It starts the morning after Thanksgiving.
For many people, including myself, Thanksgiving is a favorite meal of the year. After enjoying all of the rich, decadent foods on our holiday tables, we promise ourselves we'll never eat another morsel. Yet to our amazement, the next morning arrives and we are again ravenous (FYI- it is thirst, not hunger). After indulging on leftovers for breakfast, our bodies begin a process of confusion and a downward spiral that ultimately leads to the weight gain so common during this season.
But, your body can still rebound from these holiday indulgences. Here are a few simple strategies to help navigate the season, while still enjoying it to the fullest:
It is important to understand that within our bodies there exists a complex system designed to regulate cravings, attempting to provide your body with the nourishment it needs to achieve optimal health. Cravings are bio-individual, in other words, uniquely yours. There are clues within each of us to deconstruct cravings. Simple reasons for cravings include lack of nutrients and simple thirst. A nutrition professional can help to effectively deconstruct your cravings, but there are simple steps you can take for yourself.
The Power of Whole, Natural Foods
One sure fire way to reduce cravings is to incorporate more whole foods into your diet. When foods are over processed to preserve shelf life, they will contain many unnecessary chemicals, which are foreign to the human body. These chemicals will lead to unnatural cravings, ultimately confusing your body. Let's use a holiday favorite, the chocolate chip cookie, as our example. From my perspective, eating a cookie prepared by a friend using all natural ingredients is far superior to choosing those fat-free 100-calorie bag of cookies. While the homemade cookie will contain more calories, ultimately the natural ingredients will satisfy your sweet craving. The chemicals in the 100-calorie pack will confuse your body while leaving you wanting more. Eventually, you will eat that "real" cookie (or maybe 10!) and feel worse. When choosing sweets, and all foods for that matter, make sure you are familiar with all of the ingredients you are eating. Do not eat foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce— they are not food.
Crazy for Chocolate
If you are craving chocolate, you are certainly not alone. According to the Journal of Nutrition, chocolate is the most widely craved food in America. Most people have a taste for chocolate, which helps, but chocolate also contains key ingredients that may be linked to why we crave it so much. For instance, many people seem to crave chocolate when they are stressed or feeling down. Chocolate's reputation as an aphrodisiac stems from its phenylethylamine content, which regulates the body's release of endorphins. Endorphins are natural mood lifters and often have a calming effect when the body is stressed.
Chocolate also contains traces of a chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which reacts with cells in the brain to release dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for the release of endorphins. In addition to its "feel good" qualities, chocolate contains large amounts of iron, so cravings for chocolate may indicate an iron deficiency. It is vital to both satisfy your cravings and more importantly ensure that you are receiving all of the proper nutrients. Only then will your body have the ability to deconstruct external cravings.
To curb your chocolate cravings in a good way, here's a recipe for healthy chocolate milk. This is one of my daughter's favorites (unbeknownst to her, I hide the spinach in there).
Nutrient-Rich Chocolate Milk
*Enjoy this recipe hot or cold
2 cups rice milk
1 ripe banana
a handful of fresh organic spinach (no taste and iron-rich)
1 tsp raw cacao powder (available at health food stores)
Blend all ingredients. For a hot drink, forgo the ice and blend for five minutes. Enjoy!
Stephanie Gardner is a certified health and nutrition counselor. She lives in Rye with her husband and two children. Her column, "Food for Thought," focusing on healthy living and proper nutrition, will appear monthly on Rye Patch. For more information on Gardner, visit www.Stephaniegardnerwellness.com