Mood Food and Cravings


  • Why is it that we set out at the beginning of the week with such good intentions to eat healthily only to scupper our diet with a bar of chocolate or a slice of cake after a stressful day at work or with the children or in a moment of boredom?
  • Why is it that sometimes we just need that one food we said we weren’t going to eat to the point that we cannot stop thinking about it?
  • Why is it that we only seem to crave the foods that are not good for us, it’s never an apple is it?
  • Why do cravings get much stronger for women when they have pre-menstrual tension?
  • And what the hell can I do about any of this anyway?

Now I am a sweet things party-pooper and do not advocate eating sweet things regardless of how they have been sweetened. I only say this because I care about you.  To better understand where I am coming from on this issue read Quit Sugar – My Journey with Sweet Things and How I Became Sugar Free

But for the next two weeks its Mood Food and Cravings Fortnight here on cleanleanbean where I will be showing you how to make healthier choices to satisfy your cravings, and for these 2 weeks I promise not to nag!!

Follow this blog  so that  you do not miss the posts for:

  • Buckwheat Breakfast Pancakes
  • Paleo Raw Cacao Brownies with Courgette, Carrot and Beetroot
  • All Natural Raw Cacao Ice Lollies
  • Mood Boosting ChocoPro Protein Shake
  • Chocolate Chestnut Fudge Cake

For now:

  • Read on to find out why we crave certain foods and how we can manage these cravings
  • Try my Mood Lifting Super Porridge and get happy!
  • Its your last chance to win the ingredients to make this porridge so if you haven’t already click HERE to enter before midnight on June 30th 2016.

There are many triggers for cravings but research suggests that ultimately it’s all in our brains. Blocking the receptors in the brain that sense pleasure, can reduce the desire to eat foods that are high in fat and sugar. So it’s not the body requiring these macros or the fact that your stomach is empty and you need these foods to survive.  It’s that pesky, pleasure-seeking brain of yours up to its tricks again!

The brain also has memory centres that associate food with reward.  So if, for instance, as a child your good behaviour was rewarded with cake then it is likely that your brain still thinks of cake as a reward and who doesn’t like getting rewarded?

What can make us crave?

  • Emotional Issues
  • Dehydration
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Not eating enough
  • Not eating enough variety
  • PMT

Emotional Issues

We have an emotional need for certain foods.  We crave when we are stressed or anxious.  Carbohydrates, fats and sugars all have a calming effect. Carbohydrate in particular boosts our levels of serotonin which has a calming, feel good effect. And let’s not forget the fact that they taste so, so good!


Being thirsty often gets mistaken for hunger. Ensuring we drink enough fluid in a day is important and its often worth having a glass of water when hunger pangs strike in case that is the cause.

Not eating enough

If we get too hungry or go for a long period of not eating then we run the risk of over eating to compensate at the next meal. Eating regularly will help to keep blood sugars stable and hunger and cravings under control.

Not Eating Enough Variety

If you are only eating certain foods then not only will you become bored of your diet and preoccupied with all the things that you are missing out on but the body will be lacking in certain nutrients. This may manifest itself as hunger as the body’s way of hoping that the next thing you feed it, it  will be the nutrients that it needs.

Sleep Deprivation

There is a correlation between not getting enough sleep and making poor food choices the next day. I shall be writing a more detailed article on this shortly.


As levels of oestrogen go up and down so do levels of cortisol which is the stress hormone. A raised level of cortisol turns on the flight or fight mechanism.  The fuel of the fight or flight mechanism is carbs and fat.

Levels of Serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) go down.  The body uses carbs to make Serotonin, and simple sugars (the ones we are not supposed to eat), get into the system more quickly than complex sugars therefore having a quicker effect, so these are what our body demands.

Some women will find that their blood sugars dip after eating during menstruation and feel hungry again 1 to 2 hrs after their meal. When you are feeling cranky and you are craving carbs and fat there is a high likelihood you are going to say sod it and eat the damn doughnut!

What can we do to prevent cravings?

  • Keep a cravings diary for a month to work out the triggers and how to reduce/avoid them
  • Try to get a minimum of 8 hours sleep.  It may be worth evaluating your day-to-day life to find out where you could introduce some Life Hacks so that you can get to bed at a reasonable time
  • Keep yourself well hydrated so that you are not mistaking thirst for hunger
  • Eat a varied diet to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients and prevent boredom of food
  • Make healthy food that tastes nice so that you are already enjoying what you are eating (there are lots of healthy, tasty recipes on this blog)
  • Don’t have crap in the house – if it’s not there you can’t eat it!
  • Eat regularly to prevent dips in blood sugar and overcompensating AKA Blowouts!

What to do when the cravings strike

  • Eat healthy or healthier options (all this week I will be posting mood food recipes for when the craving strikes)
  • Opt for complex carbohydrates and avoid simple sugars. I find oats and pumpernickel toast a filing option
  • Aim to get a minimum of 8 hours sleep
  • Get some fresh air and exercise, even if it is only a 10 min walk.  This will still raise your levels of Serotonin (happy stuff) and lower your levels of cortisol (stressy stuff)

Fighting cravings in PMT

  • Eat complex carbs as soon as you feel it coming on to increase your levels of serotonin and prevent you from reaching for the chocolate
  • Avoid simple sugars as they will cause your blood sugars to dip
  • Drink plenty of water to flush the body and reduce bloating
  • Avoid salt as this increases fluid retention
  • Cut your portion sizes in half and eat 6 meals/day instead of 3
  • Do some exercise to raise your serotonin levels and prevent the fuck it syndrome.  Even if it is only a 10 min walk.
  • Satisfy your cravings with healthier options

Food to boost your mood

Raw Cacao:

Raw cacao is a mood lifting superfood! It triggers the release of endorphins and opium like neurochemicals which we release naturally when in love or during sexual activity!! It boosts our levels of Serotonin, a substance in our brain which is responsible for maintaining mood balance.  Low Serotonin can lead to depression. It is also high in magnesium which creates energy and combats fatigue.

Dark Green Veg:

Such as broccoli, spinach and kale.  These are high in iron and magnesium which helps to boost energy levels

Grass fed meat:

Not the cheapest option but grass-fed meat has higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid which is a happy fat that reduces stress hormones. It is also high in iron.

Calcium rich foods:

Such as Greek Yoghurt or milk.  Calcium signals the body to release feel good neurotransmitters

Foods high in tryptophan:

Tryptophan is an amino acid found in foods that enables the body to produce serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter).  Foods high in Trytophan include:

  • Eggs
  • Pineapple
  • Tofu
  • Salmon
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Turkey


As well as being high in tryptophan they are also high in omega 3, zinc and vitamin B6 all said to have a positive effect on mood


High in vitamin B6 which boosts mood and vitamin C which brings stress hormones down. even the smell of oranges have been shown to boost energy and alertness.


Well not paella exactly but saffron which is what gives paella its yellow colour.  It has long been used in Persia as a mood lifter and research has shown it has beneficial effects too.

In summary carbs, fat and sugar have calming effects on the body which is why we crave  “bad” foods and not “good” foods. By taking steps to reduce the chances of cravings happening such as reducing stress and getting enough sleep and having an effective management plan in place for when cravings do strike such as healthy craving satisfiers and going for a walk we should be able to reduce the chances of food blow outs occurring  and the damage done by these.


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