What Cravings Really Say About Your Health

Those cravings you get for sugary or savoury things, are they all in your head- or is your body trying to tell you something? Some might dismiss a ‘wisdom of the body’ theory as quackery.  However, if you think about what biological processes are happening in your body and the factors affecting them, the argument to substantiate a link becomes more compelling. Here’s why.

The body is a wonderful machine, constantly sending you signs and signals about the information (or nutrients) it needs to function at its best. Food is so much more than just calories. It’s also sending information to all your cells and helping to direct their activity. The trouble is, when you fall into unhealthy patterns, you unwittingly train your brain and body to think and crave certain foods.  Often these foods give you a quick fix. You feel great for 30 minutes, yet an hour later your energy levels are on the floor and you need another hit to keep you going. Sound familiar?

This concept applies to everyone, not just women in pregnancy who are typically associated with an appetite for unusual or inedible substances such as clay, coal or dirt (this type of craving is referred to as ‘pica’ by the way).

Are You Craving Foods High In Sugar And Unhealthy Fats?

One of the most common and documented cravings is of course, sugar.  In recent years, articles in the press have suggested sugar is as addictive as class A drugs.  How true is that really? Or, have you been simply making excuses for your lack of willpower? You’ll be glad to know there is more to it than meets the eye and it’s not actually your willpower that’s missing.

The brain needs glucose, or sugar, from the right kind of foods to function optimally.  Glucose comes from starchy and non-starchy carbohydrates like pasta, bread, vegetables and desserts.  When you’re eating in such a way that your body steadily releases glucose into the blood stream throughout the day, this process works as it should. You’re productive, sharp, and full of energy, and you don’t need to rely on willpower to make good food choices.

So, What Causes You To Crave Sugar In The First Place?

Imbalanced biochemistry

Not balancing your biochemistry by having the right distribution of protein, fats and healthy carbohydrates on your plate. I often use a non-invasive genetic test to help identify the ideal ratio, which varies from person to person.

The toxic combination of sugar and unhealthy fat

Too much of the wrong kinds of sugar, as well as fats, can throw things off kilter. Studies have found that increased consumption of sugar and unhealthy fats (like in donuts, chocolate, cake, biscuits and sweets) triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and satisfaction. And that means you now need superhuman amounts of willpower to stop eating these foods that give you a temporary high- and we all know how long that will last for….

By falling into this trap, you train your brain to think, ‘I need to eat this to help me feel better’.  You might use these foods to regulate your mood and lower your stress. But in the long run, this sends you on a rollercoaster – with your energy, your mood, stress levels and sleep. And over time, this rollercoaster can result in the development of chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, inflammation, immune suppression or chronic fatigue.

Processed and energy dense foods like junk food which are high in both fat and sugar have a higher association with food addiction. You never see this combination of high sugar – high fat foods in nature, but food manufacturers are very aware of the addictive quality of this toxic combination and use it to their advantage.

Feeling tired and the role of emotions

You’re also more inclined to eat these kinds of foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or tired, because your brain is looking for more fuel than it would be when you are relaxed and well nourished. What helps a lot of my clients is EFT or tapping, an evidence-based tool I use to help them manage these issues better on their own, so they don’t have to rely on me or anyone else.

If you’re craving sugar or carb-heavy foods you may also be low on serotonin, the neurotransmitter which helps regulate mood and helps keep you feeling positive, giving you sound sleep and days of productivity. Serotonin is made from tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid (or protein) found in almonds, fish, eggs, turkey, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

The challenging bit here is, that in order for tryptophan to release serotonin, it needs to be coupled with the right amount of carbs because it’s a bit tricky getting it into the brain where it needs to be to exerts its positive effects. Get the wrong amount and it can spike your serotonin for a couple of hours making you feel good- but then send it crashing back down, leaving you feeling moody and emotionally unstable.

