During menopause, it's common to experience intense food cravings. These can be overwhelmingly powerful and intrusive.
It's often mistakenly thought that succumbing to these cravings is a sign of weak will power. In reality, these urges are deeply rooted in the biological shifts of menopause – they're not just whims of self-control.
Understanding the underlying causes of these intense cravings and the hurdles they present is crucial when navigating this challenging phase. It empowers you to handle these cravings with knowledge and strategies rather than feeling at the mercy of these disruptive desires.
Our hormones do play a starring role, but they are not the only factor by far. A few weeks ago, I did a short blog about cravings and aspects other than hormones that can cause them.
Hormones and Cravings
Oestrogen and progesterone are well-known players, but insulin and cortisol also play crucial roles.
As hormonal levels ebb and flow during menopause, they can alter the balance of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, affecting how we feel and act.
The impulse to indulge in carbohydrates for a quick energy boost is a typical response to these changes, but it often leads to a cycle of highs and lows in blood sugar levels.
The blood sugar roller coaster that follows is no joke, and the changes in our gut bacteria that come with perpetual sugar and carb consumption make us crave those very foods like nobody's business.
By acknowledging the biological underpinnings, you can take targeted actions to mitigate these cravings, such as adopting stress-reduction techniques and seeking ways to stabilize your hormonal levels through lifestyle adjustments or medical guidance.
A gradual, steady approach focusing on a healthy lifestyle is vital to taming your cravings.
Luckily, you can use these great tips to help get yourself off the carb-sugar train:
1. Drink more water
Often, what we interpret as hunger pangs are actually signs of thirst. By regularly hydrating with plain water, infused water, or enjoying a chilled glass of low-sugar kombucha or herbal iced tea, you can not only help prevent dehydration but also curb hunger pangs.
Staying hydrated supports overall health and keeps your hands and mind occupied, steering you away from unnecessary snacking.
I suggest having a drink (not alcoholic and ideally not caffeine) and then waiting 20 minutes. If you still have screaming cravings, then try step 5 or give in, but do so mindfully and think carefully about what you eat.
2. Eat your veggies
Let vegetables be your versatile allies in curbing carb cravings.
Consuming various veggies, particularly those rich in fiber like dark leafy greens—stems included—and cruciferous vegetables, can boost your intestinal bulk.
This not only aids in digestion but also their high water content helps you feel full for longer. These nutrient powerhouses support hormonal equilibrium, contribute to a healthier gut microbiome, and provide an array of phytonutrients you can't find in many other foods.
Plus, they're among the most nutrient-packed options available—making them an excellent choice for managing cravings and enhancing overall health.
3. Take your time with meals, and don't drink them.
Mindful eating is critical, particularly regarding how you consume your calories.
An insightful study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics observed that participants who took their time chewing tended to consume less overall. This process helps signal to the hunger hormone ghrelin that sustenance is on its way, aiding in satiety.
In contrast, eating quickly or gulping down a smoothie too fast can lead to incomplete satiation signals to the brain, likely causing you to feel hungry sooner.
Additionally, eating rapidly can trigger a spike in insulin, which, once settled, can leave you feeling hungry again. Taking the time to chew enhances digestion and helps manage hunger and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
4. Go no sugar for several days.
Commit to a sugar detox for a stretch of 3 to 5 days.
This short break from sugar can significantly cut down on cravings.
Don't worry; you can keep fruit in your diet as it's packed with natural sweetness. While cravings might persist, cutting out the sugar-induced highs will help reset your body's sugar receptors and stabilize neurotransmitter activity.
As a result, you'll reduce the constant signals to your brain that drive sugar cravings.
If this feels too drastic, go to step 5.
5. Mix pleasure with protein.
Incorporate protein into your snack time to help maintain a stable blood sugar level.
If you're indulging in something sweet, add a serving of protein, like a handful of nuts, to your snack. Or, if you're blending up a dessert-like smoothie, consider adding a scoop of high-quality protein powder.
This combination helps to smooth out the rapid sugar rush and subsequent crash, providing a more sustained energy release and keeping those post-snack slumps at bay.
6. Ensure Ample Sleep for Appetite Control
Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to regulate ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
Adequate sleep can decrease its production, helping you feel less hungry throughout the day.
Moreover, good sleep contributes to stress reduction, which is crucial since stress can lead to emotional eating. Achieving a whole night of uninterrupted, restful sleep is incredibly effective in managing cravings and maintaining overall health.
Please see an earlier blog on how to improve your sleep.
7. Maintain a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Keeping the balance of your gut and vaginal microbiota is crucial.
When disrupted, it can lead to the proliferation of yeasts like Candida. This overgrowth can trigger intense sugar cravings, along with causing fatigue, mental cloudiness, and digestive discomfort.
Introducing a probiotic supplement or adopting a temporary yeast-free diet can help restore the beneficial bacteria in your gut, crowding out the yeast that thrives on sugar and refined carbs and bringing your system back into harmony.
8. Explore Natural Supplements for Carb-Craving Control
For those times when carb cravings seem overwhelming, natural supplements such as L-glutamine, cinnamon, and chromium might offer some relief.
While cinnamon can be enjoyed daily (and is a staple in my routine), L-glutamine—an amino acid—and chromium—a trace mineral—should be used judiciously when experiencing particularly strong hunger pangs and cravings for carbs.
These supplements have been known to help curb cravings swiftly, sometimes in as little as 20 minutes.
I always recommend that if you take any medication, you always check with a medical professional (doctor, pharmacist, nutritionist) before adding any supplements. It is better to be safe than sorry; just because they are deemed 'natural' does not mean they are safe for you.
Many of you have shared your struggles with managing these cravings, and it's my hope that these tips will provide the support you need to master them.
I hope that you'll find these suggestions beneficial.
Working with someone who can take a step back and look at the whole spectrum of your life can be hugely beneficial.
Message me if you feel stuck and controlled by cravings. It is so not about will power. Or schedule a complimentary call, just to chat, there is no obligation for anything more.