Being pregnant, the most common question that I get asked is ‘how are you feeling’?
I’m lucky to report that beyond a few days of slight nausea during the first few weeks, I’m actually feeling amazing! My energy is fairly high, my sleep is great and my diet is, well, pretty normal.
Besides from some cravings for bread and cheese near the beginning (and a hankering for some vegan ice cream this aft), my cravings haven’t been anything to write home about, at all. I’m grateful that I haven’t had any food aversions, but I am also slightly surprised that growing a human isn’t making my diet any more interesting than normal. (Now, to be clear, I’m just shy of 20 weeks so we will see how things change and progress… if there is one thing that I have learned so far in pregnancy, it is to expect the unexpected!)
The truth is however that cravings aren’t something only to be faced during pregnancy. Far from it. In fact, I hear about food cravings ALL the time from my clients, and, not so many years ago my own cravings were borderline out of control!
But, what I have learned and want to share with you is the underlying causes of cravings, and more importantly how to get a handle on them!
Sometimes we see a nutrient deficiency leading to certain cravings (more common in pregnancy), but more often then not, cravings are a result of our pesky hormones being slightly (or not so slightly) outta-whack!
Read on to see how you can learn to control your cravings using the 5 simple steps below.
But first, let me paint you a picture of how our cravings can get the better of us…
Let’s pretend it’s a Monday morning. You’re eager and ready to start your week off on the right foot — after all, the weekend was a s***show and you’ve vowed that this week is the week you get your ‘diet back under control’.
You start your day strong with a healthy breakfast, and you’ve even packed your lunch (a kale + chicken salad…woop!) plus, you’ve even packed plenty of healthy snacks for the day.
Then something comes up and your day starts to fly off the rails… You miss your am snack (which you knew you needed to keep yourself full ’til lunch) and by noon you’re ready to eat your own arm.
Suddenly that kale salad seems like it’s just not going to cut it. You need something more – you’re starving, after all! And so, you grab your regular lunch from your local go-to and spend the rest of the afternoon feeling bad about your poor choice and wallowing in your inability to ‘stick with it’.
On goes the cycle….and on goes that Negative Nancy in your head telling you how much you suck at eating healthy.
What you may not realize, however, is that this pattern of behaviour, along with overeating at lunch and choosing poor options during your 3pm slump, is heavily affected by your hormones!
In fact, once you learn how to manage your hormones, your cravings suddenly become WAY more manageable — which makes it WAY easier and WAY more enjoyable to stick to your healthy intentions!
You see, our hormones which we tend to think about in relation to our monthly cycle, reproduction or menopause, are actually also in charge of:
- Regulating Metabolism
- Blood Sugar Control
- Weight Management
These things are tres important, right? Hence, the need to balance our hormones and get them working for us, vs. working against us!
Here’s a quick run down of the 4 hormones that play a role in cravings.
Hormones & Cravings
- Insulin — The Fat Storing Hormone. Carries glucose molecules out of your blood stream to be delivered to your working muscles. Stores glucose (carbs) as fat for later use when muscle cells are full.
- Cortisol — The Stress Hormone. Secreted in response to emotional or physical stress (fight or flight response). Chronic stress keeps cortisol in the blood stream resulting in lowered immunity, suppressed thyroid function (metabolism), blood sugar imbalances (insulin) and increased abdominal fat.
- Leptin — The Fullness/ Satiety Controller. This hormone regulates hunger and feelings of being full. It’s signalled by the hypothalamus and secreted in fat cells. If leptin resistant you don’t feel full and keep eating. Tied to insulin and food cravings. Insulin resistance and leptin resistance are two hormones that can severely damage the body’s ability to lose weight.
- Ghrelin — The Hunger Stimulater. Secreted in the lining of the stomach and from the pancreas. Ghrelin increases before meals to stimulate hunger and is supposed to decrease after meals. Tied to leptin, which induces feelings of being full. When leptin resistant, insulin resistant and stressed out (high cortisol), ghrelin doesn’t shut off constantly telling your body you are starving.
When you’re hormones are imbalanced you may feel:
- Hungry often
- Crave fatty & sugary foods
- Never satisfied
- Difficulty sleeping
- Emotional (hanger!)
Take Home Message: Your cravings aren’t really your fault!
The Good News: You have the power to control your hormones!
Here’s how you can turn it all around, feeling satisfied and in control of your cravings…
5 Tips to Manage Your Cravings
1. Avoid all simple sugars, processed grains and foods with hidden sugars.(Sugar promotes high levels of insulin secretion. (Focus instead on: high-fiber beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables).
2. Start your day with a protein and fat rich breakfast. (Protein and fat promotes feelings of fullness, keeps blood sugar levels stable and signals the hypothalamus that you are full. A tried and true breakfast suggestion is 2 whole eggs with veggies and avocado or a green smoothie.)
3. Eat every 4 hours. (Aim to keep your meals big enough to keep you feeling full for 4 hours).
4. Don’t over exercise or do crazy long bouts of cardio (Shorter, more intense workouts can work wonders! Also, overexercising increases cortisol = increased stress).
5. Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night. (Sleep allows your body to repair and detoxify. When you lack sleep your stress response increases leading to carb cravings!).
The best part about balancing your hormones and reducing your cravings is that you’ll realize that you do in fact have the power to feel your best! You’ve got this 🙂