Do you sometimes feel you’re being driven by an invisible force – usually in the direction of the fridge or treats cupboard? And you know you definitely would be able to stick to your diet if you didn’t get the irrepressible urge for something sweet…
If you can’t seem to get through the day without coffee, chocolate, sugar, or processed ‘treat’ foods, every day can feel like a bit of a hamster wheel. If you want to step off – and to crush your cravings for good – you need to address the physical, emotional, habitual and psychological aspects that lead to cravings. If it sounds hard work, it isn’t really. Once you understand roughly how food works in the body, you will be able to stop the physical need for treats, and you can start looking at creating healthier habits around treat foods.
Why can’t I stop craving foods?
Physiologically, your body needs a steady flow of energy throughout the day. When you eat too many foods that turn quickly into sugar (whether it’s sugar or starchy carbohydrates), this creates a blood sugar spike. The body then produces insulin to take the excess sugar out of your blood, and stores it as fat. Sometimes too much of this sugar is packed away, which leads to blood sugar levels dropping too quickly, resulting in tiredness, low mood, a drop in concentration – and cravings.
The cravings are nearly always for sugary foods or starchy carbs; anything the body can quickly convert to sugar to get blood sugar levels up again. Eating continually in this way causes a blood sugar rollercoaster, leaving you frequently exhausted, moody, irritable, sensitive to stress, prone to weight gain, and unable to concentrate.
Where do I start?
Balancing your blood sugar is the first step.
Switching to a low-GL (glycaemic load) diet based on whole foods like meat, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses, vegetables and fruit, with smaller amounts of wholegrain starches like brown rice and wholemeal bread will help enormously. These foods ensure that your body gets a steady, small supply of glucose to fuel your cells. The result? No blood sugar spikes and crashes. Simply, you feel more energised and on a more even keel.
Along with incorporating these foods into your diet, follow these simple rules:
1. Aim to eat three meals a day and no snacks in between, and all food in at least a 12 hour window (which means waiting 12 hours from your dinner one evening to your breakfast the next morning). This gives your body the chance to process the things you are eating and rest in between, which is important.
2. Eat protein with every meal (meat, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses). The protein slows down the speed at which sugars get broken down, stopping a blood sugar spike.
3. Fill up on non-starchy veg – focus on eating the sort that grow above the ground, such as leafy greens like spinach and kale, salad leaves, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, garden peas, aubergine, courgette, asparagus, cabbage, peppers, and squash.
4. Eat fewer starchy carbs and switch those you do eat to brown or wholemeal varieties, like wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and opting for quinoa over cous cous.
That might seem miles away from where you feel you are right now, and that’s not unusual. When you work on your diet as a whole, your cravings and energy levels will come back into line if you focus on eating real food, always having a source of protein and plenty of veg, and scaling back starchy carbs.
While your energy levels rebalance themselves, it can be helpful to have a small, snack to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.