Guelph, ON Canada
Barbara McKinstry N.D.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine


Food Cravings


Itís four in the afternoon and you begin to hear the familiar little voice somewhere deep inside. At first you attempt to ignore it, but it persists. Then you try to overcome it with simple willpower. Yet it gains strength. Eventually you argue with it using all the logic and good sensible reasoning at your disposal, to no avail. That inner part of you does not respond to discussion. Finally you cannot resist the siren song "feed me a treat - I need a food fix!" So, despite feeling guilty, you indulge - Ahhh, thatís better.

Across the country men and women experience this phenomenon daily. The afternoon blahs are soothed with chocolate, crackers, pretzels, soda pop, or some other snack. Whatever the individual preference, the craving is part of a ritual your brain has arranged to keep your mood elevated and your energy level maintained.

Once you understand how your brain directs such cravings you will be better equipped to work with them in order to gain alertness and maintain balance. You will not be attempting to outsmart part of yourself - like many diets - which is clearly doomed from the start. In the following paragraphs Iíll introduce you to Ďsnack foodí that will not pack you with pounds, and will help you stay clear headed.

Did you know that youíre a walking, talking chemistry experiment?

Itís a fact. Just like those kits you buy for inquisitive children to do experiments with, your body is a big chemical soup on which you do experiments every day.

When you consume a carbohydrate (just another word for a specific chemical), insulin (a chemical produced by the pancreas) is released into the bloodstream. Insulin helps the cells of your body absorb sugar (glucose, another chemical) from the blood. These cells in turn release an amino acid called tryptophan back into the blood. After traveling to the brain, tryptophan is used to build serotonin (a neurotransmitter). Now this chemical serotonin is a marvel because in the right quantities the brain responds to it with feelings of calm, well being, mental alertness, impulse control, and an increased ability to process stress. Too much and the brain responds with feelings of agitation and nervousness. Too little and the brain responds with feelings of lethargy, hopelessness, chronic tiredness, and in severe situations, depression. In fact one group of prescription antidepressants such as Prozac, are called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors because they keep serotonin blood levels in the adequate range.

So your body is balancing different chemicals back and forth all the time, attempting to maintain a pleasant optimal internal environment. This is not so easy. If you are female, your menses will add hormones to complicate things. Postpartum or menopausal changes will add other balancing challenges. Seasonal changes are notorious for altering the internal balance. Itís been called SAD, seasonal affective disorder, and quite literally itís no laughing matter. The drastic changes of becoming a first time parent may upset the internal applecart. Other stressful situations such as working revolving shifts, moving residences, changing jobs, marriage, divorce, death in the family, illness in the family - the list is long - can throw your internal drug dealing into a spin. So give yourself a gift and donít discount the impact of your emotional life on the chemistry of your body, because it in turn has a tremendous influence on how youíre feeling. Itís a loop at best, a spiral up, or a spiral down at worst.

How to manage your chemistry, or OK, so now what?

The most important first step is to determine your emotional and physical state just before a food craving. Hereís a suggestion, keep a small notebook handy at those times of the day when youíre prone to having a food craving. When you get a craving, take a minute to jot down what was going on for you emotionally just prior to and during the craving. Then note what food you crave most of all. Consume one of my suggestions below and follow up by writing that in the notebook too. Finally, observe your emotional and physical responses for the next 30 minutes and record them as well. By doing this over time, you will become quite an expert on your mood chemistry. Youíll know what emotional states tend to trigger a craving, youíll know what foods are good Ďsnacksí, and what foods are not so good.

The better snack foods are the ones that don't trigger a big hit of insulin. These foods take longer for the sugars in them to reach your blood stream. The time interval of that process has been measured for many foods and is called the Glycemic Index. So you want snacks that have a low glycemic index value.

Now That You Know All This, Hereís a Caveat

By journalling your cravings, but especially your emotional pre-craving state, you may discover that in fact it is your emotional life that triggers your cravings. What I mean by this, is that you feel flat all the time except after a snack; or that you have wild mood swings that are somewhat controlled by snacking. You may be a candidate for using a natural serotonin balancing drug. Itís called hypericin or St. Johnís Wort and is available from health food stores and some pharmacies without a prescription. Used for 2,000 years without any complications or deaths. Clinical studies have shown that it is equally or more effective than Prozac as an anti-depressant for mild to moderate depression. The optimal dosage is 300 mg. of a .3% hypericin, three times per day. Allow three weeks for your serotonin levels to be affected.


Copyright Barbara McKinstry
Being Healthy Is Your Best Investment