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What Causes Cravings with Diabetes?

By Michelle May, M.D.

Bite taken chocolate cookieOn Facebook, I asked about your challenges with managing diabetes. Most people replied that handling cravings with diabetes (especially cravings for sweets) was their biggest challenge, like Kim who said it this way, “The sweet cravings that never stop and the desire to never give in to the beast.”

So what causes cravings?

Hunger and cravings are different; hunger is the need for fuel while cravings are an intense desire for a specific food—with or without hunger. Learning strategies for handling cravings when you have diabetes is essential—actually, it’s essential whether you have diabetes or not! So let’s break this down into two main parts, beginning with what causes cravings.

Hunger – Whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask, “Am I hungry?” You can be hungry and crave a specific food to satisfy that hunger. If you find that you do have symptoms of hunger, assess how hungry you are by giving yourself a hunger and fullness number. Being overly hungry can make it harder to think rationally and eat mindfully. And if you are at risk for hypoglycemia, check your glucose and treat low blood sugar immediately and appropriately!

Stress – Most people are aware of the correlation between increased stress and cravings. People commonly crave foods like chocolate, cookies, chips, and other foods high in fat, sugar, and calories because they stimulate the reward center of your brain. These foods cause your body to release endorphins—“feel good”—chemicals.

Associations and memories – Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Pairing certain foods with certain places, events, or people creates a link in the brain. In the future, similar circumstances—or a need for the feeling you had in those circumstances, such as pleasure or comfort—can trigger a craving for that particular food.

Deprivation – This is an often overlooked cause of cravings. Dietary restrictions can lead to cravings for the foods you aren’t “allowed” to have. As you resist those foods, the cravings may increase, eventually leading to eating—then overeating—those foods. The ensuing guilt reinforces the belief that you must restrict those foods so the “eat-repent-repeat” cycle continues!

On Facebook, Patti described the eat-repent-repeat cycle perfectly! “Just such a desire to eat that I don’t stop to even think about whether or not I am hungry. Until after I have already eaten, then I get upset with myself for messing up again.”

You’re not alone Patti! In Part 2, How to Handle Cravings with Diabetes, we’ll explore ways to deal with your cravings while managing your diabetes mindfully.

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

2 Comments

  1. My understanding of one of the main reasons for cravings is the biology of our bodies to respond to an excessive carbohydrate load eaten earlier, the response of insulin to that (and if not using the fuel from these sugars/starches)- dropping blood sugar and our bodies not knowing how low the blood sugar will go- a strong desire to get more carbs on board. The biology can be stronger than our intention. There are very mindful and intentional ways to avoid this including balancing with proteins and fats and paying attention to how you feel from your food choices.

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