Understanding Your Body’s Cravings
Food cravings. We all know how they feel and have all experienced them at one point or another. Your mind begins to wander and think of the sweet stuff, or something salty, crunchy, fried or full of carbs.
When the mood strikes, you just have to have it. But have you ever stopped to think why your body has a craving like this? Knowing why you crave unhealthy foods and what your body is really telling you can help you keep on the right path.
People who are able to curb cravings think about eating and nutrition using all their senses. They have a handle on their body’s signals because they understand that a craving really is a cue – something is missing in their diet. Mindful eating can lead you to being more focused on putting the good stuff in your body because you recognise a craving for what it is – a signal.
Moderation is Key
It’s important to realise, also, that moderation is key. You don’t need to cut out any one food because there aren’t ‘good or bad’ foods – there’s just food.
Yes, on your road to becoming healthier, you might want to cut certain things out in your diet plan and that’s fine. But it’s important to remember you can eat pretty well everything so long as it’s sensibly consumed and there’s the moderation filter. It’s okay to eat chips once in a while, but not okay if that once in a while turns into all the time.
With that said, you shouldn’t indulge in something that’s less healthy when you’re hungry for a full meal. If you’re starving and you’ve got a plate of chips in front of you, you’re replacing your meal with those chips. That’s a pretty obvious bad choice.
I Need Chips. Right Now!
When it comes to craving things like chips... well that’s what we’re really here to talk about.
You might be surprised to learn that each craving has its own message. When you crave something sweet, your body wants something different than when you crave something salty. So, what do each of these cravings mean? Let’s take it from the top with possibly the most ‘craved’ food of all time – Chocolate.
1 | Chocolate
Dark, milk, white, with almonds, berries or even served hot. Chocolate is delicious and amazing. BUT, when you’re craving a bite into the dark stuff while sitting on the couch, your body might be trying to tell you something beyond ‘I like chocolate’. Chocolate is rich in magnesium, and when your body craves it you might be low on magnesium, chromium, B-vitamins or essential fatty acids. If you’re in need of boosting any one of these things, try adding cocoa powder to your smoothie, bits to your oats, or even a bite of a higher percentage cocoa bar.
In fact, chocolate is quite good for you - it’s all that sugar and dairy that’s the problem. If you can warm up to the taste - dark chocolate is always best.
It’s probably no surprise to you that chocolate is also craved when there’s an emotional need for it in the body. Funny, all those Hollywood movies depicting people crying on the couch after a break-up eating chocolate bar or tucking into a pint of chocolate ice cream aren’t just fluff. It’s true! Your body metabolizes chocolate to serotonin and makes you happier, so when you’re feeling blue you might want to grab some chocolate to curb the case of the sads. Again, moderation is key.
2 | Carbohydrates
A big ol’ baguette, a bowl of pasta or a slice of pizza. Yup, carb rich foods. We’ve all craved them at one point in time, but as it turns out a carb craving could be a sign of chromium deficiency, fatigue, hypoglycemia or insulin resistance. When you get a craving for crackers, noodles, crisps or white breads your diet might be low in fiber. You can increase fiber and magnesium and chromium rich foods like bananas, apples, apricots, spinach or broccoli.
3 | Salt
A very common craving many people experience is a craving for salt or salty foods. Salty crisps are a common one, for example. But next time you get that urge, remember salt cravings may be the result of stress hormone fluctuations and low levels of electrolytes. Stress can be a powerful trigger when it comes to food, especially salty foods. Foods rich in B-vitamins are key to a healthy diet and also dealing with stress. Nuts, legumes, whole grain foods, veggies and fruits are a great choice to eat when you find yourself craving salt. When it comes to boosting electrolytes try coconut water, but make sure to select one that doesn’t have any added sugars or flavours.
4 | Sugar
This can be quite an annoying craving for those looking to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. But sugar can be an easy craving to curb, because many fruits have healthy good sugars you can eat to get your fix. You might be lacking in minerals as well, and this craving could be a sign of an imbalance. Get a chromium and magnesium fix with apples, bananas, broccoli or spinach. You might also be dehydrated when your body gets a craving for sugar. Try drinking some water – it could make that need for sugar disappear.
5 | Fried Foods
Essential fatty acids are needed in your body for overall good health. There’s two essential fatty acids known as omega-3 and omega-6. It’s in their name – essential. All humans must have the proper balance of these in order to be considered in good health. When it comes to fried food cravings, your body is likely telling you there’s an essential fatty acid deficiency. In this case, go for a food with healthier fats instead of reaching for the chips. Avocado, nuts, salmon or olive oil are all considered to contain good fats. These are the real fats your body is craving, not the onion rings.
6 | Red Meat
Sometimes, you just want to bite into a delicious hamburger or juicy steak. Hey, maybe you’re just in the mood for an occasional bite of red meat. If you’re experiencing an actual craving, your body could be telling you that you need more iron. A lack of iron in the body can lead to fatigue, a lowered immune system and general weakness. Iron, for some people, can be tough to maintain. As long as you have the proper amount of beans, spinach, legumes or even dried fruit, you can keep your iron levels up and your red meat cravings down.
7 | Coffee
Many of us drink a cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning. And while caffeine should be moderated as part of a healthy diet, we’re not going to tell you to cut it from your morning ritual. But when you can’t seem to kick the need for caffeine your body might be lacking sulfur or iron. Again, up those leafy greens like spinach, kale or even cabbage. You can also try boosting your vitamin C intake to help absorb more iron. Don’t reach for that third cup of coffee – add some spinach to your morning eggs.
Your body could also simply be looking for energy needed to get up and get the day going. Try enjoying a smoothie in the morning with fruits to give you that energy boost. Or, instead of a cup of joe, try green tea which can give you that boost of caffeine plus tons of other beneficial things. Green tea is known to help promote weight loss and boost your metabolism.
8 | Soft Drinks
In the beginning of this article, we said there are no ‘good or bad’ foods - there’s just food. Well, we lied.
There is absolutely no benefit to drinking soft drinks. It’s best to just try and steer clear of them as much as possible. They’re full of sugar and really can’t be part of a healthy diet. If you’re having a small amount on an occasional basis it’s fine, but generally why not just try to avoid them? Apart from sugar they can also have dangerous chemicals as active ingredients in their recipes. Why bother?
Now, fizzy, carbonated beverages like sparkling water can be great on a hot summer day (add a splash of fruit juice!), but your body might crave this carbonation for a whole other reason besides heat. Your body might need more calcium!
Hit the Road, Junk Food!
There’s a difference between wanting something and craving something. Craving something is much more intense and doesn’t go away easily. Next time you feel a genuine crave, think about this article and what your body might actually be telling you. Not only will you be kicking the need to eat insensibly, you’ll be curbing the craving for junk food and helping your body be healthier.
Don’t look at cravings as a roadblock or difficult situation. Look at cravings as an important signal to eat mindfully and become more intune with your body’s needs.
Your body wants to be healthy and eat well. It will literally tell you when it’s time for nutrients or healthy food, you might just need a little help decoding the message. Keep these guidelines in mind and get to know your body’s signals.