As we enter the season notorious for weight gain and overeating, I wanted to address a topic with which most people are all too familiar: Food cravings.
Food cravings are usually a very strong signal that something is out of balance nutrition-wise. That’s why they accompany most weight-loss diets that restrict certain food groups. Low-fat dieters will crave things like pizza or ice cream. Low-carb dieters will crave the candy and sweets. This explains why most diet plans allow for a weekly “cheat” day, where you are allowed to eat anything you want. This may be a short-term answer, but the long-term solution is to correct the underlying problem.
I’m always harping on the idea of “listening” to your body. The more attuned you are to what your body is doing, the quicker you can modify your diet and lifestyle to prevent future problems. Here are a few ways to curb cravings, especially with all the temptations you'll be seeing in the coming months:
- Take a multivitamin. Most people don’t associate vitamin intake with reduced food cravings, but when the body is deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, cravings for food that might correct the imbalance can be intense.
- Consume a protein shake for breakfast. So many people are deficient in various amino acids that the body uses as neurotransmitters. Deficiencies of neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine cause a breakdown in cellular communication, resulting in both mood changes and food cravings. The pharmaceutical companies are well aware of this situation, and are developing appetite suppression medications that mimic the effects of naturally occurring amino acids like L-tryptophan, tyrosine, and others. With a simple homemade protein shake, you can achieve the same effects without the dangerous side effects or expense.
- Get plenty of sleep. The latest research has linked a lack of sleep (more precisely, the lack of melatonin) with insulin resistance, an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, and specific food cravings. Researchers have discovered that the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have melatonin receptors. When melatonin is released from the brain during sleep it helps shut down insulin production. Individuals who sleep little or poorly become more resistant to insulin, and their insulin sensitivity resembles the insulin resistance of diabetic people. To make matters worse, sleep-deprived individuals crave starchy, sweet foods—starting a vicious cycle that can lead to diabetes.
- Get your D. A low level of vitamin D increases insulin resistance, which tends to increase fat storage. It also depresses mood and subsequently leads to food cravings.
Now it's your turn: What do you do to reduce cravings for unhealthy food?