Did you ever wonder about that late afternoon chocolate craving that drives you to your hidden stash of Hershey’s Kisses? Do you get a hankering for pizza after a monster session at the gym? Cravings for certain foods can indicate either a deficiency in the body or an emotional response that can be mistaken for hunger. Cravings of all kinds come from the central nervous system; they are a response to signals from the brain that something is missing.

Craving sweets? This is usually a sign that you’re not eating enough carbohydrates. Guys who work out hard know they need to consume  protein to repair and build muscle. But when you’re pumping iron and doing cardio, you also need carbs to fuel your active metabolism and keep the fire burning. Furthermore, the body requires carbohydrates to synthesize protein. If you deny yourself these important energy and body building foods, then your body will crave them, probably in the form of sugary, starchy snacks like pizza or doughnuts. Be smart and proactive with your nutritional plan and eat healthy meals and snacks rich in whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables all day long.

In the mood for a half a turkey and a mammoth wedge of cheese? Some experts link such cravings to low serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that enhances mood and produces a calming effect, can be replenished by chemicals found in foods containing the amino acid tryptophan, found in turkey and cheeses. Lean protein sources and low-fat dairy are your best bets here.

Cravings can also originate from environmental and psychological stimuli. Every time the holiday season arrives, you tell yourself that you’ll face it with unmitigated control. Then it happens – pecan pie, sugar cookies – and by January you’ve packed on the pounds! Many cravings have deep seated psychological components especially during the holiday season, when food becomes associated with good and bad memories that stick with us.

When it comes to your nutritional plan and controlling the munchies, remember, you are not a victim. Here are some suggestions to help you:

Limit coffee intake and other caffeinated beverages. Caffeine causes blood-sugar peaks and valleys that leave you yearning for sugary foods.

Drink less booze. Drinking creates cravings for everything, especially junk!

Sleep more. A well rested mind and body are less likely to crave carbs.

Satisfy yourself now. Waiting too long can make your need seem more important than it really is, turning a 250-calorie slip into a 2500 calorie binge.

Eat more protein; it’s filling, and it can help control your appetite.

When you reach for candy, ask yourself why. Upset? Missing someone? Make a better choice and grab an apple instead.

Eat more fiber (fruits and veggies) that will fill you up, clean you out and help keep blood sugar steady.

(Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels)