The science behind cravings and keeping them in check



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When we eat something high in sugar or carbohydrates, or if we eat meals with just carbohydrates without protein and healthy fats, it can cause our blood sugar levels to spike. To correct this, or to bring it back down to where it should be, our pancreas releases insulin. The result of this process causes a spike and crash in blood sugar and can lead to a variety of unwanted symptoms such as energy crashes, cravings, and even a tendency to hold onto more fat in our midsection (remember more fat cells = more leptin, your hunger hormone).

Blood Sugar Rollercoasters

When we eat something high in sugar or carbohydrates, or if we eat meals with just carbohydrates without protein and healthy fats, it can cause our blood sugar levels to spike. To correct this, or to bring it back down to where it should be, our pancreas releases insulin. The result of this process causes a spike and crash in blood sugar and can lead to a variety of unwanted symptoms such as energy crashes, cravings, and even a tendency to hold onto more fat in our midsection (remember more fat cells = more leptin, your hunger hormone).

It’s important to note that these crashes in energy can also cause us to crave more sugary foods in order to reach those elevated levels of energy like previously experienced. That’s why sugary treats and beverages can cause a vicious cycle when it comes to cravings. The sweeter things we taste, the more we will crave sweet things – often even sweeter than what we typically consume. This is one reason artificial sweeteners are such an issue, they’re actually sweeter than sugar itself. Over consumption of artificial sweeteners will leave you craving sugar even more than consuming sugar will.

Short-term ways to managing cravings

The quickest way to solve the issue of cravings is to find a healthy alternative that satisfies you without the after effects of a high-fat, high-sodium treat that’s loaded with sugar. Consider trying one of these recommendations the next time you experience a craving:
  • Craving sweets: try one cup of mixed berries with melted nut butter or a few dark chocolate chips drizzled on top
  • Craving salt: try a small handful of lightly salted mixed nuts
  • Craving starchy carbs: try unsweetened oatmeal with a sprinkle of granola or a small bowl of lightly buttered popcorn
Another short-term solution to cravings is to distract yourself. If you are able to identify that you are experiencing a craving and that you aren’t actually hungry, this is a great opportunity to add some self-care to your day. Try some of these techniques to distract yourself from the craving:
  • Take a walk, call a friend, listen to a podcast, read a book, do some light yoga or stretching, take a bath, etc.

Long-term ways to managing cravings

When it comes to making a long-term plan for managing cravings, I recommend the following lifestyle habits:
  • Focus on making sure your meals are balanced. A good place to start is tracking your food in a journal or using an app like MyFitnessPal. Having a pulse on your food intake can help reveal areas where you’re deficient to help you better pinpoint the cause of your cravings. Keeping a journal on other things such as stress level, mood swings, emotions, etc. can also help you make a correlation to your food intake. If you’re not sure how to get started, you can reach out to one of our nutrition coaches for help.
  • Start taking a high-quality multivitamin. No matter what type of eating plan you have, taking a high-quality multivitamin will fill in the gaps to ensure you’re getting proper micronutrients.
  • Make a game plan for managing stress. If you’re not sure where to start, read this.
If you’ve incorporated these recommended steps into your daily routine but you’re still experiencing cravings, it may be time to do some lab testing. Through lab testing, Life Time experts can better understand what’s going on under the hood and influencing your body’s relationship with cravings.

Through an assessment consultation over the phone, we walk through the results from your lab and talk through a game plan to incorporate dietary and lifestyle changes to help you combat cravings, achieve your goals and feel great.

– Julia Dugas, RDN, LD, CPT – Life Time Virtual Nutrition Coach, CORE360 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 

Sources: 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17466108
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x

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