Similarly, woman can be more susceptible to sugar cravings around the time of their menstrual cycle. That might not come as a huge surprise to you… studies have shown that higher oestrogen levels are associated with greater levels of the hunger hormone, leptin, which triggers stronger cravings for sugary foods.  PMS also causes the stress hormone cortisol to increase and the feel-good hormone serotonin to dip, making you reach for chocolate, chips and sugary snacks to give you a feel-good boost at that time of the month.

What To Do About Your Sugar Craving

Generally, the foods you choose to eat every day can help to regulate or trigger these cravings by helping to balance your biochemistry. Try switching your white bread, pasta, sugary cereals, low fat products and processed foods for lower GL (glycaemic load) alternatives such as wholegrains, pulses, root vegetables and increasing your protein intake at each meal. This can help balance your blood sugar better.

Quality proteins such as eggs, turkey, salmon and nuts and seeds are also rich in tryptophan, which support production of serotonin and dopamine – a much better source than a packet of chocolate digestives or a bag of sweeties.  Making the switch to a more wholesome and nourishing alternative may be a much more sustainable approach to healthy weight loss than crazy diets you might be tempted to try.

DO YOU CRAVE SALTY SNACKS?selective focus photo of french fries

Sugar doesn’t do it for you? Perhaps you are more inclined to reach for savoury, salty foods; crisps, salted nuts, cheese and biscuits.  Generally speaking, this may be a sign that your adrenal glands are under strain, and that hankering for salt could be attributed to stress, fatigue or PMS.  You rely on your adrenals to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline whenever you need it to meet challenging situations. That might mean deadlines at work, training for a marathon or gearing yourself up for a big presentation. The adrenal glands also play a big role in maintaining good energy levels and quality sleep.

Chronic demand on the adrenals due to long-term physiological stress (from over-exercising, medications, high caffeine, sugar, alcohol etc) or psychological stress/anxiety can result in fatigue and insufficient secretion of adrenaline and cortisol,  but also the hormones aldosterone, renin and angiotensin which regulate blood pressure by controlling fluid levels and electrolyte balance in the body.

When your adrenals are tired and don’t produce enough aldosterone, your blood pressure can become low and result in salt cravings and these might be accompanied with other symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings including low mood and anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, excessive thirst, headaches and nausea. These are often classic signs of adrenal fatigue, which can result after long periods of psychological/physiological stress which places extra demands on the adrenal glands and results in them ‘burning out’ and not functioning optimally.

Please don’t read this and think that I’m suggesting you need to be consuming salt by the bucket load. Too much sodium (the key element in salt) should be avoided as it can tip the hormone balance in the other direction and contribute to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.

The good news is that the adrenal glands can be supported through nutrition and lifestyle to help rebalance hormones. Working with a Registered Nutritional Therapist can be a powerful way of equipping you with the knowledge to recognise these signs when they present themselves, and make positive changes to benefit your long-term health and well-being. Please contact me for a complimentary 30 minute Wellness Call if you’d like more information: info@yournutritionalhealth.co.uk or on 07812 163 324.

Are YOU Suffering from Festive Food FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)?

Hey, would you like to come to the party, spend the evening at that place, have a mince pie, egg nog, mulled wine, taste my world-beating Yule log…?

And you’ll go because you can’t resist. You’ll feast like you’ll never see another meal, and you’ll consume frightening amounts of festive tipples because otherwise you’ll be missing out on all the fun, right? You’ll worry that this is your only chance to eat turkey stuffing until this time next year so you’ll have to eat it, even though you’re not really hungry! Small wonder. Apparently, the British cram 44% more social occasions into December than any other month.

What is Food FOMO?

FOMO – shorthand for fear of missing out –is  the pervasive and often unjustified apprehension that others might be having way more fun than you, and that you’re somehow being left out of all the said fun. It usually goes along with the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.  We hate feeling that we aren’t there for something important, something epic, something fun, where memories are made and friendships created.  And it reaches its annual high any day now.

But did you know that we also experience food FOMO?

