- An imbalanced gut microbiome, hormone imbalances, and blood sugar imbalances are underlying imbalances that lead to cravings.
- Stress and adrenal fatigue are often underlying causes of cravings, as they affect the way we metabolize food, process sugar, and respond to stressors.
- Emotional eating goes hand in hand with cravings. Learning the difference between the two will help you cultivate a healthy relationship with food.
In Part 1 of the series on cravings, we discussed a few key root causes of cravings and how they contribute to ongoing cravings. These included nutrient deficiencies, consuming refined sugar and carbohydrates, as well as consuming artificial sweeteners (which surprises many people).
We also learned that having greater willpower is simply not the answer. Cravings are caused by biochemical reactions taking place in our bodies and when we address these areas, cravings start to disappear.
If you haven’t read part 1 yet, you can read it right here. Now, we’re going to touch on a few more common root causes that might be causing your cravings.
The Root Causes of Cravings
Imbalance in the Gut Microbiome
It’s easy to assume that the gut is just about our digestive system, but it impacts every process in our bodies from hormones to skin health to our immune system and even cravings. I’ve written several articles about gut health explaining the importance of a balanced microbiome (a balance of beneficial bacteria and pathogenic bacteria).
How an imbalanced microbiome affects cravings
Some of the harmful, pathogenic bacteria living inside us (which we all have some amount of) feed and thrive on sugar. It is their primary fuel! Without it, they struggle to survive. When you have more pathogenic bacteria than beneficial bacteria, they are sending messages to your brain to eat more sugar via the gut-brain axis.
This is a very common reason that many of us experience ‘uncontrollable’ cravings.
One example of this is an overgrowth of yeast (candida) in the gut, which rely on sugar to survive. When there is an overgrowth of candida yeast in the GI tract, you will constantly be craving sugar. It’s not you that’s craving the sugar, it’s the bacteria in your gut.
This is just one reason why it’s absolutely critical to make sure you have a balanced microbiome.
The food we eat greatly impacts our hormones. Not just our sex hormones, but cortisol, thyroid hormones, growth hormones, and of course, hunger hormones are affected by the quality of food we eat and how we eat. All of these fluctuations in hormones influence appetite and energy balance.
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones responsible for regulating appetite. Leptin increases after a meal to send a signal to the brain that you have enough taken in enough energy (in the form of calories). Some of this energy may be stored as fat, some may be burned as energy as your sympathetic nervous system realizes that you have excess energy. Ghrelin, on the other hand, stimulates appetite and prepares your body to absorb nutrients.
Chronic, systemic inflammation results in our cells becoming unresponsive to leptin, the hormone responsible for telling us we’ve had enough to eat. This increases appetite, as we’re left feeling hungry even though we’ve had plenty to eat.
When either of these hormones are imbalanced due to excess weight, chronic inflammation, and more, we start to see changes in appetite and cravings.
If you’ve noticed that you experience intense premenstrual cravings, this is one sign of hormone imbalance and can be addressed naturally through dietary modifications and reducing inflammation.
Blood Sugar Imbalances
You might notice sudden cravings a few hours after eating a sugary or high carb meal. This is because your body has experienced a quick drop in blood sugar (what we often call ‘sugar crash’) and it wants to normalize blood sugar levels.
When we get to this point of low blood sugar, we’re going to reach for whatever we can to quickly raise blood sugar, and that’s often a sugary, processed food item.
Remember: cravings hit quickly, while hunger builds up gradually.
In Part 3 of this series, we will talk about ways you can avoid extreme fluctuations in blood sugar and avoid cravings!
Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
In response to stress, our bodies undergo a flood of hormonal changes that stimulate cravings. Adrenal fatigue, closely associated and induced by stress, is one of the most common hormonal imbalances in women and it certainly impacts cravings. The adrenal glands (almond-sized organs on top of the kidneys) are responsible for controlling our body’s hormones and managing cortisol, the stress hormone.
This will have to be another series in itself, but for now, know that adrenal fatigue contributes to cravings as it creates dramatic fluctuations in our hormones and affects the way we metabolize food, process sugar, and respond to stressors.
We often think we’re craving food when we’re actually experiencing emotional eating. This is why binge eating and disordered eating occur when we’re stressed, anxious, bored, lonely, or depressed. It’s important to identify if what you’re experiencing is true hunger, or if you’re using food to avoid facing uncomfortable emotion.
When we use food this way, we are abusing it, which leads to an unhealthy relationship with food and continued issues with emotional eating. We start to associate food with negative emotions, which leads to guilt, shame, and sometimes even a hatred of food.
Part 3, which is coming soon, will explain what to eat and how to eat to prevent cravings.
Do any of these underlying causes of cravings ring a bell for you? Comment below!
Hannah is the founder of Healthfully Hannah and is a nutrition professional empowering women to live healthfully through science-based, step-by-step guidance. Read Hannah’s health journey that led her to discover the power of Functional Medicine and Nutrition. Get in touch with Hannah right here.
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