Hunger is something we all experience. While there are many cues that let us know we’re hungry, we all experience them differently and to different degrees. Hunger cues can include any of the following: growling stomach, grumpiness (what many describe as feeling “hangry”), low energy, difficulty focusing or concentrating, shakiness, weakness, lightheadedness, or headaches. When I’m hungry, I get “hanxious,” a combination of hunger and anxiety. But that’s just me. We can also get cravings which can be challenging. But what are cravings exactly? And how to do we deal with them?
A craving is a strong desire for a particular type of food. More than 90% of people experience food cravings. They can occur in settings beyond food, as some people crave drugs, betting, attention, etc. What’s most challenging about food cravings is when it seems like only a certain type of food can satisfy you. I’ve noticed something curious about myself along these lines.
When I have cravings, they’re particular. I find myself craving sweets, which is essentially craving carbs, or a particular type of them. Whether it’s cookies, chocolate, ice cream, etc., those are the foods that are appealing to me when I’m hungry. I start thinking about them, picturing them, even thinking about where I can get them. Soon thereafter, I notice a pull to consume one of the things I was just thinking about. Unfortunately, sweets are too easy to get. You can be driving through the middle of nowhere and find a gas station stocked full of this stuff.
On top of that, sweet foods are easy to consume. At most, you’re dealing with getting through a wrapper. Sweets provide the body with sugar (in the form of carbs) that give us immediate fuel. That makes them pretty convenient. That’s a little too convenient if you’re trying to minimize or avoid them altogether!
You may not have a sweet tooth like I do. Perhaps you’re more into salty or fried foods. Things like bread, fries, or chips might be more to your liking. These foods are still refined carbs. One reason why you might be craving carbs is because you may not be getting enough of them. Protein, fat and carbohydrates are all sources of fuel for your body. We digest and absorb each of these at different rates. They all do different things. As a result, if you’re not getting enough carbs, your body will ask for more. You will then find yourself craving carbs.
Not eating enough?
Another reason why you could be craving carbs is because you might not be getting enough calories. Many diets are all about cutting calories, skipping meals and/or fasting. Lowering your caloric intake can help you lose weight. It is also an easy way to deplete yourself of nutrients your body needs if you’re not careful. This can obviously lead to you always craving sweets or some other form of carbs. In cases like these, it’s much harder to say no as your body may feel like it’s starving. Approaches like this can result in failure and disappointment.
When I was a kid, I didn’t like to eat. I couldn’t be bothered. The taste of most foods didn’t appeal to me. I was overly thin and my mom worried that I was malnourished. Out of ideas, she gave me something sweet to eat. A Twinkie to be exact. I remember taking a bite of it and really enjoying it. I liked its taste and texture. It made me feel good. This I could eat all day! At the time, it was better that I eat something rather than nothing. Lesser of evils I suppose. However, this eventually led to a sugar addiction that I would struggle with for a long time. It even brought me close to developing diabetes!
Why do I crave sugar?
Are you always craving sweets? What does that say about you if you crave them? Sugar cravings occur for many reasons. Some are psychological, whereas others are physiological. By psychological, this can be due to conditioning. Like me, you may have been trained to turn to sugar when you’re hungry. You developed a preference. Over time and with reinforcement, it has become a habit. These 2 factors work together to form the infamous vicious cycle. Sweets can trigger the release of dopamine, the feel good neurochemical in the brain’s reward center. Increased dopamine can mean more cravings.
For the record, I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with desert. It’s always been my favorite part of the meal. I have fond memories of working at restaurant on the upper east side in Manhattan and attacking the dessert cart at the end of my shift. The chocolate-covered pyramid chuck full of caramel was my goto. As delicious as that was, I probably wouldn’t have it now. What’s best is that even though I may still want dessert, I don’t feel like I need it. Better yet, I don’t feel like I’m missing out either. If I want, I can have a bite or two to enjoy it and call it a day.
Did you know that stressed spells desserts backwards? Stress can lead to craving sweets too. Our bodies respond to stress by secreting certain hormones. These hormones also happen to be related to food cravings. Craving sweets is linked to the stress hormone cortisol. The hormone that controls appetite, ghrelin, is released when people are stressed out. Thus, managing your level of stress is an important factor in terms of managing cravings. Think about what you can do to lower your stress levels. That might mean having more down time, spending more time in nature, less screen time, more recreation, etc.
Is craving sugar a sign of diabetes?
Always craving sweets can be a sign of blood sugar imbalance, or insulin resistance. When you eat sugar, your blood sugar naturally spikes. Your body then releases insulin to lower it to a level that’s safer. However, insulin commonly brings your blood sugar level down too low. The end result is that you crave foods that will raise it and bring your energy back up. This cycle can be hard to break, so the key to preventing too much insulin from being secreted is to eat foods containing fat, protein, and little, if any, sugar. Regularly eating (both snacks and meals) is important because blood sugar levels drop when you skip a meal. Eating too frequently isn’t ideal either, as some people graze all day. This is how to stop sweet cravings after a meal. Also try to eat carbs that are high in fiber like: quinoa, beans, lentils, etc. Foods like this will slow down your digestion and won’t burn as quickly. You will have more sustained energy, feel full for longer, and will find yourself craving sweets less. Additionally, you’ll be feeding healthy bacteria in your gut. This improves much more than just your blood sugar levels.
Can you get to a place where you want rather than need sweets? How would it improve your health if you were able to change this?? Please tell us in the comments…