Digging A Bit Deeper

Food FOMO isn’t our fault as it’s often driven by cultural and biological programming we’re unaware of. Our survival as an individual within a tribe, and thus our survival as a species, once hinged on being “in the know”. To not be aware of a new food source, for example, meant you literally missed out on something that could mean the difference between life and death.

When humans began to create more stable farming communities, being in the know involved paying attention, being in the right places at the right times to get resources and information and engaging in the gossip of the day as it filtered through the community.

We actually have a part of our brain that specializes in sensing if we’re being left out and it activates the stress response. In an attempt to prevent the stress response, which doesn’t feel good at all, some people will (unfortunately) redouble their efforts to not miss out on anything.

Because we are also a species that values and seeks out variety, we feel compelled to partake in it all, lest we miss out on anything. We are also culturally programmed to over-value losses and under-value gains.

Scarcity thoughts lead many of us to have anxiety around food, rather than food being enjoyable. The “lack” mentality also means that we allow food to control us. It’s also very difficult to feel satisfaction when filled with food FOMO because there will be the constant niggling feeling that there’s just not enough to satisfy us. In this way food FOMO leads to eating past the point of what our bodies need or want, causing anxiety, physical ailments and overall malaise, and getting out of tune with what our body really needs.

All of this means we put more importance on the food we may be missing out on, and less on our goals and well-being.

So, FOMO really is not your friend this month (or indeed any month) – especially if you want to maintain your weight, energy, mood and support your digestion over the holidays.

Let’s take a look at how that festive FOMO usually pans out…

You’re committed to healthy eating during the Festive Season, and you go to just a few buffet parties or events. The food looks delicious, but you are watching your weight, so your deprived mouth can only water. There’s a very subtle fear that you are never going to be able to have any of these delicious treats ever again. The fear of missing out activates your survival instinct to consume everything and anything. And so you go on a binge, and your healthy eating plans are obliterated. The self-recriminations start.

The big question, of course, is what are you are you really missing out on? Nothing. OK, maybe some sweet or high-carb treats, some booze filled evenings and such. But eating and drinking these have a flip side: blood sugar imbalance, energy crashes, irritability, poor sleep, bloating and other digestive issues, and almost certain weight gain (if you consume in excess) – and that’s without mentioning the negative self-talk for having over-indulged.

There’s another thing about this festive FOMO and it’s that it has you giving up taking responsibility for your actions around food and alcohol (you would have been able to resist, right, but it was the party season?)

FIX YOUR FOMO AROUND FOOD

There are several things going on when it comes to food. Your fear of ‘missing out’ on that delicious dessert is the first. But also refusing food (though it should be a basic human right) is mired in emotional meaning both for you and for the host.

The answer is not to find more and more creative ways to say no. If you have to own up to eating healthily around this time or being gluten or dairy free, this seems to compound the original offence of not wanting to eat.

Can you get that it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t want to stuff yourself to the max with the cheese smorgasbord and mince pies? It doesn’t mean anything about your relationship with food, or how you feel about the host. You just don’t want the cheese smorgasbord or mince pies, or not to the extent that you’re so stuffed you feel sick!

Your action plan is this:

