By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Our food cravings can indicate imbalances in the body, and especially of our neurotransmitters. For simplicity, I’m just focusing on two here: serotonin and dopamine. The production of both of these neurotransmitters is negatively affected by stress, and you can have a susceptibility to imbalances with them through your genetics.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released by the brain that plays a number of roles: movement, memory, pleasure / reward, attention, cognition, sleep, mood and learning. In this context, low dopamine levels result in strong food cravings and addictive behavior (with food, shopping, gambling, alcohol,…). Interesting to note is that high cortisol & high stress levels reduce dopamine production.
Food cravings associated with low dopamine levels:
Most of you are familiar with the neurotransmitter serotonin, which affects mood, , appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire. When serotonin levels are low, the most notable symptom is low mood or depression. Another sign of low serotonin is waking at 5am.
Food cravings associated with low serotonin levels:
- CARBOHYDRATES IN GENERAL
- ESPECIALLY CHOCOLATE
BALANCING YOUR NEUROTRANSMITTERS WITHOUT FOOD:
Once you recognize where your imbalance is, there are many ways to reduce your food cravings (and improve your mood) without food. Remember to be gentle with yourself here – your body has been craving certain foods to create balance, and use these cravings as a direction-pointer to tell you where you need to focus next. Try some of the simple activities below to reduce your food cravings:
How to support DOPAMINE levels:
- Discover new things: dopamine production is triggered when we find something new and exciting.
- Check things off a list: dopamine is released when you finish something, whether it’s a small task or a big job. Create lists so you can check off even the smallest accomplishments.
- Listen to music: music you enjoy causes the brain to release dopamine.
- Exercise regularly: it really doesn’t matter how strenuous the activity is, just get out and move often.
- Establish a streak: a streak is a visual reminder of how many consecutive times you achieved something. Having a streak increase dopamine just like completing a task.
- Get creative and make things: when you’re in that really focused flow, you are stimulating dopamine release.
- Meditate: meditation has been shown to improve production of dopamine too.
- Increase foods high in tyrosine: almonds, avocado, banana, beef, chicken, chocolate, eggs, green tea, watermelon.
How to support SEROTONIN levels:
- Exercise: yes, exercise fits on both lists. Exercise boosts your mood, especially more vigorous movement. Be cautious about the form of exercise – you have to enjoy it for this to work!
- Sunlight: bright light through your eyes increases serotonin activity, and also activates vitamin D production in your skin.
- Massage: massage also increases serotonin levels, as does basic physical contact.
- Remember happy events: the very simple act of remembering positive events that have happened in your life increases serotonin levels
- Meditate: several meditation techniques have been shown to increase serotonin levels (Vipassana, Transcendental meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction). Meditation lowers cortisol levels an
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