It’s 10:30 at night…time for bed…yet here you are, reaching ravenously into the freezer for a pint of ice cream. Or maybe digging desperately in the cabinet for a bag of chips.
Cue the frustration and shame spiral. “Really?! Again?!”
No one enjoys that out-of-control feeling when your brain is screaming that you need those cookies, pretzels, or chocolate NOW! But know this, cravings are nothing to feel ashamed of. They are not a sign of weakness, but rather a message (a really loud one) from your body that something is going on.
When we listen to the message and investigate what’s behind the cravings, we can eliminate them instead of fighting them nightly.
Here are a few of the most common root causes for cravings and what to do about them.
1. Candida Overgrowth or SIBO
Both of these gut imbalances can cause you to crave sugar and simple carbs because the yeast and bacteria feed off of them. Unfortunately, the more carbs you eat, the worse the yeast or bacteria overgrowth becomes, and the stronger your cravings are.
If you’re experiencing signs of Candida Overgrowth or signs of SIBO, you can work with your provider to confirm through testing. In our Adaptation Program, we use a comprehensive stool test and/or SIBO breath test, then begin patients on antimicrobial herbs and a nutrient-dense, low-carb diet to pare back the Candida and bacteria.
2. Adrenal Fatigue
If salty snacks are your kryptonite, it may be time to look at your adrenal glands. They produce the hormones that help you adapt to mental, emotional, and physical stress.
When you face chronic stress, they’re forced to pump out more and more hormones, yet your body responds less and less. This burnout is known as adrenal fatigue and craving salt is a common symptom.
Addressing adrenal fatigue is a two-part process. Step one is to get a comprehensive stress hormone analysis. I like the Adrenocortex Stress Profile from Genova Diagnostics because it looks at cortisol and DHEA at 4 points throughout the day for a more complete picture. Step two is to implement lifestyle strategies to relieve stress (see #3) and restore the nutrients needed for adrenal function, such as B vitamins and adaptogens.
We are offering a brand NEW adrenal health package that includes at-home cortisol testing and a private functional medicine consultation (virtually or in person)! You can learn more about it here.
Even if you aren’t dealing with full-blown adrenal fatigue, stress is a common culprit for cravings. The primary stress hormone, cortisol, can increase cravings for sugary or fatty foods, and has also been shown to increase the hunger hormone, leptin.
If you notice that stress sends you scavenging in the kitchen, try using these easy ways to relieve stress and practice slow, mindful eating.
4. Eating Processed Foods
Many packaged, processed, and junk foods are literally designed to be addicting. Their combination of salt, sugar, and fat stimulate the reward system in the brain in the same way as addictive drugs. In fact, numerous studies in rats show they can become physically addicted to junk food in the same way that they become addicted to drugs.
It may be tough to hear, but in order to free yourself from the processed food trap, you have to cut them out completely (at least at first). In our clinic, we guide patients through a 30-day elimination diet that removes all toxic and inflammatory foods. This cold turkey approach can be challenging, and requires support and accountability, but many patients find that the majority of their symptoms (not just cravings!) resolve as a result.
5. Not Eating Enough Protein and Fat
If your cravings coincide with a “hangry” feeling (hungry + angry), they may be caused by blood sugar crashes. Refined white carbs and sugar send your blood sugar soaring at first, but leave you starving and low-energy shortly after. This slump is a major cause of sugar and carb cravings.
To combat this, rely less on carbohydrates and incorporate more protein and healthy fats with each meal. Grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, wild-caught fish and avocado, coconut, nuts, and seeds are all great options to support balanced blood sugar and keep you feeling full.
If you’re tired of falling prey to late-night or mid-afternoon snack sessions, remember that YOU are in control of your health. With a little digging, you can get to the root cause of your cravings.
Hopefully this list helps point you in the right direction, and if you’d like one-on-one support, check out our Adaptation Programs.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Check out our Adaptation Program and book your free discovery call to find out if you’re the right fit.