We asked Daniel O'Shaughnessy, the Naked Nutritionist, why we might be having food cravings and here's what he told us...
As much as you try to stick to a programme of eating well, there can be some cravings that arise which you may wish you didn't have. This can sometimes be for a sweet 'treat' or for a glass of wine in the evening or even a takeaway when you have a fridge full of food.
This is a normal bodily process and there are good reasons why you may experience cravings. Cravings are largely controlled by certain hormones in the body which are responsible for appetite as well as fat storage. These hormones are why diets can be hard to stick to in the long run; particularly diets that are low in calories and don't consider the quality of the food. Let's discuss these hormones in more detail so in times of cravings you know what’s causing them and can make better overall food choices to keep hunger at bay.
This is a hormone that is released by the body to reduce your appetite and make you feel full. People that are overweight may have problems with leptin signalling so their brain thinks it’s starving and they want to eat more. When someone loses weight, leptin levels decrease as well and so you feel more hungry, which goes against the wind when you are trying hard to reach a goal.
This is a hormone that is released from your stomach and sends a message to your brain to prompt you to eat. So naturally, these levels are high before a meal and low after. Studies show that people who are obese have lower levels of ghrelin and may only decrease slightly when eating which therefore leads to overconsumption .
Released from the pancreas and allows cells to take sugar into the blood for energy or storage as fat. Overeating and eating the wrong type of food such as processed refined carbohydrates and sugary foods can drive up insulin levels which sends your blood sugar on a rollercoaster resulting in cravings.
A stress hormone that is vital for survival and when chronically elevated can lead to overeating and weight gain.
A hormone that activates the reward centres in the brain and can impact the amount you eat, mood and motivation. If you are overeating and particularly eating highly palatable foods (such as sugar), you’re more likely to have an impaired dopamine response which leads you to seek more food. This can explain binge eating and lacking enjoyment from food.
What can you do?
The good news is diet and lifestyle factors can be used to help minimise cravings.
Eat protein with every meal and snack
Protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, eggs, soy and beans are supportive of blood sugar and hunger hormone balance.
Limit processed and sugary foods
The more you have the more you want. This can help prevent blood sugar dips during the day so fewer cravings.
Frequent exercise supports insulin sensitivity and can support leptin signalling resulting in fewer cravings.
Good quality sleep supports hunger hormones as well as supporting a healthy stress response. Unlock Kip Advisor here.
Address your stress
Consider stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, yoga or going for a walk without your phone.
Bottom line: When you experience cravings, take a moment to think about why they are there. Perhaps your meal choices could be improved or you may have had a stressful day. Making these simple changes are cumulative and not an overnight fix but over time, you will notice you naturally are not snacking so much and craving healthy unprocessed food.
The Naked Nutritionist
Award-winning BANT Registered Nutritionist
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner
A note from Beingwell: If your organisation would like Daniel to deliver a workshop, or want to find out more about the many ways he can help your employees to eat better, pop us an email email@example.com. Find out more about Daniel here.
A preprandial and postprandial plasma levels of ghrelin hormone in lean, overweight and obese Saudi females (2009). Journal of King Saud University - Science.