Happy day! We are so excited to be welcoming a fabulous guest contributor today. Meet Jessica, from SmartNutrition who is here to help us decode our food cravings, and can’t we ALL use help with that?
Have you seen the latest “nutrition” charts that are going viral? “If you crave chocolate, you’re low on magnesium… if you crave sugar, you’re low on carbon and chromium, etc, etc.” I see these charts all over the internet. Everybody wants to decode their cravings.
If you’re a registered dietitian, you’re low on patience.
As a registered dietitian, I wish it was that simple to diagnose a nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately, there aren’t any scientific findings to back up these claims.
But I do have good news for those who like proof in their pudding. There are scientifically-backed identifications for at least some of your cravings. For example, if you’re craving pudding right now, it’s because I just said pudding. But there are some far more helpful ways to decode your cravings.
If you find that you consistently get a strong craving in the afternoon, the cause can often be traced back to what you DIDN’T eat for breakfast! If you don’t eat a filling breakfast, you’ll likely feel the need to eat more later in the day.
Sometimes a craving is just being hungry at an inconvenient time. Your afternoon craving probably won’t be for a plate of scrambled eggs or a steaming bowl of oatmeal. The more common way to get through a hungry afternoon at work is with a bag of chips or a chocolate bar.
There’s a reason breakfast is called the most important meal of the day. Our bodies have a built-in circadian rhythm. There’s an ebb and flow of various hormones that run on a 24-hour clock. Our bodies are designed to receive food when we wake up. This is demonstrated by a recent study, which found that our bodies can handle high levels of glucose better in the morning than in the evening.
In light of that, think about how we generally time our food intake. We eat the majority of our calories later in the day, when our bodies are more vulnerable to higher levels of blood sugar. This puts us at a higher risk for diabetes.
Eat a filling breakfast. It’s good for your health, and it can minimize your midday cravings.
Protein, especially at breakfast, can help curb those afternoon snack cravings as well. Western breakfast choices are often high in carbs and low in protein. Breakfast cereals, bagels, muffins, toast… these carb-heavy foods give us an immediate burst of energy, which we all love. Unfortunately it won’t last long. You will feel the need for more energy as your day progresses.
When you add more protein to your breakfast, you provide your body with energy that is more sustained. Protein does this by:
- Slowing the rate at which your stomach empties
- Turning on hormone signals to suppress hunger and increase feelings of fullness
- Regulating blood sugar
To get this effect you need at least 20 grams of protein at a meal. For optimal effect, aim for 30 grams of protein or more. Most people get less than 10 grams at breakfast.
If you struggle with cravings, you might not be getting enough sleep! Your time in lala land dramatically affects the hormone levels that regulate appetite. The less you sleep each night, the hungrier you become. Your cravings for high-carb foods will be especially high! So the next time you reach for the box of cookies, stop and ask yourself if you’ve been getting enough rest.
The more you restrict yourself from something, the more you crave it. Doesn’t this seem intuitive? Forbidden fruit has a certain allure. While many people are familiar with this concept, it seems to get ignored when we try to limit food intake.
People like to take the all-or-nothing approach, and try to cut out desserts entirely. Or carbs, or sugar, or breakfast, etc. Restriction is still a widely used weight-loss technique, but it’s quite ineffective due to the way it affects our cravings.
Let’s say ice cream is your weakness. You realize that you should stop eating so much of it, so you decide to stop buying it. After all, you can’t eat what you don’t have!
You do well at the grocery store. Willpower wins! But that ice cream will often get stuck in your mind.
You keep thinking about that lovely heavenly hash. You think of it when you open the freezer. You think of it when you go to the fridge and see the freezer. You even think about it when you go near the kitchen. You can’t stop thinking about it!
When the mind is thinking about a particular food, the body follows suit. Your willpower can only hold up against your body for so long, and then you’re likely to binge on that food you’ve been fixated on.
So avoid restriction. Don’t ban yourself from your favorite foods. It’s completely healthy to have indulgent food choices in small and appropriate serving sizes. Take it from a dietitian. I eat my favorite foods as part of a healthy diet, why shouldn’t you?
The Ultimate Code – Acceptance
In reality, cravings don’t need that much decoding. Why do we crave ice cream? Because it tastes amazing!
You want to eat tasty things. That’s ok. If you try to cut them out, you’re only going to increase your cravings instead of lowering them! Then when you give in to them, you’ll be more likely to binge.
The ultimate code to managing cravings is to give yourself permission to give in to them sometimes, in appropriate amounts.
Jessica is a registered dietitian, recipe creator, nutrition counselor, and a hopeless gardener. She has visited 27 countries and hopes to see many more. She is passionate about helping people get the most nourishment, health, and enjoyment from the food they eat. She created the exclusive program, I Quit Overeating, to help people across the world rediscover a rewarding, joyful relationship with food. You can find her blogging over at www.smartnutrition.ca