Cravings…we’ve all heard about them, we’ve all felt them, but have you ever wondered what they really are? We’ve enlisted Rhiannon Lambert, a Nutritionist specialising in weight management, eating disorders and sports nutrition. She is the founder of Rhitrition, a leading Harley Street private clinic and author of Re-Nourish: A Simple Way To Eat Well., and today she dishes on how you can best handle them.
Cravings may occur for many different reasons at various points in our daily lives. Ladies, it may be that time of the month, a stressful day or even pregnancy that can induce them. In my field of work, I tend to observe that if we are not fulfilling our bodies nutritional needs, cravings can materialise.
When it comes to cravings, it’s highly unlikely you will fancy a bowl of broccoli (although I wouldn’t judge if you did)… it will most likely be something sugary like a chocolate bar. Research dictates a variety of supposed reasons for experiencing cravings, one commonly explored cause being to satisfy emotional needs, such as stress and anxiety. If you do feel like this, please do read my article on Food and Mood or refer to my book ‘Re-Nourish’.
THEORY: THE BLOOD SUGAR ROLLERCOASTER
Any time you eat a carbohydrate, your body digests it, converts it into glucose and sends this glucose into your blood. Glucose is what sugar is called once it is in your blood. The difference between sugar, refined carbohydrates and whole grains is how long this conversion takes. Foods with lots of fibre (whole grains and fruit) take longer; foods with less or no fibre (white carbs and sugar) digest much more quickly.
When you eat a meal with lots of refined carbohydrates, your pancreas experiences a bigger spike in blood glucose levels, so it starts to release insulin as quickly as it can to try to catch up. But this can often result in a blood sugar ‘crash’, which is when you often may want to reach for that biscuit to give you more sugar to make you feel energised again.
This is something our bodies do all day, every day – glucose up, glucose down. Our brains depend on it but if we have too much glucose at any one time, from an over-consumption of sugar or carbohydrates, insulin may not be able to move it all effectively into cells and our liver has to improvise and do something with it, even if that means storing it on our hips or as cholesterol.
When we overeat, or binge eat, it tends to be items that are very high in energy and glucose. I find that often the first step to feeling better and towards preventing overeating is to get you off the rollercoaster. So, while a sugar rush sounds fun, I encourage you to think twice because what goes in must get processed one way or another.
Blood sugar levels are determined by the type of carbohydrate we eat and what we eat it with. Eating a fast releasing type of carbohydrate will send you for a ride on the rollercoaster that will leave you feeling low in energy and craving more energy-dense food. Eating a slow releasing carb will keep you safely off the rollercoaster, allowing you to stabilise your blood sugar and provide you with longer lasting energy.
MY TOP 5 TIPS TO BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
- Limit food that is high in refined sugar and switch refined carbs to complex carbs (wholegrains).
- Work on your reliance on stimulants such as caffeine as these may cause a rise in blood sugar.
- Start your day well. Aim for a balanced whole grain and protein-rich breakfast with slow-releasing energy.
- Enjoy fibre-rich foods at each meal (veggies are a fabulous choice to fill most of your plate).
- Consume a varied, nutrient-rich diet to stay happy and healthy throughout the day.
HAVING A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
We will all crave from time to time, however, creating a healthy relationship with food will start the journey to understanding what our bodies need, when these cravings are necessary and when they are for enjoyment. Moderation is key in a healthy relationship with food, as cravings may come from under-eating and depriving yourself from a certain food group. By introducing a balance of nutritious foods to your diet and enjoying those sweet treats in moderation, any cravings should lessen.
MY TAKE HOME POINTS FOR CRAVINGS
- Keep a cravings journal – note down when you crave food, this may be due to a certain emotion you are feeling, or a certain day of the week you crave.
- Learn the difference between cravings and hunger. Learning your internal cues such as hunger, satiety and satisfaction can help you understand when your body needs food and when it may be bored, stressed and reaching for food as comfort.
- Take care of yourself – Food cravings can often be due to your mood, and while food is delicious, it will not resolve anything in the long term. Reaching for food constantly can be a red flag, and you may instead need some support or “you time”. Talk to your friends, have a bath, book in a facial, whatever you need to nurture and look after yourself!