Today we welcome to EPW for Wellbeing Wednesday Angela Busby, a Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist, an all round awesome woman and good friend of mine. She is going to talk to us about why we crave the foods we do and what those cravings and emotional eating episodes may reflect in our bodies wellbeing. She’ll help us answer understand why many women go nuts over chocolate, especially around ‘that time of month’ and whether our biochemistry really does affect our mood and behaviour? Welcome Angela!
Many patients come to me wanting to lose weight, tone up or just become healthier with their diet. Most have trialled numerous diets and strategies before and by the time they visit my clinic, they are generally exhausted, have no idea what to try next and feeling like their food choices are out of control!
Frustrating and uncontrollable food cravings can be caused by simple nutritional deficiencies or conditions, as can be seen by the chart below:
|Cravings||Deficiency / Condition|
|Sugar and sugary foods||Chromium, Vanadium / Glucose-Insulin imbalance|
|Salty foods||Adrenal Fatigue|
|PICA where you crave really weird things i.e. In pregnancy||Mineral Deficiency|
|Carbohydrate cravings, addictive tendencies||Low Serotonin, Endogenous Opioids|
|Addictive tendencies, binge eating/drinking||Low Dopamine, Histamine|
|Alcohol cravings||Low GABA|
Nutritional Deficiencies and Gut Health:
The body screams ‘gimmie, gimmie, gimme!’ when it is low in a nutrient.
When the body does not get enough of the particular nutrient either through inadequate dietary intake or impaired digestion, the body will send out signals to keep eating ‘foods’ that contain that nutrient.
The problem is our response to these screams.
The problem is when we reach for the wrong foods to fulfil that need.
An example – chocolate
The raw ingredient, Cacao beans, have extremely high levels of magnesium. So the body is ultimately craving this magnesium and therefore telling you to eat chocolate to try and obtain some.
My initial solution
With my patients who complain of this – I give them high quality powered magnesium supplement and my cacao bliss smoothie recipe (Amy’s note: try my smoothie recipe and add a tablespoon of cacao into the bleng) and tell them to try this for a month. Inevitably they return next month with eyes wide, telling me that they had their first period without tearing the house down to eat all the chocolate they could find! They think it’s a miracle, I understand it’s simply biochemistry and getting our nutrients from the right sources.
My long-term solution
Following this improvement, we do have to look further into gut function, because it is one thing to happily supplement ourselves with the missing nutrients and enjoy the lessening of our cravings, but the long-term goal is for the client’s body to heal and function without the need for supplements. To do this we need to heal the gut.
Healing the gut
Most people have some degree of ‘Leaky Gut’ also known as increased gastrointestinal permeability. It is founded in symptoms of increased inflammation, immune responses, food sensitivities, digestive problems, fluctuating moods, PMS, hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, fatigue, brain fog and more. It is caused by some form of acute or chronic low grade damage to the gut (i.e. Inflammation, antibiotic use, high carb/processed food diets, gut infections etc) and now the epithelial cells are no longer tightly bound, which is essential for adequate protection and function.
How do we heal the gut?
We heal the gut with soothing, repairing herbs and nourishing nutrients. It is important to avoid trigger foods in this process. These triggers can be identified by an IgG blood test (which I do in clinic with patients).
Warning: Gut healing takes time.
Gut healing can take time so this is something you have to be patient with, but you will notice how much better you feel when your digestion starts working properly again and as this happens you can obtain a lot more nutrients from your food so your cravings will start to subside too! Hooray!
Thyriods regulate metabolism
Although your blood test report may show your thyroid-stimulating hormone to be level, that does not necessarily mean it is functioning optimally. Your thyroid helps regulate the metabolism for every single cell in the body. When the thyroid slows down, so does every cell, therefore your ability to utilise food, nutrients and glucose becomes impaired. Patients with hypothyroidism often complain of unexplained weight gain, fatigue, mood changes and food cravings amongst other things. There are specific nutrient protocols I place my patients on who have low thyroid function.
Adrenal fatigue causes cravings for salty foods!
