Updated: Mar 30
By Dr. Marika Berni, ND
You start everyday with the same intention…. I will eat well today. Before you know it the day goes sideways and seemingly for no fault of your own, you are finishing off the pint of ice cream that you had bought as a special treat. There is nothing worse than cravings to sabotage your healthy eating plans and prevent you from reaching your weight loss goals. A patient once asked me if I had a pill for eliminating cravings. It got me thinking. How great would it be if I had a magic pill, or if unicorns were real?
Cravings happen for a reason, and can be a sign that something in your body is off.
The good news is that with some simple daily habits you can eliminate your cravings. Unicorns are a different story.
Here are my top 5 tips for reducing your cravings:
1. Balance your blood sugar.
Imbalanced blood sugar and insulin levels can lead to cravings.
By eating regular, well-balanced meals consisting of adequate protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber and good fats daily, you will not be hungry, or tempted to snack. It all begins with your first meal. I know that if I skip breakfast I will be searching my cupboards for chocolate chips later that night.
Start your day with protein and healthy fat – like eggs or a protein shake with 20-30 grams of protein and 10-15 grams of fat (almond butter, avocado) . A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that people who got 35 grams of protein at breakfast were less hungry throughout the day and saw favorable changes in the hormones and brain signals that control appetite. They also had decreased evening snacking.
Make sure you eat a significant snack with protein (15 grams) in the afternoon, around 3:00. This will prevent you from snacking before dinner.
2. Get 8 hours of sleep
I say this over and over again in my blogs. You will struggle to lose weight despite a healthy diet and exercise if you are not getting 7-8 hours of deep, restful sleep. This study demonstrates the link between sleep deprivation and cravings.
Your hormones regenerate while you are sleeping. Some of the hormones that affect our cravings include serotonin, ghrelin, leptin, insulin and cortisol. When they are imbalanced we get cravings. Two of the most important hormones to focus on for natural weight loss are ghrelin and leptin. They are our “hunger hormones” because they work to either increase or decrease our appetite. Ghrelin is an appetite-increasing hormone and leptin is a hormone that is made by fat cells that decreases your appetite. In this study you can see that both hormones are disrupted by sleep deprivation and result in an increase in cravings and BMI. So put away the device and pull yourself away from the TV and go to bed at a reasonable time. I suggest using the bedtime feature if you have an Iphone. Aim for 8 hours every night. If you are unable to fall asleep or wake up at night see your naturopath for sleep support.
3. Identify and eliminate any food sensitivities
First we must understand the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities.
Food allergies occur when your immune system reacts to a specific food, via the production of antibodies (IgE) to fight off the perceived “harmful” allergen. This is a quick response usually happening within minutes, always to the same type of food and resulting in symptoms which include a rash, hives, swelling, trouble breathing, anaphalaxis and possibly death.
Food sensitivities also involve the immune system (IgG), but the reaction is not as severe, and can be delayed hours or days later, Symptoms vary, including bloating, gas, mental, and mood deficits, arthritis, chronic fatigue, and more.
Food sensitivities can result in cravings, often for the food we are sensitive to. The mechanism can be explained this way: food reactions cause the body stress. The body responds by producing endorphins, which make us feel good, so we end up craving and consuming more of these same foods in an effort to get more of these addictive, “happy” chemicals. This then feeds the food sensitivity reactions that lead to more addictive chemicals and we can’t get off the merry-go round.
When I suspect this is at play I suggest that my patient do a food elimination diet, which is a method of identifying foods that an individual cannot consume without the above sensitivity reactions. Elimination diets typically involve entirely removing a suspected food from the diet for a period of time (I usually suggest two weeks), waiting to determine whether symptoms resolve during that time period, and follow up with a reintroduction of those foods to see if symptoms return.
4. Reduce and support stress.
Emotional eating, stress eating, we have all experienced moments where we need to have something comforting (usually carbohydrate based) to calm us down at the end of a busy day. Stress, whether it is external such as work, financial issues, and family or internal stressors such as low iron, vitamins B12 or D, or thyroid dysfunction, affects our cravings as this study demonstrates. Stress also has an effect on our hormones. The adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol in response to long-term stress, and cortisol increases appetite. Also, if we are exhausted from a stressful day we will reach for quick, high-energy foods (again usually carbs).
You can support your stress levels by exercising regularly, getting massages, and trying a meditation app like Calm or Headspace. Herbal support for stress focuses on adaptogenic herbs like Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola, and relora. If anxiety is present try L theanine or gaba. Your naturopathic doctor can help you choose the best option for you.
5. Drink water
Thirst is often confused with hunger or food cravings. This systematic review suggests a weight-reducing effect with increased water consumption. So if you are craving carbs, drink 8-12 oz of water, wait 20 minutes and see if you still have the craving. The bonus is that just by drinking water you will lose weight by increasing the amount of calories you burn (cold water is best)!
To learn more about a naturopathic approach to weight loss and Dr. Marika Berni’s 8 week weight loss program click here or book a 15 minute complimentary consultation to see how Dr. Marika Berni can help you fight your cravings!
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