This blog was written in collaboration with our partners at GI Foundation. For more Low GI inspiration and education visit gisymbol.com.
Crept into your 40s and wondering why your carbohydrate cravings seem to be multiplying? While there’s no evidence to suggest women will develop carbohydrate "addiction" (or that food addiction in general even exists!), there are a few factors that can contribute to the increased desire for sweet or savoury carb-rich treats as you age.
If you’ve noticed an increased taste for all things sweet and starchy around the same time as hitting the big 4-0, there are a number of potential factors at play – in particular, hormones. Here’s the lowdown on what might be giving you an appetite for diet destruction… and how you can address it.
Oestrogen is the primary female sex hormone and is responsible for the regulation of the menstrual cycle and preparing the uterus for pregnancy. Oestrogen levels can begin to fluctuate during perimenopause, dropping significantly at menopause.
As oestrogen decreases, so too does serotonin — a hormone responsible for mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and even sexual desire and function. Low serotonin is linked to depression, anxiety and poor sleep.
Decreasing oestrogen levels also affects insulin. Both oestrogen and another sex hormone, progesterone, affect how your cells respond to insulin, and menopausal changes to these hormone levels can trigger fluctuations in your blood glucose levels.
For many women, the 40s are a busy time — juggling parenting and extended family demands with career, which can hike up the stress factor. When faced with a stressful situation, your brain will signal the adrenal glands to release cortisol, which in turn will release glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream — this is the fight or flight response basically providing the energy required to run. Once the moment has passed, you’ll find yourself with low reserves and your body will require a quick hit to top up. For a lot of people, this means a craving for sugary or starchy, kilojoule (energy) dense foods.
And if the stress cycle continues? High cortisol levels result in increased appetite and fat deposits, typically in the cervical area, trunk and abdomen. Which is why women tend to put on more weight around their waistlines as they get older.
A lack of sleep can also see you reaching for the family-sized chocolate bar or bag of chips (or a few glasses too many of your favourite vino). When you get good quality, deep sleep your body produces leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that lets your brain know you're full. Get a poor night's sleep and you're more likely to overeat the next day. And the kicker? When you're tired, your body is most likely to crave a quick fix, aka an energy dense, high carbohydrate hit, to give you an energy boost to get through the day.
Luckily, the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet is well-placed to help you deal with the changes in your body. By providing you with a balanced meal plan filled with nutrient-rich food, you can ensure you're giving your body everything it needs to stay fit and well. By sticking to the meal plan and not skipping meals, you'll avoid drops in your blood glucose levels, which can also help to keep cravings for sugary high GI foods at bay.
It's also helpful to be prepared with healthy but quick snack choices for those times when you need an energy boost. Easy to carry foods like fresh fruit, veggie sticks, nuts or boiled eggs are all a great choice.
If you do reach for a quick hit of sugar here and there, don’t stress — the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet allows for a treat every day. If you prefer a bigger treat, the program gives you the flexibility to combine your daily treats into one bigger weekly treat.
And when you do have a treat? Enjoy it. The program encourages indulgences for a reason. As Professor Jennie Brand-Miller of the GI Foundation says, it’s an important part of being able to stick to a diet for the long haul. Indulgence foods can be anything you like, as long as you stick to about 420 kilojoules (100 calories) each day. Think a small glass of wine, a small packet of chips or about four small squares of chocolate.
Exercise is another key strategy to manage carb cravings. Research has suggested that it can increase brain serotonin function and help manage stress. If you're feeling constantly low in mood, talk to your GP about your options as mood disorders can impact on sleep, setting up a vicious cycle.
Last but not least? Get plenty of rest — even if your sleep is off, resting is still useful to the body. If sleeplessness is proving to be an immovable beast, it is worth talking to your GP as there may be factors at play that require intervention.