Struggling to kick those sugar cravings and wondering why it feels like your brain has no control over it? Could it be that your gut bugs are responsible for those messages telling you to eat that chocolate, cake or ice cream?
You’ve been on the IQS 8-Week Program for weeks, and so far you’ve had amazing self-control and are already experiencing the many benefits of quitting sugar. However, you’ve also noticed that sugar is constantly on your mind and your cravings persist.
Sound familiar? Truth is, these sugar cravings could be coming from your gut bacteria, and not your brain. Here’s how to find out how your bugs gained their power and what you can do to stop them from sabotaging your hard work…
Most of our bugs aren’t too fussy, and will eat a variety of foods to fuel themselves. There are certain bacteria, however, that only eat particular foods. For example, Prevotella grows best on carbohydrates, Bifidobacterium prefers fibre and Bacteriodetes like fats. If we have an imbalance in our bugs, sugar-loving species like the yeast Candida albicans can take over and can drive those strong sugar cravings.
Our bugs can manipulate our behaviour.
When our bugs break down the food we eat, they produce by-products called metabolites. These metabolites include many agents that can affect our brain signalling and our desire for food. Additionally, some bugs are particularly clever and can produce ‘pseudo-hormones’ that mimic your own hunger or satiety hormones. This can be problematic when trying to manage your meals and snacking patterns, as they interfere with your body’s true appetite and hunger signals. Our bugs also have the ability to manipulate the vagus nerve – which regulates our eating behaviours and body weight. This special nerve is also one way our gut-brain connection talks to each other.
Our bugs affect our neurotransmitters and brain pathways.
You may associate neurotransmitters with brain function, but did you know that certain gut bugs produce approximately 90 per cent of your serotonin and 50 per cent of your dopamine? In addition to affecting your mood, these neurotransmitters are both involved in regulating your eating behaviours. Our bacteria also influence our brain’s ability to recognise and create new nerve pathways – so essentially, for us to create new pathways or change old ones (like emotional eating patterns), we need a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Our bugs can affect emotional eating.
There’s a strong link between a low diversity of gut bugs and low numbers of ‘good’ bugs like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, with depression, anxiety and stress. These mental health conditions are often associated with reaching for energy-dense, sugar-filled foods as a way of coping. Unfortunately, this behaviour only perpetuates the cycle of emotional eating, as increased sugar consumption increases your risk for experiencing depression, anxiety or stress and the growth of sugar-loving bugs to take over.
Lack of bug diversity in your gut can mean louder messages from them.
When you have less diversity in your gut, it gives fewer bug species the ability to have a larger population. With less competition, it gives them more opportunity to send more messages, creating a stronger message that can manipulate us and our relationship with food. Research has shown obese individuals have less bug diversity. This may explain why people with obesity may struggle with food cravings, have problematic eating behaviours and issues with feeling full.
What you can do about this!
Changing the community of bacteria and restoring a healthy balance is key. One of the ways you can do this is by including probiotic-rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and yoghurts in your diet. However, probiotics do not stay in your gut and call it home, they only provide their wonderful benefits as they travel through. To really make long-lasting changes in your gut, you need to include prebiotic, fibre-rich foods to stimulate the growth of your own healthy species. By eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, this ensures that you are feeding a variety of species, without favouring any one group. This takes time, so be patient!
There are a lot of reasons why your bugs might be out of balance, so the road to identifying and addressing the cause isn’t always simple. If you have tried these simple dietary changes and you still can’t beat those bad gut bugs, it may be time to reach out to a professional for help.