Food Cravings: Emotional, Mental or Physical Stress!
Food cravings can easily sabotage your attempts to create a balanced ADHD diet. They are usually the result of some form of stress being put on your system. This can be:
- Physical Stress – lack of or excessive exercise, malnutrition etc…
- Emotional Stress – grief, anger or other unresolved emotional issues
- Mental Stress – excessive work pressure, over-thinking, worrying etc…
Whichever type of stress you’re experiencing, your body may try to correct the situation by prompting you to eat certain foods. On the other hand, some cravings are self-created habits that have become part of your daily routine. For example, if you were raised in a home where eating candy was a daily habit, your body will have become habituated to this ritual, resulting in cravings over time.
Address the Underlying Cause First
Before we discuss the physiology of cravings, it bears mentioning that many cravings have deeper causes. Unresolved emotional issues can cause stress on many levels. You may push yourself too hard at work, force yourself to follow a strenuous exercise routine or engage in unhealthy perfectionism. These energy blocks can come out in many ways and trigger cravings.
If these underlying issues are not resolved, cravings will persist. Take a minute or five to still your mind and check in with yourself as to why these cravings plague you. There may be areas of your life that are out of balance and require adjustment. Don’t underestimate the power of your subconscious mind and its desire to find peace. If you allow an opening for an answer to come through, it most likely will.
The Physiology of Sweet Cravings
The body often craves sweet foods and carbohydrates in an attempt to regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood amongst other things. When we are angry, sad or overworked, we may turn to sweet foods to elevate our mood and help us cope.
This is an important issue to consider when creating a balanced ADHD diet. Many people with ADHD are self-medicating by eating sugary foods – an unconscious means of balancing out their serotonin levels. Sugar also provides the body with a temporary energy boost. This subconscious ‘kick start’ is another reason why people with ADHD often crave sweets.
Unfortunately, most people go for foods high in refined sugar vs. healthy carbohydrates. Though this creates an initial sugar high, the long-term effects of consuming refined sugars only serve to aggravate ADHD symptoms.
If you’re trying to create a balanced ADHD diet, minimizing refined sugars is an absolute must! Too much sugar triggers the adrenal glands, and activated adrenal glands secrete adrenaline. This puts the body into fight-or-flight response. Moreover, insulin levels skyrocket as the body is trying to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. This process depletes the adrenal glands causing anxiety, nervousness and other ADHD symptoms.
NOTE! Refined sugar is an incredibly addictive substance – the more you eat it, the more you crave it… and vice versa. Minimizing your refined sugar intake will reduce and eventually eliminate sweet cravings!
How to Eliminate That Sweet Tooth
- Replace Sugary foods in your ADHD diet. Eat healthy carbs and foods high in tryptophan – check out which healthy alternatives naturally regulate serotonin. Complex carbs and foods high in tryptophan naturally regulate mood and energy levels in the body. It may take a few weeks and a bit of willpower, but over time the sugar cravings are guaranteed to subside.
- Be conscious of sugar withdrawal symptoms. These include mood swings, dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, shaking, and sweating. Luckily, these symptoms subside after about two weeks.
- Avoid skipping meals. This will keep your insulin levels balanced and subsequently you’ll avoid cravings. Also, listen to your body and refrain from overeating.
- Regular exercise. This is another must to keep your ADHD brain in top shape and elevate your mood.
- Introduce a sweet moment into your ADHD diet. There may be times when you buckle under the pressure of a sugar craving. If this happens, don’t deprive yourself. This will only cause frustration. It’s better to indulge in the occasional sweet moment than to binge after weeks of deprivation. After the indulgence, always renew your intention to minimize sugary foods!
- Avoid eating too much salt. High salt intake creates sweet cravings. Be mindful of the salt content in processed foods. Check labels for sodium levels.
- Keep your acid-alkaline balance in check. Mineral depletion caused by acidosis can also cause food cravings along with many ADHD symptoms.
- On a psychological level, sweet cravings may indicate that you are not being kind or ‘sweet’ enough towards yourself. Make room for quality ME-time. Organize your schedule so that you can experience some things you enjoy. Replace any negative self-talk with loving and nurturing words.
- Get enough rest. When the body is tired, carb/sugar cravings kick in. Check in with yourself – are you really hungry or does your body need some rest?
The Physiology of Salt Cravings
Indulging in salty foods can also exhaust the adrenal glands. This mechanism works both ways; you may crave salt (sodium) when you are stressed, but consuming too much of it conversely stresses the body. On a purely physiological level, craving salt can also be the result of dehydration. Many people with ADHD have relatively high stress levels and daily stress quickly drains the nervous system. Salt cravings are one way the body attempts to correct this imbalance. Another ADHD symptom related to excess salt intake is hypertension. These are all reasons enough to even things out a bit.
Healthy Ways to Correct a Salt Imbalance
- Don’t eliminate salt from your ADHD diet – salt is an essential mineral. If you are accustomed to eating a lot of salt you may need to cut back a little. Keep in mind that many processed foods already contain a fair amount of salt. Eating whole foods is the best way to avoid excessive salt in the body.
- Be mindful of your blood pressure – people with high blood pressure tend to have elevated blood sodium levels, while people with low blood pressure tend to have decreased levels. Depending on which category you are in, you may need more or less salt.
- Give your body time to adjust to a lower salt-intake diet – salty foods can desensitize the taste buds. If you’re trying to lower your salt intake, give your taste buds a few weeks to ‘heal’.
- Use Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt or Sesame Salt – while regular table salt is acidic, these alternatives have an alkalizing effect on the body. Another reason to avoid regular table salt is because it robs the body of important minerals.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C to reduce emotional and physical stress – go for foods like bell peppers, citrus fruits, parsley, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries.
- Eat foods rich in potassium – potassium naturally balances the metabolic action of sodium. Potatoes, lentils, spinach, bananas, carrots, prunes, beans and green leafy vegetables help restore the body’s sodium-potassium balance.
- Take a breather whenever you can – relaxing is essential to both physical and mental health.
- Limit coffee intake – I know, coffee is absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, it’s extremely dehydrating and makes those adrenals kick in big time – stress guaranteed! Therefore, try to stick to a maximum of two cups a day.
- Drink enough water – if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which already contain a lot of water, 8 big glasses a day should be more than enough. Keep in mind that the amount of water a person needs also depends on their body weight. Don’t go to extremes since drinking too much water exhausts the kidneys!
- Again, remember to keep your acid-alkaline balance in check to avoid mineral depletion and aggravating ADHD symptoms.
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