Snack Attack: Coping With Cravings
Moderation is key to satisfying your sweet tooth or salt craving.
Have you ever felt you absolutely must have a piece of
chocolate, a potato chip (oh, let's get real -- an entire bag of potato chips),
or a box of Krispy Kremes?
Those food cravings are not a sign of weakness on your part. If
you crave certain foods like cereals, grains, and sugar, you may actually be
addicted to them, says James Braly, MD, medical director of York Nutritional
Laboratories and author of Food Allergy Relief.
People with a food addiction may have symptoms like headaches,
insomnia, irritability, mood changes, and depression, Braly says. They can
relieve these symptoms -- but only temporarily -- by eating the foods they
Most often, the foods we crave are processed carbohydrates.
These change the brain's chemistry, increasing the level of serotonin, our
Boost Serotonin Right
"People with food cravings may actually have neurochemical
and hormonal imbalances that trigger these cravings," Braly says.
If you think you may be serotonin-deficient and want to
increase your serotonin levels without resorting to a pint of mint chocolate
chip, Braly suggests trying these alternatives:
- Identify and eliminate suspected food allergens -- paying special attention
to gluten (wheat, rye, oats, etc.) and milk products.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeinated drinks, cigarettes, and
- Increase your exposure to bright light or sunlight to 1-2 hours a day.
- Get 60 minutes of moderate or moderately intense exercise every day.
- Make sure you get enough deep, restful sleep every night.
Although they have not been proven to be helpful, certain
supplements might help, according to Braly. These include:
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
- Ginkgo biloba
- Acetyl-L carnitine
- St. John's wort
- Vitamin B-6
- NADH (vitamin B-3 derivative)
- SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine)
Body or Mind?
"It's important to distinguish whether your craving is
physiological or psychological," says Rebecca Wilborn, director of the
Midtown Diet Center in New York City. "Pay attention so that you can
determine whether you are feeling actual hunger in your stomach."
Physical cravings may be a result of low fat intake or low
blood sugar. For many of us, the mid-afternoon cravings we feel are merely our
body's way of telling us it has been too long since lunch and we actually need
to eat. A piece of fruit, yogurt, or a handful of nuts can get the blood sugar
levels back up and keep us from reaching for the no-no snacks we think we're
craving, according to Wilborn.
Emotions play a big part in food cravings, too, Wilborn says.
"When we're stressed, anxious, frustrated, lonely ... all those feelings
can trigger our cravings." She adds that we may have memories of how good
certain foods made us feel when we were younger.
Sensory triggers, like smells and visual cues, can also set off
cravings, says Wilborn. If you walk by the pizza stand on your trip through the
mall, chances are you're going to start salivating.