Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beat Your Food Cravings

A lot of people, especially dieters, experience the occasional ‘craving’ for food, and scientists have discovered that this craving is not just to satiate hunger, but is actually a craving for a specific type of food group. Whether it is in the form of candies, chocolates, potato chips or several glasses of wine, scientists have noticed that this craving is actually that of our body signalling us to ‘take in’ some sugar or carbohydrates.

Previously perceived as one of the consequences of a person’s bad eating habits or his lack of will power, this craving for sugar or carbohydrates has been found out by scientists to have an underlying scientific (more specifically, ‘biological’) reason, and the psychology of bad eating habits or lack of will power has nothing to do with it.

Scientific/Biological Reasons for Food Craving

You see, when depression or exhaustion strikes us, our body enters into a state wherein the sugar content in our blood is low, and it sends a corresponding signal to our brain, telling it that it needs some ‘pepping up’. This then triggers our craving for sugar or carbohydrates. Serotonin, our ‘feel-good’ hormone, also plays a role in our ‘craving’ behavior, because a condition of low blood sugar levels is usually accompanied by a condition of low serotonin level, and vice versa. Thus, whenever there are low serotonin levels in our body, we also experience a craving for sweets and carbohydrates, to compensate for the corresponding shortage of sugar levels in our blood.

However, what we have described so far is all okey, because that’s how our body works when there is a low level of blood sugar or serotonin. What is not okey is that the sugar or carbohydrates that we usually take, in the form of chocolates and other sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods, only gives us a short burst of serotonin. When this short burst dies down or is consumed/used up by our body, the craving for more sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods returns. And this would lead us into a vicious cycle of wanting more sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods!

Adrenal fatigue could also be another cause of this craving for sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods. Whenever we feel ‘stressed out’, ‘run down’, very tired for no apparent reasons, or have not had a restful sleep for about 2 or several days, we usually suffer a condition called adrenal fatigue, and in severe cases, this leads to what is known as adrenal exhaustion. Nowadays, this health disorder is quite common (what with the our hectic lifestyles), but the sad truth is, it is often misdiagnosed as ‘just stress’ or is even neglected. Anyway, during an occurrence of adrenal fatigue, our body would send a similar signal to our brain, requesting for some ‘pick-me-ups’, which again triggers our craving for sugary or carbohydrate-rich snacks or drinks, such as coffee at various times of the day. During nighttime, our body would be craving for carbohydrates or even alcohol. And this exacerbates the problem.

People who have long been suffering from this craving for sugary or carbohydrate-rich snacks or drinks have become what is known as insulin-resistant (or at least, partially insulin-resistant), perhaps without even realizing that they actually are suffering from this condition. You see, in a ‘normal’ person’s body, our blood sugar level is regulated by insulin; that is, when the need arises, insulin signals the cells of our body to absorb glucose from our bloodstream. But in an insulin-resistant person’s body, the cells could no longer ‘respond’ to the insulin’s ‘signal’, hence they do not anymore have the ability to absorb glucose. This would then trigger a ‘distress’ signal to the brain, requesting more sugar or carbohydrates. Hence, our craving for sugary or carbohydrate-rich snacks or drinks! Now, you would ask, “Since there still are plenty of unabsorbed glucose molecules in our blood, what happens to the excess sugars or calories that we take in during our cravings?”. Well, they will be converted into and stored as fat, and we would start gaining weight even if we thought we didn’t eat much. People who have taken care of their health by maintaining a low-fat and low-carbohydrate diet for a long time (or those who have been taking appetite suppressants) do not suffer from such cravings for sugary or carbohydrate-rich snacks or drinks.

How to Beat the Craving
Perhaps now you have finally understood the nature and underlying causes of the craving for sugary or carbohydrate-rich snacks or drinks, but are in an unfortunate situation because you are already ‘into’ it, or are already insulin-resistant? Fear not, because it can be beaten; it can take quite some time, but it can be achievable.

You can start by rethinking your food choices, opting for ‘healthier’ foods instead of sugary or carbohydrate-rich ones (you may have to consult your doctor on this, because some foods ‘disguise’ themselves as ‘healthy’ but are, in fact, sugary or carbohydrate-rich). You may also add diet ‘supplements’ such as fat binders or cholesterol-control medication to the mix (again, consult your doctor), but a ‘natural’ way to curb your cravings is exercise; by incorporating a realistic, achievable exercise plan (one which involves low-impact, moderate activities for initially 20 to 30 minutes, such as jogging or brisk walking), your insulin resistance can be reversed and you might easily get rid of such cravings. This process of incorporating dietary modification, medication or ‘supplements’, and exercise may take some time before you see some results, but no doubt, it will succeed! Good luck, then!

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