An enormous percentage of women crave sugar, carbohydrates, or alcohol. In most cases, these food cravings are not true eating disorders, but instead are signs of hormonal imbalance caused by a lack of healthy nutrition.
Your personal issue may be the afternoon snack (often chocolate or candy or a food that’s also heavy in carbohydrates), too many potato chips, the extra glass of wine at night, or a hundred other variations. But the underlying mechanism, and the way to curb cravings, is the same. And it has nothing to do with willpower, or your lack thereof!
Food cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted or blue, we have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin, and the body signals the brain that it needs a pick-me-up. This signal causes a sugar craving or carbohydrate craving.
Serotonin is our basic feel-good hormone. If serotonin is low, we feel sad or depressed. And hormonal imbalance or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin. Unfortunately, sugars and simple carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin — we feel good for a moment, but soon return to our low-serotonin state — then crave more sugar and simple carbohydrates. It’s a downward spiral.
If you eat a low-fat diet in the hope of losing weight, you unintentionally make the problem worse. If, like millions of women, you have eaten a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet for many years, or followed fad diets, the odds are good that you have become at least partially insulin resistant.
Insulin is responsible for maintaining stable blood sugar levels by telling the body’s cells when to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. Being insulin resistant means your body stops responding to insulin, and instead grabs every calorie it can and deposits it as fat. So no matter how little you eat, you will gradually gain weight.
At the same time, your cells cannot absorb the glucose they need, so they signal your brain that you need more carbohydrates or sugars. The result is persistent food cravings.
When You Crave Salty Food
What it says about your body
If nothing but the saltiest french fry will do, you may have a mineral deficiency. Studies have shown that women who eat low-calcium diets want salty foods more than those who get enough of the bone builder, says Michael Tordoff, Ph. D., a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, an institute that studies taste and smell. One possible reason: Sodium temporarily increases calcium levels in the blood, which tricks the body into thinking the problem is solved. But you may have a shortage of other minerals too. In animal studies, researchers have found that a lack of potassium, calcium, and iron causes test subjects to devour table salt.
If you crave salty foods a couple of times a month, your menstrual cycle might be the cause. Craving salty foods can occur during menstrual bleeding and ovulation. A research study in a 1994 issue of "Physiology and Behavior" found that women craved salty foods more when they were ovulating and during menstrual bleeding. Researchers concluded hormones involved in menstruation might alter taste preferences.
Sugar cravings often strike after a meal, despite feelings of fullness. Habits, brain chemistry and your diet's makeup cause you to crave sweets. You can learn to fight the cravings, but only after you understand why they occur.
Adam Drewnowski and Allen S. Levine write in the "Journal of Nutrition" in March 2003 that added sugar and fat make up more than 50 percent of the typical American diet and contributes to the obesity epidemic. Craving sweets after a meal can hamper weight loss efforts. You try to deny the craving, only making it more pronounced. If you indulge the craving, stopping with a small serving may be impossible for you.
If your cravings are due to deprivation, allow yourself a small sweet--perhaps a cookie or a miniature candy bar. Sometimes, however, this sets you up for binging, in which case it might be best to go cold turkey for a few weeks. Over time, if your cravings are due to habit, they will subside. Make sure you are consuming adequate nutrition and calories during the day. Try to make each meal contain a serving of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. Techniques such as brushing your teeth immediately after eating or chewing a piece of minty, sugar-free gum also may help cut the desire to consume sweets after a meal. If you must have something sweet--opt for fresh or dried fruit, which offers nutrition along with natural sugars.
Millions of American women are now trying the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet. While these diets are an improvement over the conventional low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, they can worsen your metabolic problems, because dieting itself is stressful to the body. So many women need to heal their metabolism first before even considering weight loss.
Another cause of food cravings is adrenal imbalance. If you are under a great deal of stress, or suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation, you are probably exhausted much of the time. This situation causes your body to call upon your adrenal glands for more stress hormones to act as a pick-me-up, but over time, your adrenals become less able to respond appropriately. You may resort to sugar or carbohydrate snacks or coffee during the day and carbohydrates or alcohol at night, all of which exacerbate the problem.
How to break this vicious cycle? To reduce food cravings, the body needs real support — and lots of it. We have seen over and over that eating healthy foods, adding pharmaceutical–grade nutritional supplements and moderate exercise can almost miraculously curb cravings. Your metabolism will heal itself when provided with the necessary nutritional support. If it has been damaged, the process can take some time, but it will happen. The good news is — you don’t have to give up granny's apple pie!