Do you battle food cravings on a daily basis and feel out of control around certain foods, especially at night? Check out these five culprits who are likely to blame.
1. You’re not eating enough carbohydrates.
“If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, you’re going to crave it.” states Registered Dietitian, Nan Allison, in her book Full & Fulfilled. Chances are, if you skimp on carbohydrates throughout the day, by dinnertime your body will be screaming at you to give me carbs! This could lead to nighttime carb-bingeing and the guilt that follows. Lose-lose.
The solution: Give yourself plenty of carbohydrates throughout the day. The amount is different for everyone, so experiment with the quantity and type of carbs you eat to find the amount that leaves you full, satisfied, and without cravings.
2. You sleep less than 7 hours a night.
There are a hundred reasons why sleep is important for your health, but there are two that directly affect your ability to lose weight and keep it off—the hormones ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin (aka the “hunger hormone”) is responsible for increasing your appetite. Leptin is the hormone responsible for decreasing your appetite and helping you feel full,
longer. When you deprive your body of sleep, ghrelin is increased in your body
and leptin is decreased.
What this means for you: Less than seven hours of sleep can cause some serious cravings and weight gain.
The solution: Getting enough sleep can reduce or eliminate cravings, even leading to weight loss (if you have weight to lose). Sleep isn’t just a good idea for general health. It’s oftentimes a powerful tool to stop your out of control cravings.
3. You’re stressed.
Stress comes in many forms big and small, real and imagined, positive and negative. The problem is, your body doesn’t know the difference. It knows one thing—it’s stressed. That means your finances, your unhealthy relationship, your overbooked schedule, your cluttered closet, or even that unresolved disagreement with your friend,
could all be sabotaging your fitness and nutrition progress.
Regardless of the cause of your stress, your body treats it all the same—by causing you to crave (and hopefully consume) quick sources of energy—sweets and carbohydrates.
Your body also responds to your stress by making enough energy (in the form of glucose) for you to fight or flee. But when we don’t actually need to fight someone or run for your life, the unused glucose ends up being converted to fat and stored in your belly.
The solution: Expect and manage your stress. Eliminate or avoid stressors that are within your control (being disorganized, an out of control email box, a toxic relationship) and expect and manage what you can’t control by implementing stress-reducing activities like exercise, meditation, going outside for fresh air, or having a cup of coffee with a good friend.
4. You’re not eating enough protein.
Protein helps you feel fuller, longer, because it takes longer to digest and increases the absorption time of carbohydrates. If you eat plenty of calories but not enough protein, you could be left feeling hungry and craving sweets.
The solution: Eat a moderate amount of protein at every meal. By moderate we mean 40-100 grams of protein PER DAY, depending on your body size, not the “1 gram of protein per pound of body weight” rule that’s popular in many fitness circles.
5. You’re on a diet.
When you’re on a diet, your body doesn’t know the difference between not having enough food because there’s a famine and not having enough food because you chose to eat less. Its response is the same; it heightens your ability to seek out food and make that food look more delicious than usual so you’ll eat it.
In short, when you restrict food you cause cravings (even to the extent of food obsession) that makes it more difficult to eat less and eat healthier than if you never dieted at all.
The solution: Move from dieting to a “normal” eating pattern based on healthy eating habits—(aka: eat when you’re hungry and until you're satisfied). Oftentimes, the most effective nutrition advice is the simplest. It’s just about taking the time to figure out how to make those habits work for you.