With every approach to eating a balanced diet, whatever your health goal is, however tasty the food, however committed you are to what you want to achieve, unless you are superhuman, there will be times that you give in to cravings. This is normal. Yet, the frequency and duration of an overeating episode will determine how successful you are with weight loss and/or weight maintenance.
It may seem like there is nothing you can do about it – that you are completely out of control. This usually spirals into feelings of guilt, failure and despondency, so you give up – feeling more miserable than ever.
Blood sugar peaks and troughs:
Every time we eat, our blood sugar level rises. How high depends on how much glucose is released from the food we eat. If it’s too much and our blood sugar level rises too high, insulin will bring it down again. The higher our blood glucose, the more insulin is secreted, the more insulin there is, the faster and lower our blood sugar level is going to drop. Low blood sugar is an emergency situation: stress hormones are released and a message is transmitted to the brain, which results in the strong desire to eat, especially quick release carbohydrates. This is a craving! If you avoid the spikes, you avoid the drops. It may be hard to believe now, but the less sugar you eat, the less you’ll want it.
Tiredness / hunger:
If you are tired, undereating or hungry, your body is going to cry out for glucose – we have become accustomed to the fact that the quickest way of getting this is through refined carbohydrates, e.g. a piece of toast with jam, a chocolate bar. This is why low calorie, quick fix diets invariably end up giving us massive cravings and binges, as our body is simply trying to replenish itself because it thinks there’s a famine! So, don’t let yourself get too hungry. Avoid sugary snacks as they will only lead to the next craving. Make sure to always have protein with every meal and snack, as this will help keep you fuller for longer. Don’t shop when you are hungry – it will only lead to dietary disaster!
Our taste buds need stimulating. Eating a lot of bland food will lead to our body craving something interesting! Also, eating too much of one flavour leads to craving something different. For example, eating lots of sweet will end up with you craving something savoury and vice versa. This is why people often switch from one to the other during a binge. Keep your diet varied and interesting. Try something new every day. These are the first rules in eliminating cravings, which can lead to unnecessary bingeing.
If you are low in essential fats, your body will cry out for fatty substances. We have fat receptors in our mouth so that our brain can register when we are taking in fats (to ensure levels are kept topped up). Without realising it, our craving for fat will seek out fatty foods. If we satisfy this craving with the wrong fats, e.g. from doughnuts or crisps, our fat receptors are temporarily satisfied, but because unhealthy fats like trans fats or damaged polyunsaturated fats cannot fulfil the job of essential fats, the cravings return. However, because our EFA (essential fatty acid) levels have not been topped up, our brain tells us to eat more! We might interpret this as more doughnuts! And so it goes on … Make sure you are getting enough essential fats to ensure your body meets its requirements and protect yourself from these cravings.