Why does it cause salty cravings? The adrenals are involved with the kidneys in regulating fluid balance and therefore blood pressure, which is vitally important. When the adrenals are fatigued they no longer can manage the balance themselves causing the body to crave salt. It craves salt because salt attracts water to it, causing the blood pressure to rise.
When to be conscious of potential adrenal fatigue
If you have been chronically stressed for a long period of time it is worth having a cortisol salivary hormone test done with a naturopath to see if you need a adrenal supportive treatment plan which may assist greatly in increasing energy, reducing anxiety and food cravings.
Mood swings, PMS and food cravings – and often they all come at once.
Test your Salivary Hormone Profile which will give you a baseline for your main sex hormones – Oestrogens (E1, E2, E3), Progesterone, Testosterone, DHEA. If you see an imbalance on this test then you need to get straight onto a treatment plan to rebalance these hormones, there are some excellent herbs I use in clinic to assist with this such as Wild Yam, Chaste Tree, St Mary’s Thistle, Dandelion Root just to name a few. Once we have your hormones back in line you’ll generally notice that naturally those cravings and mood swings have dissipated, along with any other hormonal symptoms you were experiencing.
Grains, Carbs, GI and Blood Sugar:
Do you crave anything made of grains!?! Cakes, cookies, bread, pasta, pizza, pastries…Well you’re not alone! So what’s the low down on these types of carbs?
Grains are not the best way for us to get carbs in our diet
The reason being that grains have an inbuilt defence mechanism, because they want to survive and replicate just like everything else on this planet. So to protect themselves they produce “anti-nutrients” and when we eat grains these anti-nutrients (i.e. Lectins) start creating havoc in our system. They are inflammatory producing, they damage receptors in the body, damage the lining of the gut, and in some research lectin itself has been shown to create leptin resistance – this is the hormone that tells your body that ‘your full’ so people just keep on eating!
Why do we crave grain based foods?
Also because most of the grains we consume in the modern day and age are highly processed they have lost any good nutrient content they had, which means they are now ‘empty carbs’ and when we eat them we crave more and more because of their poor nutrient density. When we eat a big colourful salad with some grilled fish – we generally don’t crave more because we have reached our full of nutrients and the body is happy.
Some of the main grains such as wheat, soy and corn are now often genetically modified which poses further health threats each time we consume these, including impairing our gastrointestinal function which takes us back to our first point of not being able to digest the nutrients properly.
As I mentioned earlier if we have neurotransmitter imbalances these can most certainly create various addictive tendencies and food cravings, so it is really important to get this checked out, especially if you have been stressed for a long period of time or experience any anxiety or mood imbalances.
Discovering the possible imbalances
My patients complete an online questionnaire which presents me with a graph of the neurotransmitters they may be deficient in, so we can begin to rectify these with nutrition and herbal preparations.
Lastly it is important to recognise that emotions can cause us to become stuck into a pattern or cycle that can seem very difficult to break. If you have experienced any past trauma (big or small), PTSD, self criticism, low self esteem or lack a supporting, caring environment – there is a chance you are unconsciously looking for a way to ease these feelings by using food.
There are some great resources out there that can hugely assist you on your journey to wholeness, including:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – helps to equip you with tools, reframe/change beliefs, help you change your thinking and therefore your behaviour
- Somatic Experiencing – A relatively new technique that can be helpful in removing stored trauma from cellular memory and rebalancing the autonomic nervous system.
- Mindfulness/Meditation – This is a powerful practice you can include in your daily routine to begin to regulate the sympathetic nervous system, improve digestion, and gain clarity and peace of mind. It’s great to help process strong thoughts and emotions. Headspace App is a great free resource you can check out for 10 days of 10 minute guided meditations or even Amy’s colouring in sheets can help bring about mindfulness and meditation.
- Deep breathing. Breathing in for 5 seconds and out for 10 seconds, will help to act as an SOS reset button for your body and mind.
Don’t be overwhelmed
I hope that you may have identified something that you believe may be an underlying cause for your current symptoms or food cravings. It’s the small changes, made consistently over time, that create long-lasting results! So I encourage you to just pick one thing and start working on it today, if you need too find a supportive friend, family member and/or’s naturopathic practitioner to assist you in the journey and enjoy the benefits you will feel as you put this into practise today.