Ever find yourself going about your ways and then suddenly you get a serious hankering for something so specific that it takes over and you can’t function at all? All you’re thinking about is that one thing that you absolutely have to eat right now or else you’ll completely lose it? Been there, I’m sure we all have, but what you may not know is that your cravings might be giving you signals that something else is going on, instead of it just being that you really, really want to eat something. We’re going to look at what certain types of food cravings can really mean and how you can decipher them.
Let’s start by looking at food cravings that tend to signal some kind of nutritional deficiency. A serious hankering for cheese signals to the body that it needs essential fatty acids including omega-3s and 6s along with a higher calcium intake. The best fix for this is to consume foods high in these nutrients including walnuts, ground flaxseeds or flax oil, chia seeds, tahini, or leafy green veggies like Kale and broccoli. Now I know you might be thinking: How are flaxseeds gonna get rid of my cheese craving? Why don’t I just eat the cheese? Well you certainly can, but you won’t actually be addressing the real concern here, which is that your body is telling you that it’s missing something essential in its diet. The next craving we’re going to look at is something that I am all too familiar with: bread, pasta and pastries. This can actually be signaling two possible deficiencies, chromium and nitrogen. Chromium is a mineral that the body needs in trace amounts and has been known to help metabolize macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat), while nitrogen is responsible for protein synthesis and helping regulate of neurotransmitters in the brain. A good source for these minerals include onions, romaine lettuce, tomatoes (the perfect combination for a good salad), sweet potatoes and grapes along with nuts, legumes and whole grains. Chips or salty food typically demonstrate a chloride deficiency which can be diminished by eating celery, sea salt and kelp. Chocolate, a notoriously craved sweet treat, actually indicates a deficiency in the mineral magnesium. So instead of gorging yourself on a snickers bar, opt for whole grains, beans, seeds or fruit at your next meal.
Now let’s take a look at how our emotions can trigger certain types of cravings. A lot of people consider themselves to be “emotional eaters” who “eat their feelings”. The biggest killer is stress which pretty much affects all of us in our daily lives whether at home, work or school. Stress triggers the release of a hormone caller Cortisol which can signal to the brain that it wants salty, fatty or sweet snacks, which are basically foods that can give you a burst of energy and make you feel all nice inside. In general, if a person is feeling down in the dumps they typically gravitate toward sweets which explains why so many sitcoms showed women turning to tubs of ice cream after a breakup. Hard crunchy foods like crackers, pretzels and chips usually signal anger, while cravings foods that really fill up your belly (think big plates of pasta, greasy burgers or oversized coffee shop muffins) tend to happen when we feel lonely and a figuratively trying to fill the void. Apart from the above mentioned stress hormone cortisol, other hormonal changes can lead to cravings which is why so many women experience intense cravings for foods like chocolate and oddly enough sushi when it’s that time of the month. Speaking from experience, sometimes these cravings get so overwhelmingly intense that I can’t function at all or concentrate until I eat that particular food. What can I say except that I am only human?
The next time you notice yourself really wanting to eat something that may not be super healthy, stop for a moment to think about why you want that specific thing. Ask yourself if you’ve eaten enough that day or if your meals are balanced and clean. If your diet is on track and you’re getting your nutrients at each meal, then it’ll completely eliminate the possibility of nutritional deficiencies and most cravings altogether. In terms of emotional eating, well that can be a bit tricky. It takes a lot of self control to be able to turn down the not so good for you stuff during a challenging time, so do the best you can. If you’re not actually hungry and you’re really just craving something, try to occupy your time to take your mind off of what’s really bothering you by going for a walk, working out, or maybe just reading a book. Try a few different things and see how you feel after, you may surprise yourself. Like I said though, if you are taking in enough calories each day for clean, balanced and whole foods, it should quash your cravings for good.
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