Mid-Life Cravings: The Chocolate Challenge

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If you are a middle-aged woman and you find yourself dealing with food cravings, welcome to the club.  Statistics tell us that just about 100% of women report regular food cravings.  And unlike men, you may also be experiencing sleep difficulties and seasonal depressions.  Ladies, it’s not just that you have different hormones than men have, but your hormones have a certain agenda and they need attention and management in order for you to get through this time of your life.  You undoubtedly are craving more starch, more sugar and more chocolate than ever before.  Why is this happening and how do you deal with it? 

First, let’s look into just what these cravings are and what causes them.  Women have two types of cravings.  There are emotionally driven cravings and biological/hormonal driven cravings.  Emotionally driven cravings include unmet needs, anger, resentments and loneliness.   Two different chemicals drive biological cravings.  One is serotonin, a chemical in your brain that is necessary for mood stabilization and is released more after the consumption of carbohydrates.  It helps lift your mood and calm you down.  Many people suffering from depression are low on this particular chemical.  The second group of chemicals is Endorphins.  This is also a brain chemical and is released after consuming chocolate and fat.  If you have ever experienced an “exercise high” after doing an intense workout, the feeling you may have after consuming chocolate may be similar.   

When a woman reaches a stage of life where her estrogen and progesterone levels drop, there is usually a drop in serotonin causing her to turn to food in order to feel better.  The foods you will most likely go for in the food pantry are sugar and starches which help you to get your serotonin back up and fat and chocolate which help raise the endorphin levels.  Weight control obviously becomes a big challenge when consuming much of these types of foods.  For those of you that suffer from PMS, you will notice that that is exactly the time when you crave even more chocolate and junk food.  That correlates with the fall in serotonin levels.    

We have all heard in recent years about the heart healthy benefits contained in bitter sweet chocolate.  It contains polyphenols, an antioxidant and also flavinoids.  These help to raise the level of HDL, good cholesterol, and cause blood vessel dilation.  Both these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties seem to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease by decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation.  But beware of the following statistics before you over-indulge in chocolate.   Each American consumes 11.6 pounds per year of chocolate.  Each Japanese consumes 4 pounds per year of chocolate.  The percentage of obese women in the United States is 34% and in Japan, its only 3% 
 
Many women find that if they can be disciplined enough to eat a few squares of chocolate per day when they get their cravings, they can avoid the adverse effects of eating too much high calorie fatty and sugary food. If you are craving a particular food, instead of denying yourself the food, eat a very small portion of it to help you get through the craving.  

To find hormonal happiness make sure that you eat a balanced diet of small regular meals and snacks every day. If your cravings are emotionally or biologically driven try exercise, yoga and hot baths as other alternatives to get through this time of you life.  These will also raise your serotonin levels without consuming any calories!  If you are having difficulties losing weight, that is normal for a middle-aged woman.  But don’t get discouraged!  With good healthy habits and regular exercise, you CAN lose weight even during mid-life.  It might go a little slower then when you were younger, but the weight can, and will come off.  And remember that all of your good lifestyle habits will make life easier during and after the menopausal years.   

Keeping a handle on your food cravings in middle life is a very important ingredient to “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 15 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at [email protected] 

Check out the Lose It! website at www.loseit.co.il. US Line: 516-568-5027