By Caroline Mackey, RNCP, ROHP, CNP, PTS
Holistic Nutritionist & Fitness Trainer
Most of us know the struggle – the afternoon cravings for carb and sugar, the late night snacking urges, the call of chocolate… The list goes on. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that cravings are about a lot more than just a desire for unhealthy foods that you feel must be overcome by willpower. A lot of our cravings are our body’s way of telling us something is not working properly, and we just need to learn how to interpret those signals.
Sugar is far and away the biggest craving challenge that I deal with when working with clients. There are many reasons your body could be craving sugar, but here are what I consider to be 3 of the main reasons:
1. Your blood sugar is out of balance:
Many of us have mild to moderate blood sugar challenges every day. This happens when your blood sugar spikes too high too quickly, then drops too low causing a surge of adrenaline and cortisol and physiological urge for sugar or sugar-containing foods like processed carbohydrates. To avoid this from happening, eat balanced meals of protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats that keep blood sugar levels stable. This is particularly important at breakfast, when we tend to eat carbohydrate-based meals that don’t contain enough protein or good fats.
2. Your gut’s bacteria has gone to the dark side:
‘Bad’ bacteria in your gut LOVE sugar. So they will tell your brain to eat lots of it. You’ll realize your bacteria is out of balance if you eat sugar and get bloated and gassy. A yeast cleanse or general rebalancing of your gut flora are good steps to take to address this issue.
3. Emotional soothing:
Sugar, often chocolate, is a way in which many of us cope with stressful or emotional situations. Sugar releases a feel good hormone from the brain. However, those effects wane over time, which can result in us eating more and more sugar to get that same feeling. Mindfulness is the first step to addressing emotional eating – build in a 5 second pause to help you not eat mindlessly or compulsively. Take a moment to examine how you are feeling; will this food nourish your body? Or are you using it as a tool to calm down? If it’s a tool, what other tools could you use instead including things like deep breathing, speaking with a loved one, or going for a walk.
Salt is also a big craving for many people. Yes, it can be because when you eat a chip they are engineered to make you want to eat many, many more chips. However salt cravings are also commonly signs of other issues. My top 2 reasons for salt cravings are:
1. You’re dehydrated:
Sodium is what keeps the water in our bodies long enough to hydrate our cells. When you’re dehydrated, you need extra salt to keep your electrolytes balanced. The best and easiest way to remedy this is to have 6 to 8, 8 ounce glasses of water per day. If you currently only do a small amount, increase your water intake slowly, upping it by a glass a week.
2. Long term stress is affecting your adrenals:
One of the hormones released by your adrenals in aldosterone a hormone that balances salt and potassium in your body. When the adrenals are overworked they cannot produce enough aldosterone which leads to salt cravings as well as tiredness and low blood pressure.
What’s important to understand is that your cravings are often physiological. They are your body’s way of trying to reassert balance, or are there to tell you what’s not working properly. Don’t be so hard on yourself about lack of willpower; seek help from a health practitioner to address the underlying cause of your cravings.