FOOD CRAVINGS: Stop and listen to what your body is trying to tell you
Do you experience any food cravings? Maybe it’s chocolate, cheese or crisps? Or perhaps you crave coffee, coke or cigarettes? Many of us regularly feel they desperately need that fix of sugar, salt, caffeine or highly processed carbs. It might be afternoons at work or evenings at home. It might be anytime, anywhere, because cravings are very individual and depend on a number of factors. In this article I want to encourage you to look at cravings in a different way and to try to understand what they are about and how to control them.
First of all, if you are beating yourself up because of your cravings you should stop right now. No food related behaviour should be causing feelings of guilt and a mental hangover. Rather than feeling down and like a victim, take a proactive approach and make an effort to understand what your body might be trying to tell you through the cravings.
There might be various reasons why you experience cravings and why you give in. Sometimes analysing your cravings might lead to a conclusion that what you are struggling with is not even a craving, but a habit, which you formed because of external influences from your environment. Maybe you buy a certain product only because it’s there, right in your face, on your route to work or to your child’s school. On reflection you might realise that you don’t even feel the need to consume that product but it just somehow regularly makes its way into your daily menu despite the fact that you’re not happy about it. Well, this is how we get manipulated by marketing strategies of big food companies. Take Coca-Cola for example. Their motto is to have their beverages “within an arm’s reach of desire”. Just think about the ubiquity of Coca-Cola. You can find it in shops, cinemas, restaurants, cafes and of course in vending machines placed in all types of locations including airports, hospitals, schools and gyms. Anyway, that’s a subject for a separate article. Back to cravings!
Here are some of the main causes of cravings*:
1. Something is not right in your life and you are trying to compensate for it with food.
In my coaching I use the theory of Primary and Secondary Food. Primary food describes all the various areas of your life apart from your diet. Your work, relationships, spirituality, physical activity all form your Primary Food. Secondary food simply describes the food you eat from your plate.
Food cravings might often be a sign that there is something wrong with your Primary Food. Are you bored at work? Are you unhappy in a relationship or unhappy because you are single? Are you constantly under pressure and in a rush simply demanding too much from your body and hence feeling you need some extra fuel or a treat to comfort you? There are many examples of how being dissatisfied and out of balance in one area of your life can trigger mechanisms of food cravings and emotional eating, so you should take some time to observe what’s going on and understand how it’s all interconnected.
Being dehydrated can manifest itself not only in thirst, but also in hunger, so make sure you drink enough water. The best way is to start gradually. Don’t aim at 8 glasses a day straight away. Perhaps you need less or more. Start replacing sugary drinks with water step by step and see if this has any impact on your cravings.
3. Diet which is out of balance
If you eat too much of one food type, be it sweet or salty, raw, or cooked food, this can cause cravings. In nutrition, as in life, striving for balance is recommended. Make an effort to start observing if you are not overdoing it with one type of food and once you identify where the imbalance lies, try to correct it.
4. Longing for that special flavour.
Sometimes we crave food which we were used to in our childhood or which our ancestors ate. If your diet has become very exotic compared to what you used to eat as a child, it’s normal that you might be longing for that something which you associate with feeling home and feeling safe. There is nothing bad about this as long as you choose wisely and get the healthy options of your favourite foods from the past.
5. Your body wants to eat according to the seasons.
If you start observing your cravings you might realise that your body is just trying to make you eat in accordance with the seasons. For example if in autumn or winter you eat sushi and salads but somehow reach for coffee and tea more often, perhaps all your body actually wants is just more warm food. By adding soups and stews you can get in tune with the season and balance out the cold weather outside.
6. Most of us are overfed and undernourished
Even if you think you eat a lot, if you don’t have a healthy well-balanced diet including a variety of vegetables, rich in vitamins and minerals, you might be experiencing cravings as a result of missing some nutrients in your body. By the way, if you’re not sure where to get your veggies from, I have described various options as well as their advantages and disadvantages here.
People who eat a lot of fast food and highly processed foods get overweight, but at a cellular level they are actually starving as they are not delivering so many of the key nutrients, which their bodies need to function properly. People who generally eat a diet low in nutrients, crave temporary sources of energy such as caffeine or sugar.
7. Hormones play a role too.
Fluctuating levels of different hormones might also lead to cravings. For women this can be connected to pregnancy, menstruation or menopause. Don’t forget that what controls our appetite are also hormones – leptin, the “satiety hormone” and ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”. And by the way, what messes these up according to numerous studies, are artificial sweeteners. That’s why many of the beverages which say “no sugar” are not good for you.
I hope this article will get you thinking about your cravings in a new way. If there are certain food related behaviours in your life which you’re not happy with, such as cravings, you need to find the time to observe, analyse and self-reflect. This will get you lasting solutions. Not punishing yourself or just feeling weak and continuing your battle without putting much thought into it.
Of course if you ever need some support or guidance, I’m here to help and happy to see you for a consultation! Interested? Click here to find out more.
*based on materials published by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition