For as long as I can remember, I have had a sweet tooth. It is especially strong after a meal.
I used to blame myself. I thought I was weak, and couldn’t control myself.
I know many of you out there struggle as well. In order to get to the bottom of why these insatiable, sweet cravings are happening, let’s take a look at how are body’s own chemical messengers play a role. Namely, our hormones.
Let me walk you how three hormones play a key role in these powerful sugar cravings that we often experience after a meal.
Hormone 1: Insulin (Our Sugar Regulating Hormone)
Unbalanced meals that lead to an uneven blood-sugar level may also be to blame. For example, a meal comprised primarily of refined starchy foods that are quickly digested (e.g. white bread, white rice, refined cereals) will cause your blood sugar (glucose) to spike after eating. Soon after eating, this glucose soar is followed by a drop, causing you to crave sugar.
Much of the effect of blood sugar fluctuations on appetite control can be traced to specialized brain cells called glial cells that surround every brain cell. Glial cells are important in sensing the level of glucose in the blood. Every time blood sugar drops rapidly, glial cells send powerful signals to brain regions, such as the hypothalamus, which then stimulate food cravings.
A few tips for balancing your blood sugar after a meal:
- Don’t skimp out on the protein
- Eat only low glycemic index carbs. Add slowly digested, or low-glycemic index (GI), carbohydrate foods to meals to help keep your blood-sugar level stable after eating
- Consider adding a souble fibre supplement (ie psyllium husk)
Hormone 2: Serotonin (Our Happiness Hormone)
Sugar cravings that strike after a meal may be due to serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical that’s associated with an elevated mood. Eating a sugary dessert causes serotonin levels to rise in the brain, which can make you feel calmer and happier. You get used to enjoying this feeling, and a habit is formed.
Break the habit. Understand that cravings pass. Remove yourself from the situation for 30 minutes to see if your craving subsides. Go for a walk or do a short workout. Exercise improves mood, possibly by boosting serotonin levels. Doing this for 3-4 weeks, will help you break this habit.
Hormone 3: Cortisol (Our Stress Hormone)
Feeling stressed? Most of us are. Stress results in higher levels of cortisol, which in turn impacts sweet cravings.
Numerous studies have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible. Once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress related responses and emotions. These foods really are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods. Excess cortisol creates a block in the conversion of tryptophan to 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) the intermediate step between tryptophan and serotonin.
This is just one more reason that you need to find a way to relieve your stress on a regular basis. Try nurturing yourself, instead of over-nourishing yourself with food. What do you enjoy doing, that you could do more of, to relieve your stress? Meditation? Exercise? Time with your social networks?
Are you looking to explore your food cravings further? I can help! Don’t miss my January session of Craving Change Classes! Sign up here.