Cravings are strong urges to eat certain foods.
ABOUT OUR CRAVINGS
Cravings are a wake-up call that something is out of balance, whether it may be in your food choices or your lifestyle.
As much as we try to curb our cravings, they’re actually fine to have as they show us what we need to focus on. It is a signal from the body about what is lacking and how we can improve our body or lifestyle. This post may contain affiliate links that help support the website.
The key is to trust your crazy cravings! Whenever your body is craving something, pause for a moment and ask yourself what your body is looking for and why?
Most women have cravings for food — especially for sugary simple carbs, salty foods, and alcohol — and many of us feel powerless against them. But when you “give in” to the desire to eat sugar or drink alcohol, you can also be consumed by guilt and remorse.
The word “cravings” is not code for lack of willpower. In many women, cravings are signs of hormonal issues, which are often tied to inadequate nutrition.
But cravings can also be related to chronic attempts to lose weight (yo-yo dieting), especially if you have metabolic or physiological imbalances that make it very difficult to drop excess pounds. Some of these imbalances even involve the neurotransmitters in your brain.
A third possibility traces cravings to issues with adrenal function.
Cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When you are tired or sad, you will have low blood sugar and/or low serotonin (a “feel-good” brain chemical). Hormonal imbalance or weak digestion can lead to low serotonin.
Low blood sugar or low serotonin sends a signal to the brain that it needs a pick-me-up. It is this signal — which you don’t consciously control — that causes a craving for sugar or carbohydrates.
Sugar or simple carbohydrates help release a burst of serotonin, so you feel good…at least for a little while. But almost as quickly, you “crash” and return to your low-serotonin state, and the cycle starts all over again.
Ironically, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave it because over-consumption of sugar can lead to insulin resistance. It’s a downward spiral. Calorie restriction and/or elimination of certain foods or food groups, will make even worse.
Interestingly, the underlying mechanism behind cravings is the same pathway you can use to curb them.
Knowing the Difference Between Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger
We often get confused between actual physical hunger and emotional hunger, leading to overeating, snacking, and making poor food choices. Check in with your body and learn how to tell the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
|Physical Hunger||Emotional Hunger|
|Hunger builds gradually||Hunger is sudden|
|Felt below the neck (i.e. stomach growls)||Felt above the neck (i.e. taste for ice cream)|
|Occurs 3+ hours after last meal||Occurs at random times|
|Can be temporarily offset by drinking a glass of water or taking fiber||Persists after a glass of water or taking fiber|
|Goes away when full||Persists even after a good amount of food has been eating|
|Can be suppressed with stress||Activated with stress|
|Enhances taste of food||Does not enhance taste of food|
|Satisfied after eating food||Feelings of guilt after eating food|
Craving Sugar & Sweets – Why?
Blood sugars rise and fall in two- to four-hour increments throughout the day; and when on the downward spiral, hormones are released that can intensify food cravings – especially sweets, which spike blood sugars quickly and cause a rebound drop.
Also, skipping meals or being light on calories during the initial stages of the day can set one up for a sugar binge in the afternoon/evening hours that can be dangerous for those with any form of insulin resistance or pre-diabetic state as it not only elevates risk for the onset of Type 2 Diabetes but also doubles the risk for heart disease.
Macronutrient favoring (eating too many carbohydrates and not enough protein or vice versa, for example) can also pose a problem.
Carbohydrates are needed to help boost blood sugars and protein is needed to help slow the release of the sugar into the bloodstream, thereby contributing to more sustained energy levels.
Our bodies are naturally wired to crave sugar –both for mental reasons and for physical reasons. Physically, our cravings come from a deep ancestral need for micro-nutrients, which are found in fruits. When we’re craving sugar, we’re actually craving the type of nutrients found in fruit.
The mental craving comes from the serotonin – as mentioned, it is a neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of well-being and helps moderate our moods, sleep cycles and our appetite – which is released after we consume a sweet food.
When we crave sugar beyond normal, healthy levels, it can be due to a variety of factors. The most obvious and well-understood reason is that we become used to a certain amount of sugar in our systems and when that amount is low, we naturally crave the sugar we aren’t getting.
