Have cravings? Or cravings have you..?
“Junk food you’ve craved for an hour, or the body you’ve craved for a lifetime.
Tough love, I know, and we may have been there at some point, whether it’s the mid afternoon ‘pick me up’, end of the day decision fatigue where we just don’t give two hoots anymore, stress eating, eating because we’re bored, or someone orders something and we haven’t had that in forever.. And I’m sure there’s more scripts running through our heads (I already thought of a few more because I’ve been there too). These cravings can also be a serious hindrance to weight loss, adding in extra calories, worsening the health status of our body (explained below), and keeping us trapped in the same routine. Good news- yes, we do need to take responsibility, but there’s ways of optimizing our physiology to tip the odds in our favor.
Cravings are incredibly common, especially for sugar/fat, or sometimes people enjoy salty items. On the other side is caffeine, especially for some energy. Sugar lights up our dopamine receptors, the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and reward, the same signals of cocaine and heroin, both of which can be fairly addictive drugs. Naturally we feel good, and want more, especially when we’re tired, upset, not feeling good, etc. Caffeine can do this as well, but also gives us a boost of serotonin, our ‘happy neurotransmitter’, and potentially norepinephrine for the boost of energy. However, that boost of energy also turns on cortisol (our stress hormone) triggers insulin release, and may aid in sugar cravings as insulin’s job is to take sugar into cells. Fat is typically seen as comfort, and salt cravings occur when our body doesn’t have enough (surprise). This can happen when we feel ‘tired but wired’, always tired, constant stress/poor sleep (common source of stress), because cortisol inhibits a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (keeps water/fluids in), so we urinate more- including urinating out salt.
Cravings may also be due to issues within our own body, such as underactive thyroid, low testosterone (in men), high estrogen (both men and women- actually pretty common), blood sugar issues (too high or low glucose and/or hemoglobin A1c- triglycerides are also a good indicator of sugar levels), poor sleep, and perhaps wonky levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. So it’s not just you, as there may be some physiology to optimize as well. It may also mean you are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, as we see now how there’s a few different factors at play.
Fortunately, here are some strategies that you can implement that work on both mind and body:
Sleep before 11pm- I’ll say it again.. however, this time we’ll add on knowledge, in addition to making hormones and letting cortisol drop, good sleep also promotes a proper balance of leptin and ghrelin, hunger hormones that balance satiety and hunger, respectively. Numerous studies have shown that a good 7-9 hours of sleep helps us achieve proper leptin levels. Side effects may also include solid energy, improving our willpower and choices we make that help our brain solidify those neuronal connections needed to change.
Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water- We know water is good for us (we’re made of mostly water), yet whenever we think how much we’re drinking, a common answer is ‘never enough.’ Let’s track it! And buy a bigger water bottle too if you need. Drink more water throughout the day too so you’re not up at night urinating. Furthermore, hunger and thirst have the same signals. Drink about a cup or more of water (add some lemon for extra health benefits) and then really tune in and see if you’re still hungry.
Intermittent Fasting- This is such a great way to help rest our pancreas (the organ that produces insulin to take sugar into cells) and our overall digestive system, as many studies have shown it can actually reset and improve sugar levels! Start with at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast (the next day), and work up to a few days of 15 hours, or even 18. Other variations include eating times of an 8 hour window, and/or going about 4 hours in between meals. In other words, this can really help you pay attention to eating nutrient dense food if your body is going to sustain fasting for this long. However, it can take some time to adapt, so adjust as needed.
And we can totally delve into more HERE to explore optimizing bloodwork and mindset, as we really do need both working together, as chances are we’re offsetting already formed habits which can really bring up a lot of, well, stuff. Different results require different processes in place, so we’ll identify the few biggest hurdles, create a strategy, and soon your new ‘treat’ will be a whole lot of vegetables! Seriously though, they are so full of vitamins and minerals and fiber that your body is beyond thrilled when they enter your system. :D