  1. HAVE AN ACTUAL PLAN Before you go to bed each night, plan out your food for the next day. This is never more true than during the Festive Season, when parties, chocolates, cookies and “treats” are just about everywhere.
  2. DON’T TRY TO DIET JUST NOW Set a maintenance goal instead. This is much more realistic and it is achievable, even at this time of year. It will also give you the freedom to enjoy yourself without feeling deprived, or that you’ve failed, which in turn means you’re more likely to rebel (and this is code for heading straight for the box of chocolates without a second glance).
  3. TAKE A BALANCED APPROACH Manage portions. Eat slowly. Savour each mouthful.
  4. YOU EAT WELL AT OTHER MEALS. Lots of vegetables. Making sure you’re feeling full with smart carbohydrate choices and plenty of protein-rich foods. Then you head to your party, have one or two drinks, a few nibbles and – most of all – enjoy time with the people you love!
  5. OH, AND DON’T GO TO A PARTY HUNGRY If you do, you’ll be fighting a losing battle. Have a low GI snack before you go – just a little something that includes protein and slow release carbs (cottage cheese or unsweetened nut butter on an oatcake, for example).
  6. KEEP FAMILY CHOCOLATES OUT OF SIGHT so you’re not tempted to tuck in just because they’re there. Ever heard of the ‘out of sight, out of mind diet’?
  7. Go from FOMO to JOMO. It’s all right to happily avoid certain activities and have the “Joy Of Missing Out (JOMO).” Learn to get comfortable with the idea of doing what you actually want instead of what you feel like you should do. In the end, you will be much happier if you are following your own urges rather than those of someone else.
  8. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES Remember that each person has different priorities in life. Know what’s important to you so you can really analyse every opportunity that comes your way. When you treat everything as a priority, nothing is truly important. Remember that you can do a lot of things in your lifetime, but you certainly cannot do everything. You won’t be having a blast during every single moment of your life, and that is all right.

Try asking yourselves these questions next time you’re faced with food FOMO:

  1. Is this a real or perceived food scarcity?
  2. Is my body physically hungry right now?
  3. What is driving my decision to eat right now?
  4. Is this food readily available to me or is this a special or seasonal food that only comes around once in a while?
  5. Am I stuck in dieting mentality right now, which is telling me to restrict calories or limit what foods I eat?

FIX YOUR FOMO AROUND ALCOHOL

Frequently, party goers who are cautious about their alcohol consumption are viewed with suspicion. You can roll out the usual excuses for abstention: I’ve got a hangover from the party the night before, I’m on antibiotics, I’ve got a really important work thing tomorrow, and the like.

If you want to have a few glasses of wine, have a few glasses of wine. But make that decision inside of what you know to be your social schedule over the entire Christmas period.

How does the amount of socialising stack up against your health goals?

To be clear, you absolutely can honour all your social commitments but, in order not to find yourself tempted by the usual crash diet in January, hear this: it IS possible to go out, have fun, eat well and not have everyone notice you are being ‘healthy’.

If you cut back on the amount you are drinking at social events – even choosing not to drink at some events at all – you can feel the improvements almost immediately. On those nights that you don’t drink at all, you’ll sleep better, wake feeling more refreshed, you’ll have much more energy, and your mood will be better. The impact on your waistline will be positive too – alcohol is a big contributor to belly fat and is brimming with unnecessary calories.

Here are a few suggestions for cutting down – if that’s what you choose to do.

  1. Decide how much you are going to drink (maximum) before you go out.
  2. Consider telling someone else who will be there (friend or partner, perhaps), to help keep you accountable.
  3. Don’t feel pressurised by others. It’s your life and you are the one who makes the decisions.
  4. Have an excuse ready when you want to give it a miss (remember ‘no, thanks, I’d rather have …..’ is perfectly OK.

So, you see, the fear around missing out is just an illusion. And, actually (in social media terms, certainly) FOMO is a bit old hat. What’s trending right now is JOMO, the joy of missing out. Think what you will be gaining from taking on board some of my tips, enjoying yourself without over eating or drinking too much…

How To Enjoy Easter Without Bingeing Or Deprivation

Easter is going to turn up, whether you like it or not. Moreish chocolatey treats, hot cross buns lathered in butter, will be all around us, and in every shop and TV commercial. It’s enough to melt away your good intentions, and with this much pressure, bingeing feels almost inevitable.

Of course, chocolate is available all year round. The trouble seems to come when there’s too much chocolate around, as during this time of year. In no time it leads to too much temptation, eating too much in one go, then feeling miserable because you over indulged. The worst parts of a binge are the feelings of guilt and failure that you feel afterwards.

So let’s sort that and figure out how we can enjoy our treats at this time of year, without bingeing but also without depriving ourselves.  And let’s start by accepting that Easter will mean chocolate indulgence on one level or another and then move on!

