We have all experienced this: it's 7 p.m. and you overcome by a craving for something sweet. You tear your house apart trying to find an lollipop or -- even better -- square of chocolate.
Cravings seem to be a normal part of life for many people. And yet, in my work as a naturopath, cravings often signal an imbalance in the body. The body is literally craving what it most needs.
So my body needs chocolate? No! But it might need a quick rush of sugar to the bloodstream, which is exactly what that square of chocolate or lollipop is going to provide.
The best scenario for both peaceful living and healthy weight management is that your body seeks only healthy foods.There are a few things to consider, but yes you can get there.
You Crave What You Eat
When those startling headlines hit, "Sugar is like Cocaine," we all thought our days of snacking on gummy bears was over. It might be hard to hear, but the definition of sugar as an addictive substance is true. The consumption of sugar can lead to an increased release of serotonin in the brain -- this is our feel good hormone. You literally get hooked on the good feeling that comes from a square of chocolate.
The more sugar you eat, the more you come to depend on it for that lovely rush. Eat sugar, crave sugar. But it isn't just because of the addictive properties of sugar, however, that you find yourself going back and back for more.
When we adjust our body to eating a certain way, those foods that are consumed most often can also become craving sources for us -- as our body sets itself up to expect it. Have you ever cleaned up your diet and found yourself really craving that steamed spinach? Don't laugh. It does happen for many people. You crave what you eat.
You Crave What Your Body Needs
Just like your sugar craving often feeds a need for a hit of energy, a craving can signify a deficiency in the body. Women sometimes crave red meat around the time of their menstrual cycle. This signifies they need more iron stores. When you exercise more, you may find yourself craving more protein sources. This could signify the body is trying to synthesize muscle and requires more protein to do that. And of course, craving for carbs and sweets are more likely to happen when we are tried. Your body wants quick energy and that's the form it knows how to gain energy from the quickest (it is easily absorbed).
Food cravings may also signify vitamin deficiencies, such as craving beets because your body is low on folate. This is a great source for linking cravings to possible vitamin deficiencies. Decode your cravings with this tool.
What can you do?
Keep cravings in place by ensuring you eat a well-balanced whole food diet that relies on protein and good fats for lasting energy. Be sure to avoid skipping meals, and always eat when your body signals to you that it is hungry. Listen to your body and recognize that a craving might be trying to tell you something.
A consistent craving for a type of food might be worth investigating, either with a naturopath -- who can test for underlying deficiencies -- or a counsellor if you feel your food choice is tied to emotional factors and not a desire to eat. Always get enough sleep, practice beneficial practices for stress relief (so that a carton of ice cream is not the go-to). And if there is still a strong need, give yourself the occasional indulgence.
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Buy your vegetables in advance, chop them how you like, and store them in containers in the fridge for the week, says registered dietitian Kiran Bains of edovivo. "You’re more likely to use the healthy food in your fridge when it is convenient and ready to use."
One you get meal prepping down, eating healthy during the day is easy. "When grocery shopping, I choose two proteins that I will enjoy for the week and about five to six different veggies," Bains says. Try making your batches on Sundays and Wednesdays (to keep your menu fresh) and for starches try variations of rice, sweet potatoes, wraps, quinoa and pastas high in fibre.
For some of us this may be a wrap or a stir-fry or a rice bowl. Whatever your favourite meal is, stick to it during the week. "My go-to meals are stir-fries, wraps, soups, and salads when it comes to lunch items and of course, I love using left-overs from my dinner meals whenever possible," she says. If you're having chicken dinner, use leftover pieces for a wrap or salad the next day.
"One of my favourite things to do and easiest ways to get all of your food groups into a meal is to make a soup from leftovers," Bains says. If you're cooking chicken or beef, use the bones to create a broth. To keep things healthy, make sure you add as many vegetables as you can to your pot of soup.
"If you decided to splurge on that sugary baked good that’s been calling your name in the cafeteria, try to find an option that is higher in fibre like a bran cookie or bran muffin," she adds. Not only this, but combine your snack with peanut or almond butter for the added protein.
Keep snacks that are high in healthy fats, fibre and protein at your desk. Try nuts and seeds, fruit and low-sugar granola. And just like snacks, hydration is always important, Bains says. Make sure you keep a water bottle handy.
"Set Outlook reminders to snack throughout the day if you’re one of those people that forgets to eat during the day. Snacking throughout the day and keeping yourself hydrated is a great way to ensure your portions aren’t blown out of the waters when it comes to your main meals," she says. You can also use apps on your phone and set reminders to drink water and eat a healthy snack!
We don't need to tell you which office snacks to avoid. But if you aren't ready to give up your mini doughnuts and chocolate bars just yet, think about portion control. "When I do splurge on sugary items, I like to keep the portion size to just half the size of the palm of my hand in mind," Bains says. "If I’m still hungry, I’ll increase the amount of protein that I’m having with it, to make up for that loss."
Follow Dr. Allana Polo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/polohealth