You’ve managed to eat well all day and are feeling quite proud of yourself, then the evening comes the cravings hit and you eat an entire family sized bar of galaxy. Or you really meant to just stop at one glass of red wine (after all it is good for you!) but one glass turns into a bottle. The next day, you’re probably beating yourself up for your lack of willpower or blaming your husband/partner/best friend for offering it to you in the first place and not helping you. Sound familiar?
Did you know that you are much more likely to have junk food cravings and binge eating episodes if you suffer with irregular menstrual cycles? When your oestrogen levels drop you are more susceptible to give in to cravings. Low blood sugar levels also cause cravings which have you reaching for the sugary stuff. So it may have a biological cause rather than you just being weak willed and in this article, I am going to bust the willpower myth.
How hormones affect your willpower
Insulin – Going too long between meals, eating the wrong types of foods and not enough fibre, protein and fats can all cause blood sugar imbalances. Low blood sugars cause your body to crave something sweet to boost your insulin levels and that means you are more likely to overindulge.
Oestrogen -When levels drop as you go through your cycle it can cause your body to crave junk food, hence why we often struggle with this just before our period. We also need more energy during this time so crave calorie rich foods.
Serotonin – A neurotransmitter your body produces from certain amino acids to help you feel relaxed (known as the happy hormone). If you are deficient in these amino acids you don’t produce enough serotonin and may experience strong carbohydrate cravings. Eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey and fermented soy, can help to boost levels.
Ghrelin – Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite, and also plays a role in body weight. It send a signal to your brain that you are hungry. It also plays a big role in determining how quickly hunger comes back after we eat so if levels are too high it tells you you are hungry and you overeat.
Leptin – Leptin is a hormone, made by fat cells, that has the opposite effect to ghrelin and decreases your appetite. The two hormones work hand in hand though and leptin is though to help regulate your ghrelin levels. Leptin helps signal to the brain that the body has had enough to eat but many people’s leptin levels don’t respond, known as leptin resistance, which causes overeating.
There is also a strong psychological element to your cravings as well. Habits are hard to change and it can 21-28 days to see a real difference. We also have a strong sense of feeling deprived and if you see other people eating things and feel you are missing out this can also reduce willpower.
Have you heard of the power of positive thinking? Your mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is not. Every time you say to yourself ‘I can’t have chocolate or eat chips, I am not allowed dessert,’ you actually increase your desire for those foods because your mind thinks you want it but can’t have it, which means you end up wanting them more. Crazy, right? Try reversing the thoughts and actively thinking ‘I love healthy foods’ and see if it makes a difference.