What Are Your Cravings Telling You?

Lifestyle refers to the way you live your life includ­ing your dai­ly habits, activ­i­ties you par­tic­i­pate in and dietary choic­es. Under­stand­ing your food crav­ings can pro­vide valu­able insight and allow you to make changes to improve your over­all health. 

Food crav­ings are often for unhealthy, processed foods that are high in sug­ar, salt and/​or fat and can stand in the way of main­tain­ing a healthy weight or achiev­ing your health or weight loss goals. A com­mon myth is that we crave foods to fill nutri­tion­al defi­cien­cies. Although inter­nal bod­i­ly process­es and hor­mones can impact your food choic­es, exter­nal fac­tors such as emo­tions and habits, often play a larg­er role in influ­enc­ing the foods you crave.

What is a Food Crav­ing?
Food crav­ings are an intense desire to eat a spe­cif­ic food or fla­vor. For some peo­ple, a food crav­ing can feel uncon­trol­lable and/​or like the crav­ing can­not be sat­is­fied until the food is con­sumed. Inter­nal and exter­nal fac­tors includ­ing your over­all health and dai­ly habits and life cir­cum­stances, play a role in what you crave.

Inter­nal Fac­tors
From neu­ro­trans­mit­ters in your brain to hor­mon­al fluc­tu­a­tions, your bod­i­ly func­tions play a role in food cravings.

Food for thought
Food crav­ings can be trig­gered by regions in your brain that are respon­si­ble for mem­o­ry, plea­sure and reward. The hip­pocam­pus, insu­la and cau­date, areas of your brain con­nect­ed to mem­o­ry and sens­ing plea­sure, are active when you crave foods. Addi­tion­al­ly, endor­phins, neu­ro­chem­i­cals pro­duced by your pitu­itary gland and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, pro­mote feel­ings of plea­sure. Your body nat­u­ral­ly releas­es endor­phins in a response to stress, but also dur­ing oth­er activ­i­ties such as exer­cis­ing or eating.

Hor­mon­al imbal­ances
Through­out your life hor­mon­al imbal­ances occur. For exam­ple, the hor­mon­al shifts that take place dur­ing preg­nan­cy and menopause may lead to food crav­ings. Food crav­ings are often a symp­tom of hor­mon­al imbal­ances that may be caused by inad­e­quate nutrition.

Hor­mon­al imbal­ances can lead to a low sero­tonin lev­el in your body. It is a chem­i­cal that impacts many bod­i­ly func­tions from motor skills to mood. Sero­tonin is made from the essen­tial amino acid, tryp­to­phan, which enters your body through the foods you consume.

Many peo­ple crave sug­ar or sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates as both release bursts of sero­tonin. How­ev­er, as sero­tonin returns to its nor­mal lev­el, you expe­ri­ence the crash” and the cycle starts over.

Meta­bol­ic dis­or­ders
Dietary changes and lifestyle mod­i­fi­ca­tions are ways to sup­port long-term weight loss. As you begin your weight loss jour­ney, you may need to resist the urge to eat car­bo­hy­drates and sweets. How­ev­er, some meta­bol­ic con­di­tions such as hypothy­roidism can make it dif­fi­cult to lose weight and are often accom­pa­nied by food cravings.

Exter­nal Fac­tors
Your dai­ly habits and stress are major con­trib­u­tors to expe­ri­enc­ing food crav­ings. From poor sleep to a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion dur­ing the day, what goes on through­out your day can impact the foods you crave. 

Dur­ing stress­ful times, you may find your­self crav­ing com­fort foods. Com­mon food crav­ings include car­bo­hy­drates, fat­ty, salty and/​or sweet foods.

Car­bo­hy­drates impact your blood glu­cose (sug­ar) lev­els more than any oth­er nutri­ent. Pop­corn is a great alter­na­tive when you are crav­ing car­bo­hy­drates out­side of a tra­di­tion­al meal time.

The Amer­i­can Heart Asso­ci­a­tion (AHA) rec­om­mends focus­ing on foods that con­tain healthy, unsat­u­rat­ed fats. Unsat­u­rat­ed fats pro­vide heart health ben­e­fits and can improve your cho­les­terol lev­els. Grab a hand­ful of nuts or a slice of avo­ca­do toast the next time your crav­ing hits.

Sodi­um, the pri­ma­ry com­po­nent of salt, plays a role in healthy bod­i­ly func­tion such as main­tain­ing flu­id lev­els in your body. Excess salt can lead to bloat­ing, dehy­dra­tion and ele­vat­ed blood pres­sure, as well as oth­er health con­di­tions. Opt for a savory food such as cheese or a whole grain crack­er the next time the urge hits.

Added sug­ars increase your caloric intake while pro­vid­ing lit­tle to no nutri­tion­al val­ue. Choose nat­ur­al sug­ars such as berries or oth­er fruits when you are crav­ing some­thing sweet.

Many peo­ple are crea­tures of habit, we have our rou­tines and we stick to them. Although some rou­tines such as main­tain­ing a reg­u­lar bed­time or going for a morn­ing run pro­mote good health, oth­er habits may be work­ing against our health and well­ness goals. If you treat your­self to a cook­ie or oth­er sweet treat at the end of stress­ful days, try sliced apples and nat­ur­al peanut but­ter next time. Small mod­i­fi­ca­tions over time can help lead to devel­op­ing new healthy habits.

Tips to Man­age Your Cravings

Reduce stress
Food crav­ings are often trig­gered by stress­ful sit­u­a­tions and used as a cop­ing mech­a­nism. Stress can impact the way your body func­tions and your over­all health. Learn­ing to man­age your stress can have a last­ing impact on your men­tal well-being and your phys­i­cal health. Lifestyle mod­i­fi­ca­tions such as reg­u­lar phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, or prac­tic­ing relax­ation tech­niques such as deep breath­ing or stretch­ing, can help you man­age stress. 

Por­tion con­trol
Crav­ings are a nat­ur­al part of life, and often­times, extreme dietary restric­tions increase food crav­ings. Although it isn’t rec­om­mend­ed to give in to all of your food crav­ings, it can be help­ful to allow your­self to have a mod­er­ate amount of the food you are crav­ing. If weight loss is a goal you are work­ing towards, exer­cis­ing por­tion con­trol can be a help­ful approach. Opt to buy a sin­gle cook­ie instead of a box, or treat your­self to a scoop of ice cream at your local ice cream shop. 

Eat reg­u­lar­ly
Skip­ping meals can increase the chance that you will crave con­ve­nient snack foods through­out the day. Eat­ing small­er meals through­out the day will keep you full and may help con­trol cravings.

Keep a food jour­nal
Keep­ing track of the foods you con­sume is a help­ful way to observe your dietary habits. Include infor­ma­tion around your crav­ings such as the time of day you expe­ri­ence them, emo­tions you are feel­ing and the foods you would like to eat. Your jour­nal can pro­vide valu­able insight and allow you to iden­ti­fy pat­terns that are con­nect­ed to your crav­ings and choices.

Dis­tract your­self
Crav­ings are typ­i­cal­ly tem­po­rary and will pass. Try going for a walk or read­ing a book instead.

Whether you are just begin­ning your health jour­ney or you have been work­ing towards a health­i­er lifestyle for some time, small steps can lead to big changes. Under­stand­ing your food crav­ings pro­vides more vis­i­bil­i­ty into your over­all health. For more infor­ma­tion on improv­ing your health, or to sched­ule an appoint­ment with an obe­si­ty med­i­cine physi­cian, please call 1.888.MY.DMG.DR (1.888.693.6437) or sched­ule an appoint­ment online.

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