Our cravings can also be the result of other factors as well. The following have nothing to do with food (at least not directly), but rather have to do with our LIFESTYLE.
Stress, Exhaustion and Sleep Deprivation
Some of us crave sugar due to adrenal fatigue or low adrenal function. The adrenal glands secrete chemicals that provide us with energy.
However, stress, lack of sleep or insomnia can disrupt the function of these glands and cause exhaustion. When this happens, your body looks to other sources for energy…and most often, sugar provides us with a dose at a very fast pace.
Feeding our need for energy with sugar, however, boosts our energy levels for a very short duration and can often lead to a major sugar crash…resulting in our need for another boost. Which often leads us back to sugar for more energy. As you can imagine this becomes a never-ending cycle.
What you can do:
Make sure you are managing your stress levels, getting enough sleep and giving yourself some alone or “me time”. Build in at least a half-hour a day of relaxation time…even if it means taking a break at lunch to do so. And aim for at least 7 hours of sleep, at a minimum.
If you have difficulty sleeping, consider taking an over-the-counter sleep aid for a night or two until you get back on track. If the problem is more serious, discuss options with your doctor or other health practitioner.
Lack of Activity
When we are sedentary and don’t get enough activity, we can feel sluggish. Staying active and getting regular physical activity can help us reduce sugar cravings and even change them to more healthy cravings. For one, it keeps our bodies oxygenated and energized, but we also release hormones that provide us with a feeling of well-being.
Additionally, staying active helps you to reduce tension and stress…both of which affect proper adrenal function as we mentioned before. Finally, physical activity helps to stabilize our blood sugar levels.
What you can do:
If getting to the gym is a challenge, try taking a walk every day for at least 30 minutes. This doesn’t have to be all at once. You can take three 10 minute walks. Also, when you feel a sugar craving come on, try taking a walk before giving into it. The activity might be what your body is really looking for.
Lack of hydration can cause us to feel hungry and even feed into our sugar cravings.
What you can do:
If you feel like you are craving something sweet, have a big glass of water and see what happens. If your craving subsides, there is a good chance you were dehydrated.
Ideally, your weight, divided by 2 equals the amount of water in ounces you should be consuming in a day. So, if you are 150 pounds, you should be having 75 ounces of water a day. If you are 120 pounds, you should be consuming 60 ounces a day in water.
You reach for the chocolate not only because the flavor makes you giddy with delight, but it does that because it stimulates the release of serotonin.
And we’re back to serotonin! It’s basically an antidepressant in dessert form that your body instinctively seeks out when your happy chemicals are bottoming out and you need a quick lift. Chocolate is often your arch nemesis when it comes to cravings — it strikes often and it strikes fast!
That said, you may also have a deficiency in either copper or magnesium – both found in high amounts in chocolate, but more in the dark stuff!
Having a 70% or higher dark chocolate bar on hand is one of the best ways to fight this — you get the satisfaction of chocolate, with less sugar, fat and other stuff (like dairy and fillers) than lower cocoa varieties, and some antioxidant support.
Even better, keep cacao nibs in your pantry for more creative solutions to chocolate cravings. These unsweetened bites of cacao seed (where all chocolate comes from) will kick the craving without any added sugar.
Craving Ice Cream?
A craving for creamy foods might mean that you are looking for something relaxing. This is also an emotional food. What to be aware of with this craving is that most creamy foods are a high mucous food or a high-fat food. Ice cream cravings sneak up on you on hot summer days. But the joy of a good ice cream cone vanishes just as quickly — especially if you cannot tolerate dairy.
Try a banana soft serve instead! Simply pulse a frozen banana in a food processor or blender, and the resulting creamy soft serve “ice cream” will satisfy your craving. Feel free to add cacao nibs, fresh fruit or coconut flakes to make it fancier!
Craving Cake or Cupcakes?
Carbohydrates increase serotonin — the happy hormone — in our brain. It’s not unusual that many people crave carbs when they are feeling stressed out. Instead of reaching for cake or cupcakes — which may taste delicious in the moment, but will often result in a sugar crash soon after — try to grab a whole grain carbohydrate that has some fat or protein in it.
