If you have found yourself obsessing about donuts and Cheetos, you are not alone. We have all found ourselves in an unimaginable time. The pandemic has been something we never expected and thought only happened in the movies. It has brought about feelings of fear, anger, loneliness, sadness, and confusion. We have all experienced tremendous loss whether it be the loss of our normal daily routines, the loss of a job, the loss of seeing friends and family or the loss of a loved one. During these highly stressful times, it is normal to crave foods that are high in fat and sugar.
During stressful times such as this, our brain wants a release of those “feel good chemicals” such as dopamine. One of the ways that we get dopamine is by eating unhealthy foods that are high in sugar and fat. Sugar has drug-like effects on the reward center of the brain. As a result, our brain keeps sending out a tsunami of food thoughts and obsessions, trying to get you to cave into the cravings so it can get the next hit of dopamine. In addition, when we are under a large amount of stress, we produce the hormone, cortisol, which can also increase food cravings for sugary and fatty foods. Unfortunately, if we give in to those cravings and carb up, we produce a tremendous amount of insulin, which is also a hormone, which then can cause low blood sugar, resulting in cravings for more sugar and carbohydrates. We end up on a blood sugar rollercoaster that encourages fat storage and cravings for more sugar and carbohydrates. In addition, the sudden spike and drop in blood sugar levels can make you feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. When we feel depressed, we are also more likely to eat our emotions. As you can see, the chemical and hormonal cascade all feed into the continuation of cravings and bad food choices.
Here are 10 tips to help you get off the craving crazy train!
- 1. Get enough sleep. When we skip out on ZZZ’s, we are more likely to crave carbohydrates and sugar to give us a quick pick me up.
- 2. Drink enough water. Our body often confuses dehydration and hunger. The bigger we are, the more water we need to stay hydrated. Take your weigh, divide it by 2 and that is how many ounces of water you should drink daily.
- 3. Plan your meals ahead of time and meal prep. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Having a plan and having healthy meals already cooked makes it more likely that you will stick with clean eating and avoid fast food and convenience eating.
- 4. Do not skip meals! When you skip meals, you will likely find yourself overeating in the later meals or snacking too much.
- 5. Eat protein. Protein takes longer to digest than fats and carbohydrates and is more satiating. Protein will keep you fuller for longer and reduce your appetite.
- 6. Keep unhealthy foods that you crave out of the house. This may seem like an obvious one, but people often try to think they can have them around and avoid eating them. This is usually not the case, especially when cravings are high.
- 7. Distract yourself. Did you know that food cravings will usually pass after 20 minutes? Go find something to do that makes you feel good or productive.
- 8. Get some exercise. Exercise helps lower of levels of the hormone ghrelin, which also stimulates appetite. Also, when we exercise, we produce those “feel good chemicals” that our brain is so desperately needing. Bonus…get outside to exercise, so you can enjoy the beauty of nature and get vitamin D. Walking is one of the easiest and best forms of exercise.
- 9. Listen to music. Brain studies have shown that listening to music can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, improve sleep quality and improve mood.
- 10. Work ahead of your stress. Instead of waiting until you feel like you are ready to have a meltdown, try working ahead of your stress by taking short times throughout the day to do something you enjoy and find calming. Ideas include journaling, snuggling your dog, drawing, painting, reading, calling a friend to catch up, meditate, take deep breaths, etc.
Understanding that your cravings during this time are completely normal. Take the time to love yourself and take good care of yourself.