I have known for some time that I am struggling with a food addiction of some sort but until recently I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason behind my intense food cravings. It’s not just sweets or just salty treats or even just fatty foods. It seemed to be something different every day. I would be minding my own business when all of a sudden I would find myself in the pantry or in front of the fridge searching for that particular food I just had to have. Whether it is a tall glass of milk with honey mixed in or humus on crackers or a turkey sandwich on thick sliced bread it didn’t matter. When I get to that point I feel like I have no choice. I have to eat what ever it is. I need it and if I don’t find it or don’t let myself have it I walk away feeling sick. Then the longer I go without what ever combination of foods I am craving that day the worse I feel to the point of head aches, bad mood, and even depression. It’s the worst feeling I can think of, full of frustration and guilt. I hate it!
For a while I thought that maybe I had some sort of vitamin deficiency. I thought, maybe I should be listening to these cravings because my body knows what I need. There was even a few side effects that gave this idea some validity. Most mornings it is a fight of shear will and strength for me to be able to stay awake. I don’t mean like the typical “not a morning person” kind of tiredness. I mean can’t keep my eyes open, falling asleep standing up, can’t think straight, have-no-choice-falling-asleep-right-this-second type of tiredness. The only way I get through my mornings without falling asleep is if I am constantly moving and even then I might drift off while walking down the hallway. This feeling lasts untill about 11am nearly everyday. Sounds like some sort of vitamin deficiency to me!
The only problem with that idea is that these cravings often come when I am not actually hungry, shapes every single meal I eat and it has led to me being overweight to the point of it being dangerous. Plus, my symptoms have only gotten worse rather than better. I decided to do a little research and look into what these foods I am wanting have in common. There had to be a common thread between the seemingly random cravings. What I discovered totally blew me away!!!
I am addicted to the amino acid Tryptophan. The highest doses of Tryptophan can be found in poultry and dairy products. It is also found in humus, various types of nuts, and even some vegetables – the very foods I can’t seem to get enough of! It is the raw material for serotonin and melatonin, the body’s natural sleep-inducing substances. Remember how tired you were after thanksgiving dinner last year? Tryptophan is why! Tryptophan is a very important amino acid that is essential to a healthy brain. It is first converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which quiets the brain by slowing down nerve traffic. Serotonin is then converted to melatonin, which the pineal gland secretes inducing sleepiness. It is used by our brain to help us to process thoughts and is also used to control our sleep patterns and helps relieve our stress. Our bodies can not create tryptophan for ourselves so we have to get it from outside sources.
However, this alone doesn’t explain my cravings because I don’t want just humus, I want humus and crackers. I don’t just want a glass of milk, I want a couple spoonfuls of honey mixed in or milk in a big bowl of cereal. Upon further study though I discovered the answer for this as well. Complex carbohydrates play an important role in my addiction by making the Tryptophan available to my brain. A meal high in carbs stimulates the release of insulin, which clears amino acids that compete with the tryptophan from my bloodstream. Once the insulin has done its job clearing them out more of the tryptophan is allowed to enter my brain which encourage sleepiness and the rush of stress busting hormones into my bloodstream.
This is why I struggle so much in the mornings! I have a big bowl of cereal *carbs* swimming in milk *tryptophan* followed by a surge of Melatonin and serotonin. I feed this craving though out the day to help my body maintain a high level of those hormones and crave them once it starts to fade. The reason I think it is so drastic of a sleepiness in the morning versus the rest of the day is because our bodies naturally make melatonin and serotonin while we are sleeping to help us sleep soundly through the night. So, in the mornings I already have the hormones from the night before in my body and then add even more to them with my breakfast of tryptophan with a side of carbs. >.<
This explains sooooooooooooooooooooooooo much about what I am struggling with. This is exactly why a couple of weeks ago after a very stressful day at work all I wanted in the entire world to eat for dinner was a Hawaiian sweet roll with butter and a glass of milk. Tryptophan + Carbs = sleep, peace, rest, momentary relief from stress, weight gain, guilt, shame, unhealthy body, self-hatred, and a need for Gods love and strength to help me.
Love, thank you for helping find the answers to my questions. Thank you for helping me to better understand my body and how it works. We are so fearfully and wonderfully made. Thank you that you are my comfort, rest, peace and that you are the one I can turn to when I need to lay my burdens down and let go of my stress and worries. Help me to remember these things. Help me to be aware of the food choices I am making and why. Thank you for helping me lose 5 pounds so far!! It is the slowest I have ever lost weight but I have never been more happy to lose such a small amount. Thank you for the strength you are giving me to face my addictions and turn them over to. Help me to not suffer the effects of withdrawal that I seem to experience. No headaches, no depression, no sleeplessness, none of it. Thank you Love.
Here is a couple of links to some of the articles I read about Tryptophan: