April 19, 2016

Do You Have Food Cravings? - Part 1

Do you have food cravings or hunger pangs or is your stomach saying I'm hungry, feed me? How can we keep this from ruining a healthy food plan?

Yes, the term “Craving” is not well defined. Many use the term when craving certain foods, or certain types of foods. Others say this is the impulse to eat in the absence of hunger. Cravings can be for specific foods, or heading for the refrigerator for no good reason.

Differentiating between hunger and cravings is not always easy, and there is possibly some overlap. Food-specific cravings can often occur at the same time as hunger, and hunger can manifest itself in different ways. For example, if you've just eaten a satisfying amount of food and you still feel like eating, this is most probably what we are calling a craving. On the other hand, people who have gone with insufficient calories for an extended period, as in an extended dieting, will also report a sensation of wanting more food even when they are full.

Some have suggested that one way to differentiate between cravings and
hunger is to think about a plain but satisfying food, such as a steak. If eating a steak sounds like a great idea, it's probably hunger.

What can cause cravings? From my reading and experience, the following causes of cravings are my suggestions.

#1) Too much carbohydrate in the diet. A very common reaction to a low-carb diet is a dramatic reduction in cravings. People frequently talk about "feeling normal around food" or not feeling like eating between meals. This is actually the most-mentioned "favorite thing" about low-carb eating.

Of course, the same people will usually find to their dismay that adding too much carbohydrate back into the diet brings the return of those urges to eat when not hungry.

The obvious remedy is to find out how much carbohydrate is best for you, and stick to it. It generally takes about 5-14 days to rid yourself of the cravings (tips for getting through that time). However, this won't help in the moment when you're having the craving! Near the end of this blog, (part 2), I will have strategies for that.

#2) Eating processed, "hyper-palatable" foods. In recent decades, the food industry has perfected the art of creating foods that leave you wanting more of them. As documented by writers that have written about how these foods work in our brains to create yearnings.

These brain circuits actually have some commonality with responses and addictions to opioid drugs. The remedy for this is to not let the food companies get away with this: don't purchase and eat these foods.

#3) Sweet foods. Even apart from highly processed foods, sweet foods can be a problem for many people, for very similar reasons. Obviously, you don't need to buy highly processed sweet foods; you can make them yourself, and this can cause problems. This is why even artificial sweeteners should be used in moderation. Sweet foods can be an occasional treat for some, but others find that eating any sweet foods make them want to eat more.

#4) Other trigger foods. If you are eliminating sweet foods and processed foods, and are eating the right amount of carbohydrate for you, there aren't many trigger foods left. But, there are people who, for example, do fine on a moderate amount of carbohydrate, but find that potatoes or some other specific food trigger unwanted eating.

#5) Emotional eating. People do eat for emotional reasons: sadness, boredom, etc. However, before jumping to the conclusion that you are doing this, I urge you to carefully check out numbers 1-4, because many, many people have found that their "compulsive emotional eating" vanishes when they figure out the way of eating that works best for them. I was one of these people. I spent several years trying to figure out why I was overeating. Turned out it was simply "too much carbohydrate".

#6) Habits. If we get in the habit of having certain foods at certain times or in certain settings, we'll often find ourselves wanting that food whether or not we are hungry.

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