What are your cravings trying to tell you?
The struggle is real, but if you think it’s just your sweet tooth that’s luring you to the candy counter, listen up – nutritionists say cravings can speak volumes and reveal hidden aspects about your health
Have you ever finished a large bag of chips or an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting, just to satiate a craving? And if you think about it, chances are, most of these cravings aren’t even PMS-related. Sophie Skover, author of The Continuous Appetite, explains, “Most compulsive food cravings are an indication that something in your life is out of balance.” As it turns out, strong cravings are your body’s way of letting you know that it’s lacking in valuable nutrients, vitamins or minerals, so here’s how to decode your cravings and rewire your food urges:
We often associate chocolate with happy childhood memories like birthdays, cakes, or warm chocolate chip cookies dunked into a glass of warm milk just before bedtime. But what exactly makes chocolate such a crowd-pleaser?
The positive emotions brought on by the consumption of chocolate, isn’t just a result of these heart-warming memories. The feeling of bliss is brought on by dopamine, a mood-regulating hormone that’s released when we eat chocolate. This “happy hormone” is a feel-good neurotransmitter that literally raises our mood and acts like an antidepressant. If you’re planning to indulge, opt for dark chocolate as it contains lowers amounts of sugar.
Now here’s a lesser known fact about this perennial favourite – did you know that chocolate is also high in magnesium? Chocolate cravings can be a sign of magnesium deficiency, so load up on other foods that contain high levels of magnesium, such as seeds, leafy greens, fish, and nuts.
It isn’t unusual for women to crave for sweet or fatty foods just before the menstrual cycle starts. Hormonal fluctuations cause feel-good serotonin levels to drop, and stress-inducing cortisol levels to increase. This makes your body crave foods that are high in sugar and fats as these help to bring serotonin levels back up again so that you feel happier.
However, if your sugary cravings are a chronic occurrence, then they could indicate hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Blood sugar fluctuation is one of the most common causes behind the craving of sugary snacks like candy, cake or ice cream. When your blood sugar drops, your body may try to get an instant energy hit in a bid for “fuel” to stabilise blood sugar levels.
Another possible explanation points to an unbalanced diet – and one that is likely high in refined carbohydrates. If you love food like pasta or fried rice, most of your nutritional intake actually consists of refined carbs. The problem with refined carbs is their inability to keep you feeling full or satisfied for long as they are absorbed quickly by the body.
Whatever the underlying causes are, the right food choices can help to bring your body back into balance. For instance, when a craving hits, choose to have a piece of fruit over eating refined sweets (which will only worsen the problem and put your body on a blood sugar rollercoaster)! Adding more lean protein, fibre-rich vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (like wholegrain bread or brown rice) to your diet, will also help to regulate blood sugar levels and keep the sugar spikes at bay.
Cravings for salty food are frequently linked to high stress levels. Chronic stress can affect your body’s ability to regulate sodium levels, and lead to constant cravings for salty food like popcorn, ham, and potato chips. According to The Journal of Neuroscience, having higher levels of salt causes your body to release lower levels of cortisol during times of stress, so this may explain why your body craves salt (as a means of dealing with stress).
However, too much salt is also harmful for health (so go easy on your overall sodium intake). If stress is the underlying reason for your cravings, address the source of the issue with stress management techniques like Kundalini meditation or slow breathing exercises. Researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City found that people who take a break to meditate or breathe deeply before reaching for salty snacks, reduced their stress hormones by 25 percent and cut binge-eating by half.
Salt cravings can also be a result of dehydration, or an electrolyte imbalance. Drink sufficient water daily to stay hydrated and pack your diet with potassium-rich foods such as sweet potatoes and avocados (potassium brings water to your cells to keep your body hydrated).
Are you always dreaming of cheesy pizzas? Cheese cravings often suggest a fatty acid deficiency. Counter this by eating foods with beneficial fats, such as wild salmon, raw walnuts or flaxseed oil. Two to three servings of wild salmon or raw walnuts contain sufficient omega-3 fatty acids (like DHA and EPA) to reduce cheese cravings altogether.
Sure, potato chips are a popular snack for those craving salt. But if you’re actually craving for something crunchy (as opposed to something salty), your body could be trying to tell you something else – interestingly, cravings for crunchy foods have been linked with feelings of anger, frustration and resentment. Psychologists say the motion of crushing food with your jaw, is usually regarded as an action that feels therapeutic and cathartic, similar to punching a sandbag. “The act of chewing and cracking the food in your mouth can momentarily release that angst, but the problem is the second that the crunching stops, the frustration returns,” says Skover. “Many people go back to eating more, and can end up polishing off an entire bag of chips,” she cautions.
Spare your body the sodium overdose by swapping potato chips for carrot sticks, baked veggie chips or nuts. Even better, release the tension and pent-up energy with some physical exercise for a hard-hitting dose of mood-boosting endorphins.
Conquer your cravings with this pro-tip:
A study conducted by the Sleep Research Society suggests that sleep deprivation leads to a lack of self-control because hunger-controlling hormones, like ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol, can all be affected by lack of sleep. As a result, people who are sleep-deprived tend to gain weight because they give in to cravings for unhealthy food more easily. The good news is that most cravings pass after about 15 to 30 minutes. Robin Frutchey, a behavioral therapist at Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, shares, “Cravings come almost in a wave, and most people give in right before the peak,” she points out, adding, “If you visualise getting over the peak, you can push through.”