A few nights ago I NEEDED chocolate!
Overwhelmed by a craving for some dark, luxurious, aromatic chocolate melting in my mouth, I hunted around my cupboards...
If you're like me and many others, late afternoon or before bed can be prime carbohydrate binge time.
You know how it is... you're comfy in front of the telly before bed, or reading a book, or whatever, and suddenly you get the urge to nibble nuts, crisps, chocolate, salty and sweet snacks. Or even a quick take away... or two!
After all, why deprive yourself when you’ve worked so hard all day?
Especially as you know that a moderate amount of carbs is necessary to provide energy in the form of glucose for everyday bodily functions, as well as for extra muscle exertion. Carbs are also helpful to develop the body organs and nerve cells.
The problem is ‘moderation’ isn’t it!? This is so hard because many of the ‘simple’ carbs like candy, syrups, and soda pop are quickly absorbed and give you a temporary ‘high’.
So how can you control those carb cravings?
Causes of Carb Cravings
The good news is that there is usually an obvious reason for them. Once identified, changing what and when you eat helps you gain better control. Here are some of the key causes:
1. Large gaps between meals. This leads to low blood sugar which increases the urge to binge on starchy or sugary carbs. I doubt many crave broccoli when they haven’t eaten for 8 hours!
2. Eating too many processed low fiber carbs. Foods such as white rice, white bread, sweets and other sugary food are low in fiber and have a high glycemic index and load. Eating high glycemic foods (especially larger portions) can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, followed by a quick drop. This stimulates hunger and can cause the urge to eat more carbohydrates.
3. Not eating adequate protein at meals. Eating meals that contain only carbohydrate (i.e. a jumbo bagel, big bowl of pasta with creamy sauce and an ice-cream Sundae) will cause a more rapid rise and fall of blood sugar. This can exacerbate cravings. On the other hand, protein helps to keep blood sugar levels and promotes satiety so you feel full longer.
4. Not eating adequate good fats at meals. Many people are fat phobic and consider all fats, including good fats as taboo. Fat takes a long time to digest, helps to prevent rapid peaks and drops of blood sugar and keeps you full longer. Of course, the key is not to overindulge in fat which is calorie rich.
5. Excessive low calorie intake. Your body automatically tries to ‘protect’ you from continually under eating. It does this by prompting the hypothalmus to produce extra NPY (neuropeptide Y), a chemical messenger that encourages you to eat more sugary or starchy carbohydrates for immediate energy. In addition, the hypothalmus secretes another chemical called galanin which increases cravings for foods rich in fat and carbs. Take home message: eating too few calories = cravings for high carb foods.
Inadequate carb consumption can be particularly damaging for physically active people. Exercising on a regular basis and not consuming adequate carbs will cause you to have powerful carb cravings as well as low energy levels. This is because carbs are the major fuel used by exercising muscles. Your body likes to keep your energy stores full of energy (glycogen). If you exercise on a regular basis and don’t eat enough carbs, your body will go into “carb seeking mode” as it tries to replete its glycogen stores. In addition, you will likely find your energy levels plummet.
6. Low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain associated with pleasant feelings and happiness. Your body requires carbohydrates in order to produce this neurotransmitter. The lack of serotonin can affect your moods, causing you to feel cranky or fatigued.
7. Inadequate sleep. Sleep affects hormones that regulate satiety, hunger and how efficiently you burn calories. Too little sleep can lower levels of leptin and raise levels of ghrelin, which can increase hunger for sweet and/or starchy foods.
8. High stress levels. High stress levels can cause chemical imbalances in your body. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in your body when you are under stress. Cortisol will increase production of a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y. This can increase cravings for sweet or starchy foods to fuel your body's energy levels during a stress response.
9. Insulin resistance. Insulin resistance prompts the body to over secrete insulin in order to get the glucose into the cells. This “hyperinsulinemia” can cause carb cravings. Women who have PCOS often secrete high levels of insulin - hence their frequent carb cravings.
Hopefully this list may help you pin point what may be causing your carb cravings.
For me it was definitely a protein and good fat inadequacy. Once I corrected that, the cravings greatly decreased.
But they can creep back...particularly when I get stressed.
When that happens I now ensure I have a bar of 70% + cacao chocolate to hand. Then I splurge. And feel OK about it!