What causes food cravings and what to do about it

Health, Nutrition, Weight Management

Many people suffer from food cravings. They spend a lot of time thinking about food, fantasising about food and trying (and not always succeeding) in restraining themselves in order to lose weight or eat healthily.  Often people give up the unequal fight and decide they’ll eat whatever they want and just not worry about it.

Do you often feel ‘hungry’ even when you should be full. You know you’ve eaten enough, but somehow you still feel vaguely hungry and dissatisfied. You tell yourself you’ll leave the rest of the packet for another day, but somehow 5 minutes later the packet is just back in your hand.

If you’re one of these people, what can you do about it? How can you stop food cravings?

Food cravings can be caused by food allergies

If you often get the urge to eat something and feel almost immediately better after you eat it, you could be allergic to what gives you this good feeling.

If you find yourself saying,” I’d be happy if I could live on X”, whatever X is may well be an allergen for you.

If you sympathise with the woman who broke a plate glass window to get at some chocolate, you know how an allergy to a food can drive you insane! Food allergies tend to be addictive – you crave the allergen. No one knows for sure why this is so, but it seems to be linked to endorphin production; endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers.

People with allergy cravings often wake with a ‘hangover’ even when they haven’t been drinking. They wake feeling tired, headachy and possibly thirsty. Some people with severe allergy addictions feel compelled to get up in the middle of the night and eat or drink the thing they crave.

It’s always the same food that weaves its magic spell. Do you wake up, eat or drink it, and then you snuggle down and easily fall asleep again? It may be the middle of the night, but food (or a cup of tea or coffee) is calling you. If so, that food or drink is likely to be an allergen.

There are complementary practitioners who can help with food allergies – look for a kinesiologist or an EAV practitioner (Bicom, Bioresonance, Vega practitioner).

Being short of minerals can cause food cravings

Craving particular foods can be a sign of a need for a nutrient that is in the food that is craved. This is particularly common for minerals. For example, a deficiency of potassium may result in a craving for avocados and bananas.  A shortage of zinc may stimulate a desire for sunflower seeds and oysters.

When there was lead in petrol, I found that a lot of clients who had a problem with lead loved apples. These are an excellent source of pectin, which helps to remove lead from the body. You may know little about nutrition, but instinctively your body is trying to do the right thing.

So, if you crave a food, check out its nutritional content, and consider whether it is possible you could be deficient in that vitamin or mineral. Consider taking a good quality multi-vitamin supplement to cover all your bases.

Blood sugar problems cause food cravings

It is important for health that blood sugar levels stay within reasonable limits. This is taken care of by two hormones – glucagon and insulin produced by the pancreas. Glucagon stimulates the conversion of glycogen into glucose and so raises blood sugar levels. Insulin lowers blood sugar levels by stimulating the conversion of glucose into glycogen, which can then be stored until needed, and also by allowing glucose to enter cells through special glucose channels.

Most of the time this works fine, but sometimes blood sugar levels can drop. Low blood sugar has a very detrimental effect on the functioning of the brain. As this can threaten your survival, low blood sugar is treated by the body as an emergency situation.

When blood sugar drops suddenly a really primitive reflex tells you to eat immediately. It is difficult to ignore this command, and in general you eat whatever happens to be handy and is sufficiently rich in carbohydrate. This is not necessarily nutritious food. Other signs of badly fluctuating blood sugar levels include headaches, trembling, panic attacks, sudden sweating and anxiety.

From this you can see that maintaining stable blood sugar levels can be vitally important in reducing cravings, but how do you do that? There are two important things you can do – avoiding high glycaemic index food and making sure you have an adequate supply of nutrients that affect blood sugar levels.

High glycaemic foods cause the blood sugar level to increase suddenly and then drop steeply. Avoiding high glycaemic index food can help to stabilise blood sugar.

WebMD says:

“Some foods can make your blood sugar shoot up very fast. That’s because carbohydrates like refined sugars and bread are easier for your body to change into glucose, the sugar your body uses for energy, than more slowly digested carbs like those in vegetables and whole grains. Eat a lot of those easy carbohydrates and you’ll have a hard time controlling your blood sugar, even with insulin and diabetes medications.”

But it’s important not to assume a food with a lower glycaemic index is necessarily healthy. WebMD says:

“The glycemic index shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when making choices about what to eat. The fact a food has a low glycemic index doesn’t mean it’s super-healthy, or that you should eat a lot of it. Calories, vitamins, and minerals are still important.

“For example, potato chips have a lower glycemic index than oatmeal and about the same as green peas. But oatmeal and green peas have more nutrients.”

Chromium, a trace mineral, can help the body use insulin more effectively, and can help stabilise blood sugar. Good food sources of chromium include brewer’s yeast, whole grains, legumes, nuts and molasses, but if your blood sugar is very erratic you would probably do better to take a chromium supplement at least for a while, or a broad-spectrum plant-based mineral supplement.

Food cravings can be caused by emotional problems

Sometimes people crave foods that they associate with comfort. Usually this is fairly easy to spot because it’s often one food, and you know the origin. Maybe it was what your mother cooked for you when you were sick.

There are other less obvious emotional connections. Some people eat to reward themselves or to suppress emotions or to counteract boredom. Are you one of these? Check out my blog on how to reward yourself without using food or alcohol.
sign up for contentDo you keep stuffing food down to stop yourself opening your mouth and expressing your emotions? If this is the true, try taking some flower remedies or seeing a therapist.

Do you find the evening is the worse time for cravings? Is that because you are bored? If so, get a good book to read, take up a new hobby or go out and meet new people.

What is mindful eating?

One of the most effective ways to counteract food cravings that are emotional or because of boredom is to practice mindful eating. When you use mindfulness, it means you are not doing other things at the same time – watching TV, liking posts on Instagram or figuring out what you will do tomorrow. You are present with your food in a way that means you know whether or not you really want food or whether you really need something else.

It’s not about forcing yourself to behave in a certain way or setting restrictions on what you do. It’s about learning to understand and recognise your relationship with food at any time.

A research study entitled “Coping with food cravings. Investigating the potential of a mindfulness-based intervention” offers support for the effectiveness of mindfulness training. The study examined whether mindfulness-based strategies can effectively reduce food cravings in an overweight and obese adult population. Individuals participating in a dietary group treatment for overweight received an additional 7-week manual based training that aimed to promote regulation of cravings by means of acceptance. The control group did not receive this additional training program. The results showed that participants in the experimental group reported significantly lower cravings for food after the intervention compared to the control group.

Another project which reviewed many studies on mindfulness and eating involving college students concluded:

“higher levels of mindfulness have been found to be associated with lower emotional eating and binge eating in students than in their less mindful peers.”

The mindfulness app Headspace offers a way of using mindfulness for this purpose. First complete the basic mindfulness course, which takes around 15 minutes a day. Then you can choose from two further courses (still around 15 minutes day) one on Mindful Eating and the other Coping with Cravings. They have others that might be relevant too Managing Anxiety or Letting Go Of Stress or Self Esteem.

Food cravings don’t have to rule your life, but you do need to take action to change what’s happening in your body and your mind.