Healthy Food Bites To-Go: Cravings and Stress

It’s 11AM.

Maybe you decided earlier in the morning to skip a traditional balanced breakfast for a pastry and a cup of joe. Or instead, to get you through the morning you end up sipping on a whipped cream-laden, caffeinated concoction that resembles dessert.

The clock is about to strike 3 PM in the afternoon.

Your tank feels empty. Lunch and breakfast may have offered an initial lift in the day, but now it feels like your ship is sinking. Tired and lethargic, your mood is low and you feel hungry again. Now images of favorite snacks – candy bars, cookies, chips, fries, energy drinks and coffee shots consume you, falsely promising to restore performance or at least get you out of a funk. Imminent deadlines, impending exams and personal and professional responsibilities loom. Stress starts feeding cravings for salty, sugary and fatty foods. What to do?

Your body feels your pain. The emotional and physical threats of life’s stresses can cause your body to release chemicals called adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is commonly referred to as that surge or ‘fight or flight’ response we feel when our heart starts to pump faster, blood flow quickens and we feel more alert. But it doesn’t last. Also, the release of the chemical cortisol from stress can provide a burst of fuel. The blood sugar soars and then once again dips below our comfort zone.

Now, an overriding desire to eat something that will re-energize becomes all-consuming. These irrepressible urges are called CRAVINGS. The cues of cravings run deeper than just seeing food and wanting it. The body is a supercomputer and cravings are vital info. They’re a sign of imbalance which we can easily ignore.

Instead of automatically diving into old eating habits and satisfying cravings with junk food and drinks with unrecognizable ingredients, try some craving-busting tips to promote a better mood and sustainable energy.

1. Don’t wait until you are starving to eat. Eat something within 30 minutes of waking up, even if it’s a healthy snack. Then have your coffee. Coffee makes water leave the body causing dehydration. Hydrating the body prior to drinking coffee is a preemptive strike against cravings.

2. Avoid food emergencies by planning (at least in your mind) meals and snacks. Always carry a healthy snack with you. Honor your body with clean fuel and watch what it can do for you.

3. To prevent night cravings for smooth and creamy foods like ice cream, be sure to eat textured, healthy fats during the day including nuts/nut butters, tahini (in hummus) or other good-for-you fats such as avocado. These increase the flavor of food and your satiety after eating it.

4. Ban fake sweeteners – those pink, yellow and blue sugar packets. Your body doesn’t recognize them and when consumed will continue to send a signal urging your body to eat something sweet. Fuel don’t fool your body.

5. Eat protein at meals and snacks to keep blood sugar balanced and to prevent cravings. An example might be milk with a cookie or cheese with an apple.

6. Try not to go more than four hours without food unless you are sleeping. And if you skip sleep, expect the body to send snack cravings into overdrive – especially for junk food. It’s a vicious cycle.

7. Eating food that does not contain essential nutrients may cause odd cravings for salt and non-nutritional forms of energy like caffeine.

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