Surveys find that nearly 100% of young women and almost 70% of young men sometimes have food cravings. For most people, cravings at worst add a little weight. With diabetes, they can be a serious problem.
Food cravings might cause you to eat way too much of things that spike your sugars. What are food cravings, though? Where do they come from, and how can we deal with them in a healthy way?
Let’s divide cravings into two types: physical hunger and emotional distress. It’s normal to feel strong hunger if blood sugar is low, or if your stomach is too empty. Then you really need to eat. If your sugar is low, you might need some carbs; if you just feel empty, some high-fiber vegetables or water might be preferable.
Diabetes can cause hunger if glucose is not getting into the cells where it’s needed. Other medical causes of excess hunger include thyroid problems (such as Graves’ disease,) pregnancy, cannabis smoking, and depression.
To avoid the cravings of low sugar or empty stomach, remember to eat regularly, especially breakfast. Breakfast with protein should keep cravings away at least until the afternoon.
Food cravings are not always physical, though. In addition to body hunger and stomach hunger, there is what psychologist William Polonsky, PhD, CDE, calls mouth hunger or eyeball hunger. “While your stomach may be satisfied,” says Dr. Polonsky, “your eyeballs, mouth, and brain may still feel famished. If your meal plan is too limiting [in terms of food types], you may be depriving yourself of the joy of eating and the sense of satisfaction your mind and body crave.”
Food cravings can also be emotional. Some foods may have pleasant associations, such as reminding you of home. Any food with fast-acting carbs or fat (or both) will reduce stress and improve your mood temporarily. People typically crave these “comfort foods.”
Type 2 diabetes blogger Martha Zimmer wrote about several emotions that cause food cravings. Stress is the biggest; it makes you eat more and faster. Your boss criticizes you and you immediately reach for the cookies. Anxiety and depression, loneliness, and boredom also make some people eat more comfort foods.
How to stop cravings
Martha Zimmer lists several ways to stop food cravings, or at least limit their strength:
• Eat highly flavored foods, things that have a stronger aroma. It takes less of them to satisfy your mouth and eyeball hunger.
• Stop to give thanks before eating. That gives you time to smell and see the food, so your eyes and nose aren’t deprived.
• Don’t multitask your eating. If you’re watching TV or browsing the Internet, you won’t taste what you eat, and you’ll need more to satisfy you.
• Eat with other people when possible. They will slow you down, so you have more time to appreciate what you’re eating.
• Drink more water or noncaloric drinks like tea with meals. They will fill up your stomach and stop it from screaming at you. You can also drink water when you get a craving. You may find the hunger goes away when your stomach is no longer empty.
You might want to test your glucose after a new snack bar to see how it affects your glucose level.
Other ways to manage cravings include:
• Try filling snacks like celery, nuts, soy crisps, or low-sugar snack bars. They should satisfy your stomach and possibly your mouth hunger.
• Mental distraction — do something away from food, or think about something or tap your foot and focus on that. Since a lot of food craving is mental, distraction can block it for a time.
• Exercise — Quinn Phillips reported here on a study showing brief exercise reduced hunger. Of course, if you exercise enough to make your sugars drop, you should eat, but brief exercise seems to reorient the body away from food. It also improves insulin function, so your cells will get more glucose and feel more nourished.
• Nurture yourself — remember food cravings are often emotional. If you’re lonely or bored, maybe you can call a friend and do something besides eat. If you’re stressed, talk to someone or do something about it. If you’re angry or sad, perhaps you can do something positive for yourself or others to cheer up. If you’re tired, perhaps you can rest.
Diabetes can make you punish yourself and call it self-discipline. Martha Zimmer says that doesn’t work. “Giving yourself treats, but in small amounts, actually helps you eat less. I have learned that a few bites can be just as satisfying as a big helping. It keeps me from that sense of missing out on good things that we often feel with Type 2 diabetes.”
I wonder what strategies have worked for you in countering hungers and food cravings. It’s an issue that won’t go away, so let’s get better at dealing with it.