After sharing a wonderful dinner together, a nutritionist friend of mine recently brought up the topic of why so many of us crave sweet treats immediately after eating a meal, no matter how satisfying or filling that meal may have been!
It’s a curious question really: why, having just polished off a delicious (and pretty large!) meal of baked salmon, veggies and brown rice, were we having the following conversation:
Nutritionist: “That was delicious!”
Trainer: “Yep, sure was… and huge! I’m so full…”
Nutritionist: “Me too, I’m totally stuffed!”
Trainer: “Why do I still feel like chocolate?”
Nutritionist: “I dunno… but me too! Is there any in the cupboard?”
The answer, luckily, was no… the husband had polished off the last of it that afternoon. So we settled in for a cup of peppermint tea instead and by the time we’d finished it, were no longer craving that sweet treat. What we were craving, however, was an answer to our question about desserts: why do we always crave them and what can we do about it?
Turns out there are a few reasons for it. Another nutritionist friend, Nicki Collins from NutriMatters, wrote a blog on this topic recently, which you can read here. In her blog post, she says:
Habit, brain chemistry and diet composition can all cause you to crave something sweet following a meal. You can manage your cravings but in order to do so you really need to understand why you get them.
These days, the majority of diets are high in fat and sugar. Regular consumption of these types of foods can alter the neurochemistry of your brain causing you to crave these “bad” foods. Habit is a major cause of reaching for something sweet following a meal, particularly if you have always done so. Habit and association often cause cravings. You will tend to not feel satiated until you have had something sweet, despite how full you are, because that is what you are used to.
Sweet treats are also pleasurable and make us feel happy, which has to do with the mood-elevating chemical serotonin. And anything that makes us feel happy (even only in the short term) is also addictive.
I agree with all of the above BUT my next question was: how do we get rid of these ridiculous cravings? After a little thought, I realised that it’s certainly within my own power to kick the habit and more than likely, the way I’m going to conquer this mini-addiction is by changing the way I think about desserts. Rather than associating that piece of post-dinner chocolate with happiness, satisfaction and relaxation, I’m going to think about a few of these points:
- Desserts are addictive and the more often I eat them, the more I will want them!
- I don’t want to be eating foods that cause withdrawal symptoms when I stop eating them
- Desserts are full of calories but provide no nutrition to my body and in fact, can rob my cells of important vitamins and nutrients, leading to premature ageing and a depleted immune system
- Whole foods (and in particular plant foods), provide a bucket load of super nutrients that will make my skin glow, fight ageing, give me more energy and help me to feel naturally and consistently happy
- Excessive, or even moderate but consistent sugar intake on the other hand, has been linked to disease, poor general health, weight gain, mood disturbances and depression
- The key to changing the way I eat is changing at the desire level and truly believing, in my heart of hearts, that I really WANT that apple rather than a chocolate bar. Why? Because it’s supporting my body, not destroying it. And it still tastes great!
- We can re-train our taste buds – and it’s easier than you’d think!
- Desserts are OK but are truly a ‘sometimes’ food and eating them in moderation is key. Let’s put them in the same category as alcohol consumption
- When we care about something enough, we can choose to do it – and the “all or nothing” mindset can actually work to your advantage when it comes to sugar because initially, it’s all about breaking the addiction
- Lastly, distracting yourself with a herbal tea, glass of water, or piece of fruit actually works when it comes to breaking the habit!