Shape up: Cave in to your cravings
Diet evangelists' zero-tolerance approach to chocolate is ultimately shortsighted
Published 05/04/2010 | 05:00
The Easter Bunny has left the building and all the restless days experienced by many as they counted down to when they could indulge in their sweetest pleasure again, chocolate, have finally come to an end. Having abstained for 40 days and nights, it's quite likely many of you made up for lost time with gusto.
In her book Why Women Need Chocolate, Deborah Waterhouse explains that avoidance of your favourite foods will allow cravings to build.
These food cravings intensify during and after a diet and when they are ignored they rebel, resulting in excessive overeating, which leads to weight gain.
The challenge is that each year, the number of Easter eggs people receive increases, along with the size of the eggs themselves.
The means that the scenes in houses over the last few weeks resembled the time a young Charlie Bucket was waiting outside the Willy Wonka factory to tackle its chocolate supplies.
Chocolate is not an evil food. It is frequency and quantity of consumption that cause the problem. Diet evangelists' zero tolerance to treats like chocolate means that they will get poor compliance from their clients, especially females. Female food cravings are biologically ingrained because the female body's survival instinct is to store fat for reproduction in times of famine.
Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York found that food cravings coincided perfectly with reproductive needs. Women frequently craved sugar because of oestrogen's effect on brain chemicals and blood-sugar levels. This explained why female food cravings emerged at puberty, intensified in the premenstrual phase and during pregnancy and diminished, but didn't disappear, after menopause.
University of Michigan continued this research, finding women craved sugar, which releases the chemical serotonin which calms the brain, but also fats, which release endorphins to elevate the mood. The biggest food cravings were for a combination of sugar and fat.
One food that satisfies the cravings for both sugars and fats is chocolate. Women everywhere know that eating chocolate makes them feel better by boosting their mood but until now they may not have been aware of why.
Hormonal fluctuations, seasonal changes, eating habits, stress and sleep deprivation affect female chemistry. Serotonin and endorphins are known as neurotransmitters and they appear the most important for mood stability and food cravings.
Low serotonin decreases your mood which can lead to carbohydrate cravings. When you eat carbohydrates your serotonin increases which, in turn, elevates your mood.
Low endorphins decrease your mood which makes you crave fat. When you eat fatty foods it increases your endorphins which also elevates your mood.
Becoming more in tune with your body's chemistry can allow you to balance your moods but the trick will be to eat your chocolate at the right time and to distinguish between biological eating and emotional eating.
Hunger always precedes biological food cravings. People confuse thirst with hunger so to determine whether you are genuinely hungry you should do the water test. Drink water and wait 15 minutes and then check if you are still hungry.
Hunger plus a negative mood leads to a biological food craving, which will put you in a positive mood. To balance out hunger and maintain your blood sugar levels it is advised to eat five smaller meals a day.
But if you have no hunger plus a negative mood, it can lead to an emotional food craving, which leads to an intensified negative mood.
If you eat for emotional reasons you must come to terms with your emotional triggers before you can benefit from this approach to curbing your cravings.
The solution is to keep your blood sugar level and this will help control your cravings. You can then reward yourself with small portions of chocolate in your cheat meals.
Abstinence and restriction only serve to fuel cravings, trigger binge eating, and further deteriorate mood, while fulfilment satisfies the craving, prevents overeating and enhances your mood.
Satisfying your cravings is not an excuse to eat chocolate all day, but it will increase your compliance with your training programme and it may be a solution for happiness for some women.