Top Tips to Avoid Over-Eating

  1. Try to discourage family and friends from buying chocolate for you, or failing that, let them know what and how much you’d like. This helps put you back in control.
  2. Ideally choose the darker chocolate eggs or chocolate selection. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the less room there is for sugar. Aim for over 70% which doesn’t raise blood sugar and insulin levels as much as milk chocolate. If that’s too dark for you, around 60% is a good compromise for those who prefer milk chocolate. Plus, from clinical experience, dark chocolate seems to dampen cravings, particularly chocolate that is above 70% cacao content.
  3. Don’t to eat too much in one go with the intention of getting ‘rid’ of the chocolate sooner. Eating a whole large egg will lead to an energy crash later on, not to mention, for many, feelings of disappointment in yourself that you ’gave in’ or ‘failed’ with your diet.
  4. Don’t eat chocolate on an empty stomach. Firstly, it will give you a blood sugar crash. Secondly, it will encourage you to overeat due to hunger. It’s healthier all round, both for your body and mindset, to have a smaller amount of chocolate as treats after meals containing protein (protein slows the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream) and/or to reduce the blood sugar roller coaster by eating a few nuts at the same time if you’re not having it after a protein meal.
  5. Plan your meals ahead of time so you can make the right choices. Don’t give yourself the excuse that there was nothing else to eat. Ensure you have plenty of your usual healthy foods to hand.
  6. Get a good night’s sleep– yes, really, if you want to keep your appetite in check, getting good quality sleep is essential! Our hunger hormone leptin increases when we become fatigued. That means a spike in our appetite, which inevitably leads to snacking.
  7. Eat mindfully– make sure you savour each mouthful of chocolate, don’t wolf it all down in one big mouthful! This will help you to eat less, as you will feel that you have truly been able to indulge. Savour it slowly, enjoying how it melts on your tongue, how the flavour floods your mouth. Swallow when you’re ready. When it starts not to taste as good and/or your enjoyment starts to fade, decide whether you have had enough. If not, continue eating. If so, then stop. Know that if you want more later, you can have it.
  8. Eat consciously. Make sure your decision to eat chocolate is a conscious one. “Some chocolate would be nice, but I choose not to have one right now”. Whether it’s donating an unopened box to a local food charity, or dividing it up among friends, and/or saving it for later, you can make the decision that you don’t want it. Choosing, and therefore consciously taking responsibility, puts you back in control.
  9. Remove guilt– we can feel deprived even as we eat (and overeat) something if we don’t really let ourselves have it without guilt. Feeling deprived will just lead to overeating so let go of the guilt and enjoy while you eat your treat mindfully.

Alternatives To The Traditional Easter Egg Hunt

If the Easter egg (and everything that goes with it) plays a big part in your family’s tradition, consider doing something a bit different this year.  Here are some great alternatives to the traditional Easter egg hunt https://www.parenthub.com.au/education/easter-egg-hunt-alternatives/.

 Chocolate Binge Rescue Remedy

Consider that even the healthiest people over indulge – but they don’t beat themselves up about it. They just go back to eating normally.

If you do happen to sugar binge this Easter, rule #1 is: don’t panic! Negative self talk and freaking out about weight gain will only exacerbate the situation – not fix it. Neither will throwing in the towel and continuing to binge OR going in the opposite direction and starting a fad diet.

Instead, you can still rescue the situation and stop it turning into a binge, sabotaging all your good work. Say: “It’s done, it’s in the past and I choose to move on”.  Easter is ONE DAY, that’s all. There is no need to be on the rollercoaster for the rest of the month.

Remember that small amounts of the best quality, dark chocolate has the following benefits: anti-ageing, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, is packed with antioxidants and important minerals like iron, potassium, zinc and selenium. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine; the same chemical your brain creates when you’re falling in love …

PS If you are the kind of person who KNOWS you will have a problem with the Easter binge because this kind of bingeing and self sabotage is what you do, or you need some help to get healthy, click here to book in a FREE 30- minute Empowered to Thrive Call HERE