Is it all in your head or is your body trying to tell you something? Some might dismiss a ‘wisdom of the body’ theory as quackery. However, if you think about the biological processes happening within your body and the factors affecting these, the argument to substantiate a link becomes more compelling. Here’s why.
Food is so much more than just calories. It’s information. The body is a wonderful machine, constantly sending you signs and signals about the information (or nutrients) it needs to function at its best. However, when you fall into unhealthy patterns, you unwittingly train your brain and body to crave certain foods. Often these foods give you a quick fix. You feel great for 30 minutes, yet an hour later your energy levels are on the floor and you need another hit to keep you going. Sounds familiar?
ARE YOU CRAVING SUGAR?
One of the most common and documented cravings is, of course, sugar. In recent years, articles in the press have suggested sugar is as addictive as a class A drug. How true is that really? Or, have you been simply making excuses for your lack of willpower?
The brain needs glucose to function – sugar, which comes from carbohydrates. When you’ve got a steady release of glucose into the blood stream throughout the day, this process works as it should. You’re productive, sharp, and full of energy. However, too much of the wrong kinds of sugar can throw things off kilter. Eating something high in sugar and high in fat (like donuts, chocolate, cake, biscuits and sweets) triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward and satisfaction. Eating these things repeatedly may train your brain to send the message, ‘I need to eat this to help me feel better’. You might use these foods to regulate your mood and lower your stress. But in the long run, this sends you on a rollercoaster – with your energy, your mood, stress levels and sleep. Over time, this rollercoaster can result in the development of chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, inflammation, immune suppression or chronic fatigue.
So, what causes you to crave sugar in the first place? You’re more inclined to eat these kinds of foods when you’re stressed or tired, because your brain is looking for more fuel than it would be when you are relaxed and well nourished.
Sugar also stimulates the release of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, which in turn produces melatonin helping you get a good night’s sleep. Similarly, a woman can be more susceptible to sugar cravings around the time of their menstrual cycle.
Studies have shown that higher oestrogen levels are associated with greater levels of the hunger hormone, leptin, which triggers stronger cravings for sugary foods. PMS also causes the stress hormone cortisol to increase and the feel-good hormone serotonin to dip, making you reach for chocolate, and sugary snacks to give you a feel-good boost at that time of the month.
Generally, the foods you choose to eat every day can help to regulate these cravings. Try switching your white bread, pasta, sugary cereals, low fat products and processed foods for lower GL (glycaemic load) alternatives such as wholegrains, pulses, root vegetables and combine it with protein at each meal. This can help regulate the release of glucose into the blood stream. Quality proteins such as eggs, turkey, salmon and nuts and seeds are also rich in tryptophan and tyrosine, which support production of serotonin and dopamine – a much better source than a packet of chocolate digestives or a bag of sweeties. Making the switch to a more wholesome and nourishing alternative may be a more sustainable approach to lowering inflammation, improve sleep, balance hormones and promote healthy weight loss.
DO YOU CRAVE SALTY SNACKS?
Sugar doesn’t do it for you? Perhaps you are more inclined to reach for savoury, salty foods such as crisps, salted nuts, cheese and biscuits. Generally speaking, this may be a sign that your adrenal glands are under strain, and similar to sugar, that hankering for salt could be attributed to stress, fatigue or PMS. You rely on your adrenals to produce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline whenever you need it. That might mean meeting that deadline at work, training for a marathon or gearing yourself up for a big presentation.
Like insulin, this is fine and necessary in the short term but chronic demand on the adrenals can result in fatigue and insufficient secretion of other hormones including aldosterone, renin and angiotensin, mineralcorticoids which regulates blood pressure by controlling fluid levels and electrolyte balance in the body.
When your adrenals are tired and don’t produce enough aldosterone, your blood pressure can become low and result in salt cravings and these might be accompanied with other symptoms such as fatigue, excessive thirst, headaches and nausea. If you are experiencing a multitude of these symptoms, you might consider discussing this with your doctor.
Ultimately, it is important to tune into your own body and become aware of how you are feeling. What signals is your body giving you each day?
Working with a Nutritional Therapist who can devise a personalised nutrition program can be a powerful way of learning to tune into your own body, equipping you with the knowledge to recognise certain signs, and make positive changes to benefit your long-term health and wellbeing. For more information on what this involves, contact me.