. If you are not dieting and feel that you are eating healthily, it’s a good idea to start a food journal to keep track of what you eat and when the cravings start.
Let’s look at five of the most common causes of food cravings.
1. Your blood sugar levels are unbalanced
Your body uses glucose for fuel (unless you’re in ketosis and using ketones for fuel) and the delicate balance of a steady supply to keep you going, is a full-time job. If the balance is disrupted by extreme spikes and dips in blood sugar, you will start craving foods high in carbohydrates and sugar.
Spikes in blood sugar usually happen first because you’ve binged on processed carbohydrates or sweets. Carbohydrates all break down into sugar and this releases the hormone called insulin into the blood to store it away and stabilize blood sugar levels. When this happens, your blood sugar levels plummet, making you feel hazy, “hangry” and tired. Now your body feels it needs sugar again and starts sending the signals we experience as cravings.
How do you stop this yo-yo effect? Stop eating processed carbohydrates and processed sugars. Replace carbohydrate-heavy meals with a balanced one, including some protein and fats as alternative energy sources. Start eating healthy carbohydrates. These are the carbohydrates you get from vegetables and fruits that usually have a lower glycemic index (releases sugar into the bloodstream more steadily).
2. You are not eating enough of the good fats
Still thinking all fats are bad and should be banned? You couldn’t be more wrong. Science has debunked the myth that all fats are bad for you. In fact, fat is essential for the survival of almost any animal on earth and for optimal brain function.
Manufactured fats, called trans fats, is the reason fat has a bad reputation. Coincidently, when you start craving foods like chips and chocolate, you are not only craving the carbs in them but most-likely the fats in them too.
Healthy fats are everywhere and can easily be incorporated into any meal, once you have identified them. They include foods like nut butters, delicious with apple slices; avocado and olive oils, used as salad dressings; organic butter and full cream dairy, used on a daily basis.
3. You are not getting enough of the right nutrients
If your body is lacking essential nutrients like B vitamins, zinc and magnesium, it will cause cravings for foods rich in them. Did you know that chocolate contains magnesium? You might be having those chocolate cravings not for the sugar, but for magnesium. Zinc deficiency is another culprit causing sugar cravings, while a lack of vitamin B and iron may have you gobbling down a piece of fatty steak.
Take a good multivitamin that can boost the levels of these nutrients. If you still want to eat your chocolate, switch to dark chocolate 70% or higher, which is higher in nutrients, less sugar, and full of antioxidants.
4. You have an unhappy gut
Keeping your gut happy can actually help reduce cravings. Your intestinal tract is full of bacteria and there is a delicate balance between the good bacteria and the bad. If you’ve maybe had an infection where you needed to use antibiotics or a recent bout of stomach troubles, the number of good bacteria present in the gut will be low.
When this happens, Candida, a natural yeast present in the gut, will start to overgrow. Candida and other harmful bacteria living in the gut feeds on sugar. The more sugar we eat, the more it will grow, causing an inflammatory state, damaging cells and having you crave even more sugar. Eventually, you might even develop a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome, where your intestines struggle to absorb nutrients.
The best thing you can do is to take a probiotic or eat foods with live probiotic cultures in them like kefir, plain yogurt, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, or kombucha.
5. Stress may be causing your cravings
Feeling stressed, tired, or anxious can trigger food cravings. This is because the stress hormone cortisol can induce hunger. It is also known to cause cravings for sugary foods. When we eat a sugary or carbohydrate-heavy meal, the hormone called serotonin gets released. This creates a soothing and calming effect, helping you to destress naturally. It is possible that this can form an addictive pattern, causing some people to become ‘stress-eaters’ because they crave the high afterward.
Try to destress by going for a walk, doing some yoga or other relaxing exercises. Try to replace the foods you crave with healthier alternatives.
If you need help dealing with stress, check out our article here on 12 Effective Ways to Manage Stress.
How to Find the Source
The first step in understanding your food cravings is to find the source. You can do this by keeping a food journal on paper, on your cell phone, or anywhere that is convenient for you. When you get a craving, write down what you craved, the time of day you had the craving, how you felt at that time, and what you did to satisfy your craving. After you do this for 1-2 weeks, you should see a pattern develop. Then, you can start tackling the root cause of your cravings!
Let us know which of these sources may be causing your cravings! You can join our FREE Facebook group here where we talk about natural healing and health topics!
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- Hill, A.J., Weaver, C.F. and Blundell, J.E., 1991. Food craving, dietary restraint and mood. Appetite, 17(3), pp.187-197.
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