Do you often opt for fried chicken over salads, strawberry ice cream over fruit or soda over water? We're all guilty of giving in to cravings from time to time, but is it possible to holistically alter the way our bodies desire certain foods, shifting from wanting something fatty to something fresh? Yes! We all know the benefits of eating healthy are well established, and taking the time to train our brains to crave healthy foods can truly be life-changing. Eating cleanly not only impacts our energy levels, appearance and physical activity, it also reduces the risk of diseases like heart disease and cancer.
One of the greatest and strongest cravings out there is sugar. Whether it is cane sugar, raw sugar, honey or other sweet treats, ingesting sugar leads to energy spikes and crashes, diabetes and cavities. It also has a negative impact on hormone levels, often causing such symptoms as hot flashes, fatigue, weight gain, and other peri-menopausal symptoms.1
So, why do we keep going back to these tantalizing tastes? We crave sugar and salt because when we think about food, a chain reaction occurs within the sensitive proteins on our tongue. This reaction races through our tastet buds, enters our nerves system, and ends up in our brain which associates these yummy flavors with pleasure and releases reward hormones. An imbalance of hormones like leptin and serotonin can also be responsible for unhealthy yearnings. Once we satiate our cravings, the sensations we feel are so uplifting and mood-enhancing that we begin to associate foods with joy, ultimately paving the way for emotional eating as a habitual part of our daily lives.
Understanding more about how our bodies function, however, can be an empowering act. Digging deeper into why we always seem to reach for salty chips with lunch, or a cookie after dinner can help us understand whether our cravings are a result of nutritional deficiencies or simply emotional gratification. The good news is that our brains can be retrained to crave healthy foods due to the presence of neuroplasticity which helps us reprogram our thoughts and habits. In other words, enough time away from our triggers will eliminate the urge to eat them. Not to mention, training ourselves to make healthier food choices will reduce the risk of developing other health issues.
Resetting our taste buds.
Committing to a better, balanced diet takes dedication, strength, and self-control. Similar to how we may exercise for weeks before we start to feel the physical and mental benefits of a new workout regimen, eating cleaner takes patience and restraint. It may even require trying foods repeatedly in order to develop an appreciation for them. To reprogram ourselves to eat healthier, it's important to consume a combination of protein, healthy fat and the filling fiber found in produce with each meal, while simultaneously decreasing our intake of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Following are five tips we follow to help reduce unhealthy cravings and jumpstart a cleaner diet:
- Start the day with sensible animal or plant-based protein and healthy fats that are naturally low in sugar and have the ability to sustain energy levels throughout the day. Avoiding processed foods in the morning helps us eliminate those spikes of glucose that can leave us feeling depleted hours later. Some of our favorite breakfast go-to's are omelets with veggies, or a berry and kale smoothie with whey protein.
- Between meals or for quick snacks, reach for fibrous, non-starchy vegetables, such as carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers and radishes, and always pair carbohydrates with proteins such as nuts or seeds.
- During mealtime, focus on balancing a variety of proteins, fats, and complex carbs, and aim for foods with bitter, sour or umami flavors, aka. avoid sweets!
- The amount we eat and at what time of day directly impacts our health. Smaller meals, every three to four hours, can strengthen our metabolism and maximize energy levels. Eating this way ensures that we get the nutrients we need while staving off hunger.
- Try to eat raw foods as often as possible, especially in warmer months. Pure, raw produce allows us to take in the maximum amount of nutrients from our meals, as cooking diminishes many of the live nutrients and enzymes.
Committing to a healthier diet can often be the first step to living a happier, more fulfilled life. Being mindful of the quality of foods we ingest teaches us to appreciate new textures and flavors, and ultimately, nourishes our entire being –body, mind and spirit.
“A healthy outside starts from the inside.” – Robert Urich