What is behind this desire for something sweet or starchy? (it doesn’t have to be a sweet per se, it can be translated into a desire for starchy foods such as pies – sweet or savoury, potatoes or even pizza).
Well, all starchy foods (flour based foods such as bread, pizza and pie) or sweets are rich in carbohydrates. By carbohydrates, we can understand sugar in a form or another. Our body uses sugar as a measurement of hunger and when it can’t detect enough sugar inside us, we start to crave it.
But that brings in an apparent controversy: if we crave sugar when our body seems to think we haven’t got enough, why is it that those people who eat most sugary foods are the ones who end up craving it?
That’s where the problem is precisely!
When we eat too much sugar, our cells become resistant to control mechanisms and the whole thing starts escalating towards chaos.
Insulin is the major hormone in charge of regulating the uptake of sugar by most of our cells. However, after our body has been exposed to excess sugar for so long (and how long is a variable that changes from person to person), our cells lose some of their sensitivity to the regulating hormone insulin. That means insulin starts to fail in its job to make sugar get inside the cells. There is plenty of sugar circulating in the blood, but the cells cannot access it. The cells are the delivery sites and the blood the transport system. There might be a lot of goods circulating around the delivery sites, but if the doors are shut, none of the goods actually get in.
That means that, with insulin not doing its job so well to make sugar get inside the cells, our cells start to “starve in the midst of plenty”. And that’s exactly the reason behind CRAVINGS.
In reality, we don’t exactly starve at first. Before cells really do begin to starve, they will set in motion lots of “emergency procedures” to get their energy in some way.
The problem is, these “emergency procedures” are what they say: they are meant for emergencies and emergencies are not meant to last long.
But, not knowing how our physiology works, some of us are blissfully unaware of such “emergency states” running inside us and we carry on throwing “alcohol on the fire” (i.e. we carry on eating too many of the wrong foods and succumbing to our own cravings).
In this scenario, we can then go on to develop numerous imbalances that will set the ground for further complications, many of which will derive from hormonal imbalances. Hormonal imbalances can easily lead to thyroid dysfunction, menstrual and infertility problems, obesity, diabetes and several other inflammation based conditions.
So if you crave carbs, beware that metabolic imbalances might be negatively affecting your physiology. Cravings may sometimes be the most sensitive marker of an early imbalance, even before it becomes detectable in routine blood tests and other laboratory investigations.
Cravings are a very good indication that you need to change something about your diet and the way it is affecting you.
An important message to take home here is: insulin and blood sugar imbalances are not issues exclusively affecting those diagnosed with diabetes. There are very clear indications of such imbalances for example in obese and sometimes even lean individuals with no detectable alterations in blood sugar levels. However, there are obvious signs that can be identified from your behaviours, dietary habits and lifestyle. With the guidance of a nutritional therapist, you can understand the bodily signals and learn what is within your power in order to correct imbalances.
Finally, on the bright side, cravings, blood sugar imbalances, and even overt insulin resistance CAN be reversed in many individuals, sometimes even in those with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. According to modern research, there are several lines of evidence that indicate that lifestyle and diet modifications are powerful therapeutic tools that cost less and work better than drugs (1). Best of all, these therapeutic tools are within YOUR power to use.
- Abdul-Ghani MA, DeFronzo RA (2010) Pathogenesis of insulin resistance in skeletal muscle BioMed Biotech, Epub 2010 Apr 26, Article ID 476279.