Food or sugar craving is different to hunger, a craving is a state of heightened eating motivation that is directed at a specific food. Hunger is nonspecific motivation for calorie-containing food in general. They are both distinct motivations that emerge from different brain circuits in response to different cues.
The brain is hardwired to be motivated by certain goals that support our survival. Things like food, water, sleep, sex, social support physical comfort. One of the key mechanisms of this process is a molecule called dopamine. When one of your behaviours accomplishes a hard-wired goal (e.g. craving a sugary food) our brain releases dopamine in specific areas and this causes us to execute those same behaviours next time we find ourselves in similar situations.
What makes this harder is reinforcement of this behaviour is experienced through sensory cues, sounds, appearance, smells, tastes, and location which act as motivational triggers. These ignite desires to repeat the behaviour. Unlike our distant ancestors where nutrient-dense foods required considerable effort to obtain this is not the world we live in today where we carry the same powerful instinctive drives but the food properties that we crave are far more abundant and easier to acquire, as well as highly processed, fortified and enriched.
We want to be able to curb our cravings and change the habits we’ve developed. A couple of simple strategies are:
- Avoid sensory cue exposure: By limiting the environmental factors, the sights, smells, sounds etc. you greatly lower the chance of choosing the wrong foods.
- Choose nutrient-dense, unrefined, whole, natural foods that give you excellent return of investment in the form of energy, satiety, health and wellbeing. Vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits (berries are a good choice which contain polyphenols, however still use in moderation)
- Consume effective micro-nutrients (B Vitamins and minerals phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, and chromium) these effectively metabolise carbohydrates and help turn them into effective energy.
- Fermented foods and drinks increases the body’s immune system and can help regulate appetite and reduce sugar cravings. Foods such as tempeh, pickles, yogurt, and kimchi.
- Cinnamon & dark chocolate: Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar while creating a sensation that you’re eating something sweet giving the body the satisfaction of a treat without triggering the sweet-taste response. Tara Mackey, author of Cured by Nature says “Raw, dark chocolate contains magnesium, which is nature’s best chill pill, as well as essential fibres and B vitamins. This can kick sugar cravings by satisfying your sweet tooth.”
- Surround yourself with likeminded people who support your new behaviours and don’t negatively affect your sensory cues.
- Remove temptation: Keep processed, refined high sugar/calorific foods out of your house.
Dealing with sugar cravings is something everyone deals with from time to time, everyone is unique in their own reasons to curb their cravings or change their eating habits. Always find the why behind why you want to make a change and you will find more motivation and purpose to dealing with your cravings.
Yours in health, strength and good choices.