Craving sugar/carbs? It's not you (well sort of..), it's your hormones
Even with all scientists, doctors, health professionals, and Dr. Google know about the human body, we are learning more and more each day in how we are so interconnected. Sugar cravings go beyond a cold turkey 'stop eating sugar', because sugar is like a drug it can make us feel happy and loved, which then prompts, are we happy and loved in our own lives? Food is commonly known to reward us by reducing stress and improving mood- and we'll consume more until it does. It can also indicate imbalanced sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, too much stress, crappy sleep, nutrient deficiency, and/or flat out insulin resistance (we're eating sugar but our body is not taking it into our cells to use, so in turn we eat more).
Our body knows exactly when to eat and when not to eat, and sends out signals when we're hungry and full. However, either those signals get mixed up, they're just not there, we override them (ever eat til you can't move?), or deep down we know we're eating for emotional reasons. High sugar food or drink (e.g. added sugar, candy, dried fruit, starchy foods, soda) act on the same centers of the brain as cocaine and heroin, so forgoing that candy bar really can be withdrawal. Dopamine, our reward hormone, increases dramatically to tell us 'Yes, keep going, you're right', along with a boost in serotonin, our happy hormone, to provide us with that calm, happy feeling we were desire. And the more we get used to those centers lighting up, the more we need. Too low or high testosterone can contribute to anxiety and depression, therefore a need to reach for those high sugar treats. Estrogen is needed to make serotonin, and while having too much estrogen is common, either of these hormones out of balance can also create that nervous/anxiety moodiness we all know makes us irritable- as well as those around us. Progesterone helps relax us as it binds to GABA (our calming neurotransmitter) receptors and mitigate cravings, so you can imagine if it is too low. Once again, there's still a finite amount as when this level gets to high, mood swings enter forth and we yet again turn towards sugar.
Everyone with me? There's a few other ways that the body is super interconnected. Most of our serotonin is made in our gut- so if we eat foods that don't make our gut happy (think gassy, bloated, not pooping/pooping too much), then we don't produce as much serotonin (which converts into melatonin, so you may not sleep super well either- and hello cravings!). Any form of stress- emotional, not sleeping, poor diet, too much alcohol/smoking, sitting all day, ongoing health concerns- throws off our hormone balance because our body prioritizes resources to make cortisol, our stress hormone, instead of shunting those resources into hormones. Further, known constituents like beauty and skin products with chemicals in them commonly raise estrogen (beer does that too). And then all those cravings just to keep us awake, make us happy, etc.? Well those also make our hormones super wonky, and tank our thyroid (think metabolism, how fast our body makes & gets rid of stuff- including weight) and adrenals (so busy pumping out cortisol), that our whole endocrine system takes over and it's pretty much 'eat sugar or be miserable'.
Good news! There are a number of ways you can stop all this craziness! And heal your body:
- Fill at least half every plate with dark green leafy's and cruciferous vegetables - Broccoli, kale, spinach, chard, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, bok choy. These vegetables are so loaded with vitamins and minerals imperative for making a healthy amount of hormones it's ridiculous. Further, cruciferous veggies have a compound called sulforaphane, which is imperative to our detoxification pathways in the liver (serving over 500 functions like hormone production & metabolism, cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation, improved digestion, etc.). Cook them with a healthy fat like olive oil or coconut oil, which help us absorb their fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
- Eat protein - Figure about 60 grams per day for men, and 50 grams for women, more or less depending on height, weight, workout goals, etc. Protein contains amino acids critical for proper formation of dopamine and serotonin, and has B vitamins, and magnesium to help them get made. Protein also helps stabilize blood sugar and keep us satiated. Aim for high quality sources (e.g. organic, grass fed, pasteurized) of eggs, poultry, meat, wild caught fish, and seafood.
- Gymnema tincture - A tincture is herb(s) distilled in alcohol or glycerin (though lasts longer in alcohol, hence why many of them on the market are in alcohol) and can be pretty potent! Gymnema helps our cells take in sugar more effectively (hence not needing more), and improves sugar metabolism. Have a few drops on your tongue before you eat and watch your sugar cravings disappear- it literally blocks the sugar receptors on your tastebuds.
Any kind of craving could be craving of something more emotional, but that's within us if we choose to go deeper. Or maybe it is just as simple as getting a tincture of gymnema. Or a combination of both. Chances are we really do know our body really well and have a sense of all it's imbalances and imperfections even if we can't quite put the words or physiological systems to it yet- it just doesn't feel good. In the meantime, here are some additional tips to get your hormones back on track while you're preparing all those delicious veggies!