Break cycles of craving certain foods or stimulants like tea or coffee
Studies have shown that high stress levels are associated with an increased appetite, and especially cravings for sugar, salt and processed fats, which is why we tend to choose junk or ‘comfort’ food such as chocolate or crisps when we’re under stress. Caffeine is a stimulant so when stress levels are high our body craves it to maintain those high stress levels in the body and keep you buzzing.
It doesn’t matter how well you’ve been doing on those healthy resolves, when that bad email or rush of work come in you can find yourself pouring the pennies into the office vending machine. What is crucial is that you don’t add this to the cycle and start giving yourself a (stressful) hard time about what little ‘self-control’ you have. You are simply a slave to your biochemistry at these points and it really helps to remember that.
Some simple changes can help you take back that rational control:
Cravings are fuelling a danger state:
Our brains can use up to 70% of our energy at any moment and if that is low, you’ll get a survival signal to just ‘fuel up now’ on whatever the most immediate source is. Trouble is that is often sugar as a quick-hit energy surge to the brain and stress sends a strident message that you’ll need your wits about you to deal with the ‘danger’.
The best way back from this state is to optimise levels of our calming and clarity brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a clever substance that puts on the brain-rushing brakes and soothes out frontal lobes. Too little and we can suffer anxiety, insomnia, depression and yes, craving, it has shown to be low in those with addictions. Conscious breathing, regular yoga practice and meditation have shown to raise GABA levels and any form of active rest like walking, gardening and day-dreaming can calm a craving brain.
Nuts, coconut chips and whole fruit are the best brain fuelling snacks to keep handy for those tricky times, often 4pm and late night.
Cravings are nutrition catch-ups:
Cravings and binges later in the day can be traced back to whether your breakfast set you up for the day’s activities or your body is playing energy ‘catch up’. We can crave sugars when our bodies don’t receive adequate protein and quality fats, so a breakfast that supplies these helps satisfy appetite for the day:
- Omelette with spinach and goat’s cheese
- Smoked salmon, avocado and rye toast
- Wholemilk Greek live yoghurt with nuts, berries and unsweetened coconut chips – add cinnamon which also helps regulate blood sugar levels and cleverly tells the brain you’ve eaten something sweet; cinnamon based teas are great for this same reason at any time.
If sugar cravings strike hard, bananas and citrus fruit helps us to produce GABA and figs help raise serotonin, the happy hormone, levels, making these sweet choices to satisfy a quick-fix need and calm an agitated brain. Vitamin B6, magnesium and green tea extract L-theanine supplements may all regulate these neurotransmitters and reduce your body’s signals for instant gratification.
Chocolate can help!
Yes you read that right….it has been shown that 40g of dark chocolate a day helps people cope with stress. This is not just helpful for those very effects, but also gives you permission to include a treat with benefits; it also contains high levels of immune protective, anti-ageing antioxidants and reportedly the ‘love chemical’ PEA also found in the smell of roses which we pump out in the honeymoon period. There’s still sugar of course and come caffeine (bewares past 4pm if you have insomnia) but if it helps you bypass the really bad cheap milk stuff and doughnuts, it’s all relative!