Healthy fat and protein will slow down the digestion of carbohydrate and keep you satisfied for longer. Almond butter sandwiches on sprouted grain bread, whole grain protein pancakes, or a quick whole grain homemade muffin are great solutions to a cake or cupcake craving.
Craving Salt – Why?
You may find yourself craving salty foods when you try to cut these foods out of your diet for health reasons. That’s because your body is accustomed to salt, and these sorts of salt cravings will go away eventually when you lose the taste for salty foods.
Natural salt contains several trace minerals not found in table salt. If you’re craving salt but don’t have any additional medical symptoms, your salt cravings could be the result of a trace mineral deficiency.
Eating salty foods temporarily relieves cravings of this type, but they come back when your body fails to absorb any trace minerals from the salty foods you eat.
Salt cravings can also be the result of mild dehydration. When you sweat, you lose salt from your body. If you have salt cravings after exercise or after sweating on a hot day, you’ve probably lost too many electrolytes. Consider having pure coconut water + pinch of natural salt on hand to replenish electrolytes.
Salt cravings can easily lead to over-consumption of salt and salty foods. While your body needs a small amount of salt to function properly, eating too much salt can lead to dizziness, excessive thirst and dry mouth. If you eat too much salt for a long period of time, you could succumb to high blood pressure and develop a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
Craving a Salty Crunchy Snack?
A craving for dry/crunchy foods can be due to anger and built up feelings. The crunching drowns out the anger with the noise and can actually make someone feel better by crunching away on some harder foods.
The perfect combination of salty AND crunchy is a hard craving to kick. However, instead of reaching for a bag of potato chips or tortilla chips, try kale! You can find these nutrient-dense snacks at your local natural foods store or make them yourself.
Craving Savory, Spicy or Sour & Acidic Foods – Why?
Try warm lemon water first thing in the morning, and sip throughout the day.
There are quite a few reasons why spicy foods and hot climates go together. Spicy food, especially of red peppers, triggers immediate sweating. Generally, when you sweat, you don’t feel cool. The body sweats only enough so that it doesn’t overheat. A sweating person is still warm and uncomfortable. They’re just not dying.
Eating food with capsaicin though, triggers sweating above and beyond what is needed to keep the body from overheating. Capsaicin stimulates receptors that sense heat in the mouth and along the mucus membranes of the nose. The body sweats everywhere, trying to respond to the heat and flush away the irritant, and the person eating the food finally feels cool when they sweat, instead of just sticky.
According to Traditional Chinese medicine, the sour taste correlates with the liver and its function, regulating the way we use energy.
It is thought that if you have strong tendencies toward sour foods like lemons or even pickle juice – the liver needs cleansing or a detox. An increase of citrus fruits in your diet that are rich in vitamin C may help to curb this craving. Again, lemon water is the easiest fix!
While a good pasta dish can be very satisfying, no one likes to feel like they have to take a 3-hour nap to recuperate from a craving.
Instead of dishing out pasta, try roasting a spaghetti squash instead. This starchy vegetable is much lower in calories, but has the same texture and consistency as noodles. After roasting the squash for 45 minutes, simply use a fork to scrape out noodle-shaped pieces. Top it off with non-dairy cheese or tofu ricotta, nutritional yeast and a good marinara sauce and you’ll hardly taste the difference. Well, hardly.
OTHER SNACKING TIPS
No matter what you choose to snack on, whether you’re feeding a craving or fueling yourself after a workout, remember that food portions really do matter!
Also, be sure to vary your snacks to prevent boredom and to maximize the nutrients in all foods, whenever possible.
Here are some Balanced Snack Ideas containing 2 or 3 macronutrients:
- Apple or celery + 1 oz. goat cheese or 1-2 Tbsp. nut butter
· ¾ cup Low-fat cottage cheese (watch additives) & piece of fruit or ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
· ¾ cup Greek yogurt or Kefir (organic, grass fed is best) with 1 Tb hemp seeds
· 1 Hard-boiled egg & ¾ cup snap peas
· Packet organic instant plain oatmeal & ¼ cup walnuts
· 1/3 cup raw trail mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruit + 1 Tb dark chocolate chips
· Whole grain crackers (like Mary’s gluten-free) with 1oz cheese or nut butter
· High protein, whole grain, low-sugar homemade granola bars
· Instant low-sodium bean/vegetable soup or cup of homemade soup. Also, sip on bone broth anytime!
