We know you know that feeling.
The intense food cravings for something sweet, salty, chocolatey or cheesy. You pace back and forth in the kitchen, the cupboards open and close time after time until you find that one special thing you’re looking for… and then you open that bag or bar and can’t stop!
Cravings… we all get ‘em, but why?
Your body’s constantly carrying out complex biological processes and cravings are sometimes hard to understand. What we do know is that there are a few things we can recognize when we crave certain types of food and it’s usually coming from an underlying imbalance or withdrawal.
Not only is it incredibly confusing to try and understand where these cravings are coming from on a synergistic level, but cravings are also typically brought on by many other factors such as:
- Lack of sleep. Lack of sleep directly affects two hormones in your body. It increases the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin which stimulates your appetite to start and it decreases the ‘satiety hormone’ leptin so you eat more, because you don’t feel full.
- Dehydration. Our body can confuse thirst for hunger as the signal comes from the same part of the brain. The simple solution is to just have a glass of water before grabbing for the bag of cookies.
- Hormone imbalances. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific hormonal imbalance that can explain cravings but generally fluctuations in estrogen/progesterone, or an imbalance in neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can trigger some food cravings.
- High levels of stress. Stress can affect people differently. Very stressful situations such as a death could suppress our appetite, however chronic stress and elevated cortisol tends to increase appetite especially for salty foods like chips.
- Eating habits. Too many simple carbs, too little fiber and not enough protein are just a few of the reasons that may cause blood sugar imbalances and increased cravings. Skipping meals as well can leave you famished and more likely to reach out for unhealthy food options.
- Food/activity associations. PMS = chocolate, hot summer day = ice-cream and movies = popcorn. We are wired to associate certain activities or events with specific foods and therefore we are more likely to crave them when we engage in these activities.
- The sight and smell of food. It is well known that the site, taste and smell of food can illicit vivid memories from our past and sometimes those are enough to bring on a craving. In addition, the simple sight and smell of delicious foods like freshly baked cookies starts preparing our body for digestion by increasing saliva production (sound familiar?) which may intensifying a craving.
Seems simple huh?
We have also been hardwired to crave certain foods!
Food companies typically hire food scientists to create foods with tastes and textures that are hard to resist (talking to you jar of Nutella!). It’s their job to find that perfect ‘pleasure point’ to make you want more and more.
Luckily, you have some pretty smart people out there who are scientists, nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, naturopaths, and really give a crap about the health and well-being of their clients or patients.
Also, there are people out there who think the weird and misunderstood world of cravings is seriously cool, and are getting closer to pinpointing what it all actually means. So let’s dig in and get down to the point (or as close to the point as possible) with what your biggest cravings are, what they mean, and how to counterbalance them with nutrition, rather than mindless munching.
WHAT CRAVINGS REALLY MEAN
This often means you are experiencing a blood sugar imbalance. It can also indicate an imbalance in your gastrointestinal microflora (healthy gut bacteria).
Kill sugar cravings with: whole grains and pseudograins, vegetables, protein and high fiber foods.
Your body could be craving more Magnesium. Luckily fair trade, dark (70%+) organic chocolate is very high in Magnesium, so this is the one craving you can combat with the culprit.
Kill chocolate cravings with: Foods high in magnesium, such as leafy greens and whole grains. OR the good old fashioned way, with chocolate. Just make sure it’s organic, 70%+ cacao (dark), and just a few pieces.
Adrenal stress can often be the culprit here. When we experience too much stress our adrenal glands release cortisol and in excess this can cause extreme cravings for salty, high fat, simple carbs like potato chips.
Kill salty cravings with: Raw nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens and high ‘healthy’ fat foods such as avocado and wild caught fish.
Not surprisingly a craving for red meat might indicate an iron deficiency.
Kill red meat cravings with: Red meat! Opt for grass-fed or organic cattle. Alternatively you could choose iron rich plant based foods such as spinach, chickpeas, dried apricots or take an iron supplement.
Can indicate a fatty acid deficiency, but eating cheese (or dairy) in excess can increase inflammatory markers as well as mess up with your hormones.
Kill cheese cravings with: Goat or feta cheese in small quantity (try adding to a salad), kale chips, broccoli soup, wild caught fish, full-fat Greek yogurt.
10 HABITS TO ADOPT TO HELP BANISH CRAVINGS
As discussed above, poor sleep habits are one of the main factors that can affect your metabolism and result in cravings. This can make you more likely to reach out for the high-carb, high sugar foods that give you a quick energy fix. Aim for a minimum of 6-8 hours a day.
2. DRINK MORE FLUIDS
Before giving into your cravings, try to drink a glass of water first and you may notice that 10 minutes later the cravings subside. Stay hydrated throughout the day with herbal teas, soups, fruits and veggies.
3. EAT MORE!
We know this one sounds weird – you want me to eat more to banish cravings? Establish a routine: don’t skip meals, have a nice healthy breakfast to start your day, snack if needed, and ensure you are eating enough protein and healthy fats.
4. DECREASE CAFFEINE
Coffee increases your cortisol levels, and can aggravate blood sugar imbalances; a common reason people pair their coffee with a muffin, croissant or donut. Too much caffeine can also lead to anxiety and lack of sleep which intensifies cravings. If you do drink coffee aim for 1 coffee per day and hydrate (beware of large sized coffees that usually have 4 shots per servings).
5. KEEP YOUR BLOOD SUGARS STABLE
We talk about this a lot, as it’s one of the most crucial ways to beat those cravings. Reach for vegetable based proteins such as beans, legumes and pulses as well as healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocados. If you’re reaching for something high in carbohydrates make sure that they’re slow release carbs such as sweet potatoes or whole grains. Check out these 10 awesome blood sugar balancing meals.
6. EAT FIBRE
We cannot say enough good things about fiber’s role to your overall health, and it’s also critical in balancing your blood sugar and keeping you full.
7. ADD HEALTHY FATS & ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS TO YOUR DIET
Research is increasingly pointing towards Omega 3 fatty acid consumption to reduce arterial blockages, reduce overall inflammation and curb those fat cravings. Reach for chia, hemp and flax seeds, wild caught fish such as salmon or trout, avocado and coconut.
8. REMOVE FOOD INTOLERANCES OR ALLERGIES
This might sound strange, but sometimes our body craves certain foods to stop withdrawal symptoms caused by a food reaction (sugar followed by more sugar, sound familiar?). This is common with foods we tend to binge on. These foods act on our brain in a similar way as opiates do, releasing feel good chemicals called endorphins for a short term high. Eventually, we need more and more of these foods to obtain the same effect, thus cravings.
9. USE YOUR INTUITION TO UNDERSTAND WHAT’S MISSING IN YOUR DIET
If you find that you frequently crave red meats, reach for vegetable based foods that are high in iron such as: spinach, beans and berries. It also helps to ask yourself if you are really hungry, or if it’s something else (e.g. stress, boredom). See if doing something else (Habit 10) takes your mind off mindless munching as a distraction.
10. STRESS LESS, SMILE MORE
Stress increases your cravings and cortisol levels (a hormone released in response to stress). Chronic stress and elevated cortisol prompt fat storage. To de-stress find activities that you love and that take your mind off work or whatever your stressors are. Try meditation, dancing, walking in nature, journaling, swimming, yoga, drink more fluids; and if you know you are prone to stress stock up on adaptogenic herb teas such as holy basil / tulsi.