Do you often find yourself longing for that cheeseburger with fries or is your object of lust a yummy looking chocolate cake? Then you are probably one of those who lets food con-trol you. Do you really understand why? Do you know how to tame them? Alessia Donato, Certified Nutrition Consultant at viasanawellness.com gives you a few helpful tips for overcoming them!
We all experience cravings at some point or another throughout the day. At 10am that donut looks enticing, but you know it’s probably not going to be good for you. At lunchtime you’re torn between the pizza or the usual lunchtime salad. The pizza just sounds so much better, doesn’t it? Food cravings are an intense desire for a specific food. They usually come about quite suddenly and often this desire can seem uncontrollable, and the person’s hunger may not be satisfied until they get that particular food. Some experts believe food cravings last only about 3-5 minutes. Every person experiences cravings differently and can have different triggers. Cravings most often than not are for junk foods and processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat.
Many people think that these cravings are just there because they “have no willpower” or they just don’t like “healthy eating”, but cravings are actually powerful signals from our body that something is out of balance. Food cravings are caused by the regions of the brain that are responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward. An imbalance of hormones, such as leptin and serotonin, can also cause food cravings. Studies also show that it’s possible that food cravings are due to certain endorphins that are released into the body after someone has eaten, which mirrors an addiction. This can be seen in emotional eaters, who often eat for comfort and self-soothing or due to stressful situations.
There is also the possibility of a connection between the cravings we have for a specific food and whether or not we lack specific nutrients. The body is an intelligent machine, and often we forgo listening to its cues, however we need to become more mindful of our body and what it’s trying to tell us if we want to conquer cravings once and for all.
THAT GUT FEELING – DO YOUR GUT MICROBES CONTROL YOUR FOOD CRAVINGS?
We know that that the gut aka our Gastro intestinal tract is responsible for digesting food and expelling the waste. More recently, we have realised that the gut has many more important functions and has now been scientifically confirmed as a “mini brain”, affecting our mood and appetite in ways we never thought possible.
Now, new studies suggest it might also play a role in our cravings for certain types of food and researchers have now shown that microbes in the gut manipulate both our behavior and our mood by changing the nerve signals of the vagus nerve. (The vagus or 10th cranial nerve directly connects the digestive tract to the base of the brain.)
HOW DOES THE MINI-BRAIN WORK?
The gut produces a wide range of hormones and contains many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. The gut also contains neurons that are located in the walls of the gut, distributed in a “network” known as the enteric nervous system. In fact, there are actually more of these neurons in the gut than in the entire spinal cord! The enteric nervous system communicates to the brain via what is known as the brain-gut axis and signals flow in both directions. The brain-gut axis is thought to be involved in many regular functions and systems within a healthy body, including the regulation of eating. I am sure you’ve heard that if you crave chocolate, your body lacks magnesium, however scientists have largely debunked the myth that food cravings are our bodies’ way of letting us know that we need a specific type of nutrient. Instead, a new body of research suggests that our food cravings may actually be significantly shaped by the bacteria that we have inside our gut, aka “the gut microbiome”. The gut is an immensely complex microbial ecosystem with many different species of bacteria. An average person has approximately 1.5 kilograms of gut bacteria. The term “gut microbiome” is used to describe the bacteria that collectively reside in the gut. We have a very diverse community of microbes in the gut. They all have one primary goal: survival (theirs, not necessarily ours). Different species prefer different nutrients. For example, Bac-teroidetes has been shown to have a preference for particular fats; Prevotella grows best on sugar; Bifidobacteria are able to outcompete others in the presence of dietary fiber. Other microbes are “specialists” and can only grow on a single nutrient source. Rather than just passively live off whatever comes their way, they can chemically alter the nerve signals that the brain uses to monitor activity in the gut. By releasing certain chemicals, they can change our taste receptors, bringing about cravings and making us prefer one food over another.
As we can see, all these microbes require a steady stream of food in order to grow and reproduce. The question lies in, are we feeding the good guys or the bad guys, and does it matter? The answer is yes. It matters greatly. Think about what you ate for lunch today. Did it feel like something you wanted, something you chose? Or was it something that the Lactobacilli in your digestive tract was actually jonesing for? Do you often crave for sugary snacks, fat laden and salty foods or a healthy, balanced plate of whole grains, some protein and lots of vegetables? If it’s the former, you may need to restore your gut microbiome back into balance rather than blaming it on will power. So yes, your diet matters so it’s crucial to take a closer look at our food choices if we want to conquer our cravings for good!
The best way we can manipulate the gut microbiome in our favor is with prebiotics(fiber), probiotics, fermented foods and a diet rich in plant-based foods. Residential bacteria like to feed on fiber like FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), polyphenols, and resistant starch. Found in whole grains and legumes. They also function best with lots of vitamins and minerals and healthy fats. So, load up on the fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The key to a healthy gut is increasing the number and diversity of strains. Different foods feed different strains so variety of plant-based foods is the key. Many whole foods are natural prebiotics, meaning they feed the good bacteria. Broccoli, kale, cabbage, apples, tomatoes, berries, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, bananas, avocados almonds, onions, and garlic are good choices. Research has shown that many different types of probiotic supplements can be very helpful. They support the function of your residential bacteria. Be sure to pick a company that has research to support their product.
FERMENTED FOODS HAVE TWO BENEFITS:
They provide beneficial bacteria to help the residential bacteria. Plus, they are antimicrobial, so they inhibit the bad bacteria. Many also contain those prebiotics that feed the residential bacteria. Try kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha – a fermented tea originating from Japan that tastes delicious! If you find yourself constantly craving sugar, fatty foods and salt, your diet needs a makeover in order to bring that inner ecology back into balance.
CRAVINGS AND EMOTIONS – KNOWING YOUR TRIGGERS
Stress manifests in different ways, but most of us can relate to the concept of emotional eating. Ever catch yourself wallowing in a container full of ice cream after a particularly stressful day? Emotional eating or stress eating is when you consume food not out of hunger, but out of anxiety, frustration, or sadness. For some, emotional eating is triggered by a particular traumatic event but for others, it can just be a habitual reaction to financial or emotional turbulence. As previously mentioned there are many that struggle with food addictions and emotional eating can be a complex issue that needs to be addressed differently for every individual. There comes a point where emotional eating gives way to self-loathing and guilt as we feel ashamed of our indulgence. We want to hide our “binging” episodes, but because of a lack of other emotional coping mechanisms, they spiral out of our control. To prevent emotional eating from advancing to the next stage, we need to tackle the problem at its roots: stress, frustration, and other emotional ruts. Take up meditation or yoga to simultaneously tackle stress and improve your self-discipline. Engage in a stress free activity like painting or gardening and take plenty of time to distance yourself from whatever may be causing your stress whether that is work, a stressful home environment, or relationship woes. Work with a wellness coach that can help you uncover unconscious and addictive patterns. To make sure your stress eating never borders on binge eating, keep a food journal. Records of your day-to-day eating choices will help prevent you from putting on unwanted pounds and improve your overall mindfulness when it comes to consumption. And finally, to manage your emotional eating in a far more healthier way, look for healthy alternatives to your favorite go to snacks such as oven baked sweet potato fries instead of the regular deep fried kind, carrot sticks and hummus instead of crisps or healthy homemade oatmeal cookies rather than Oreos!
ALESSIA’S TOP 6 TIPS TO CONQUER CRAVINGS FOR GOOD
1. Don’t skip meals. When you’re hungry and your blood sugar levels are low, it’s easy to make poor choices and grab whatever is quick and convenient. Always be prepared and don’t let yourself get too ravenous if you know you struggle withcravings often.
2. Don’t stock up on unhealthy junk food and snacks. If it’s not in the house, you know you won’t eat it. Instead find healthier alternatives or learn to make your own sweet treats that use cleaner ingredients.
3. Make sure you’re eating a small amount of healthy fats at every meal. These keep you satiated for longer. Add avocado to your meals or a handful of nuts with fruit.
4. Get enough sleep. We eat more when we’re tired and cranky, and we tend to lose our motivation to prepare healthy foods when we don’t have the energy.
5. Base your diet around plant-based foods. Keep animal products to a minimum or as a “condiment” once in a while and begin to notice the difference it makes on your cravings. Feed the good bacteria and watch your weight reduce naturally!
6. Keep a food journal. It’s important to notice our patterns and emotional triggers. Tracking our food and mood patterns can be a powerful insight into our habits that motivates us to make the necessary changes in order to achieve our goals.
THE GUTSY TAKEAWAY
Constant cravings especially sugar could mean that your inner ecosystem is out of whack. You may also crave dairy, breads, and fruit. When our gut microbiome is imbalanced, the not so friendly bacteria can guide your appetite, control your cravings and nutritional deficiencies may even develop. When the gut isn’t supported with good bacteria, an overgrowth can quickly spread. We need to accept that we are not only ‘us’ but also the microbes we have in our gut. We are more than just ourselves, but also these microbes are a part of us. If you constantly struggle with cravings and need help breaking free, visit www. viasanawellness.com for a free 7 day sugar detox challenge that kick starts your body to restore your gut health so you can say goodbye to food cravings once and for all and finally achieve the health and body you desire.
ABOUT ALESSIA: She founded Via Sana Wellness- The Healthy Path to a Diet free Life in 2016 to pursue her passion in natural health after leaving a successful +10 year corporate career in the beauty industry that left her burnt out, sick and unfulfilled. After a 7 year battle with IBS she regained her health and vitality after extensive training in mind body nutrition as well as testing and applying holistic wellness principles on herself, that allowed her to heal from the inside out. Through her own trials and tribulations with chronic digestive issues she has successfully learned how to apply the fundamental principles of gut healing, natural nutrition methods and a holistic approach to health which as a result helped her heal her chronic constipation and finally reach a balanced weight with her “No Diet Weight Loss” approach. As a certified nutrition consultant and No Diet Weight Loss Coach with a special focus on gut health, Alessia guides busy women to restore their gut health while improving common symptoms such as bloating, IBS and constipation that plague their lives. Gut health is at the forefront of wellness and it is the first step in truly transforming the body from the inside out. Her online courses, group & personalized one on one programs have helped hundreds of clients worldwide forever change their relationship with food, their bodies & their weight, thereby strengthening their connection to their own inner intuition so that they never have to think about what to eat & they can finally feel confident and empowered in their lives. Visit www.viasanawellness.com