· ¼ cup raw nuts such as almonds & piece of low-glycemic fruit such as green apple, berries or kiwi
· Single-serving pouches of tuna or ½ can chunk light in water on rye or gluten-free crispbread
· Mixed fruit cup (no syrup or sugar added) with sprinkle of low-sugar granola
· ¼ cup Hummus/bean dip, salsa or Greek yogurt-based tzatziki + 1 cup raw vegetables
· ½ cup organic Edamame with a pinch of sea salt & sprinkle of lemon or lime juice
· Snack-size Smoothie or shake ‘n go drink (we love this protein powder)
· Or how about some more Kale Chips?!
TIPS FOR EATING OUT
Let’s face it – eating out is not the healthiest habit to engage in, especially when you’re trying to shed weight, but it often is a part of our social lives, and a fun one at that.
Ways to not break the nutritional bank when you do choose to eat out:
- Eat before you eat. Have a balanced snack ~2 hours before you head out so you’re not famished when you arrive at the restaurant!
- Look up the place you plan to dine at and pre-plan what you’ll order to avoid temptation when you get there and see what other people are having.
- Ask the server to hold the bread or at least put it to the other side of the table where it’s not staring at you!
- Instead of ordering an appetizer, main dish plus a dessert – consider these ordering options: 2 healthy appetizers as your dinner (one should be high in protein), then share a dessert OR share one of each – appetizers, main, dessert.
- As with any meal, eat more slowly to avoid overeating – put your fork down between each bite. Talk to friends and drink water occasionally to help slow you down and register what it is you should be thoroughly enjoying.
Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full!
- Don’t be shy about asking how a dish is prepared/what portion it comes in and request for half to be packaged up if you know it’s going to be too large.Pssst – there is also no need to ensure you finish your plate – leave a few forkfuls or have the rest wrapped up for lunch the next day.
- Steamed, roasted, baked, poached, grilled or lightly sautéed foods are your best bets. Avoid menu items that include [words like] creamy, butter, au gratin (cheesy), breaded, alfredo, battered, tempura or fried.
- Dressings and sauces can add calories and fat to an otherwise healthy dish – sour cream is a good example!
Ask for a lower fat alternative like salsa and tomato-based pasta sauce instead of creamy or cheesy ones. Ask the server to put the dressing or sauce on the side so you can control the portion.
- Choose leaner Proteins. While it may be tempting to go for the juicy (fatty) steak or burger, choose fish/seafood (watch the butter sauces), white meats like chicken or turkey or even game meats like bison, elk or ostrich that you may not otherwise cook for yourself at home.
Just because you’re dining out doesn’t mean you can’t be in control of what you’re eating.
CRAVINGS STILL NOT HELPED?
Arm yourself with a number of “non-food” ways to beat psychological cravings that aren’t tied to hunger…learn to soothe yourself without food!
Unlike a true physical hunger, which develops over time, cravings come out of the blue and can be triggered by almost anything: stress, boredom, emotions or simply seeing or smelling a certain food.
The key is to begin associating these cravings with another action – “interrupt the pattern” instead.
- Try getting out of the house and simply moving your body. Exercise of any sort can reduce cravings and even just a change of scenery can get your mind off food.
- Non-food scents, such as jasmine, lavender or peppermint can also be soothing and help to reduce cravings. Try taking a relaxing bath or using a lotion with one of these scents to reduce the compulsion to reach for food.
- Sip herbal tea – namely green tea, rooibos, chamomile, peppermint or hibiscus.
- Write in a journal or read a book.
- Eat a chewable Vitamin C tablet.
Enjoy learning how to listen to what our cravings are saying to you. Learn to listen. Our bodies speak to us all day long if we take the time to hear.