Cravings are defined as intense, urgent or abnormal longings or desires. If you've ever had one, you know just how intense they can be. It becomes your life's mission to fulfill that craving when it occurs and nothing else will suffice.
There are some who believe that cravings for particular foods are actually your body's way of telling you that you are deficient in a particular nutrient. Another school of thought is that a craving represents something your brain wants rather than something your body needs. For instance, a craving for chocolate is often construed as an indication of a magnesium deficiency while a craving for meat or cheese may indicate a low iron or calcium level.
There are conditions such as pica where a nutrient deficiency may show up as a craving for non-food items like dirt or soap. People who experience these cravings are often shown to be deficient in iron, zinc or calcium. This odd eating behavior can often be stopped by supplementing with the deficient nutrients if the deficiency is what is causing the behavior. However, if there is another underlying mental or emotional issue, more comprehensive help is needed.
People who are sodium deficient may crave salty foods. However, eating salty foods regularly may cause a person who is not sodium deficient to crave the salt also. It's very rare to find someone in the developed world to be sodium deficient. In fact, the opposite is often true where there is excess sodium in the system. Consumption of salty foods often leads to habitual eating of such things, ultimately causing harm due to the excess salt consumption.
There is some evidence against the assumption that cravings may be linked to nutrient deficiencies. Take for instance the cravings a pregnant woman has. Often those cravings are for foods that are not really nutrient rich like ice cream and fast food. It also happens that when someone is following a very calorie restrictive diet or program that eliminates whole food groups, they often can think of nothing else for several days until they get past the 'detox' for that food group. People tend to have cravings for low nutrient value foods that are high in carbs, sugar and bad fats.
It's more likely that craving certain foods is because of several other factors, according to healthline.com:
- suppressed thoughts - When you view certain foods as forbidden and try to suppress your desire for them, they become the focus of your attention
- context association - Sometimes the brain associates a particular food with place or event so the next time you are in that situation, you crave that particular food. Think...movies and popcorn
- specific mood - Often when you are in a particular mood, you find yourself wanting to soothe yourself or celebrate, depending on the mood, with a specific food. Think...comfort food when you're feeling negative.
- high stress levels - People who consider themselves under a lot of stress usually have more cravings than their unstressed counterparts.
- Lack of sleep - Hormone disruption due to a sleep deficit will often lead to cravings, usually for refined carbs and high fat foods
- Dehydration - Because thirst often masquerades as hunger, you may be craving certain foods when all you need is a drink of water.
- Lack of protein and fiber - both of these nutrients keep you feeling fuller longer. When you are not getting enough of either, you will feel hungry more often which will often lead to cravings.
Reducing cravings is possible. Here are some ideas:
- Don't skip meals
- Drink plenty of water
- Get adequate sleep
- Reduce or even eliminate stress
- Rather than turning to food to release a bad mood, find an activity that can produce the same result
If you do find yourself in a craving, indulge in the food mindfully. Be fully present when you eat it, really taste is, feel the sensation in your mouth and focus all your senses on the experience. If you fully experience the food, you may only need a small amount to satisfy the craving.
Once you have given in to the craving, do not dwell on it or ruminate over it. Put it behind you and go on with your life. Feeling guilty and being hard on yourself will only make matters worse. Self compassion and trying to determine, without judgment, what triggered the craving in the first place may help to avoid the same thing happening again.
Some people who are constantly plagued with cravings may actually be suffering from a food addiction. If you suspect that is your issue, a health and nutrition coach can help overcome the addiction.
There are many triggers for cravings, some may be caused by a nutrient deficiency and some may be situational. It's important to determine what your triggers are and either avoid them or find a way to respond to them in a way that doesn't involve food.
A health and nutrition coach can help to develop strategies to overcome cravings and hep you redirect your attention to a healthier alternative.
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