What causes cravings and how can we respond in a mindful way?
Not all cravings are bad...it could be your body trying to tell you it is deficient in a nutrient, or needing some other form of nourishing not even related to food . Being mindful and aware of your body’s request, and exploring what and why you are having this craving, will help you navigate your way through . Acknowledging your craving will help you learn to dissociate from it and it will no longer have power over you.
Let’s explore the 8 causes of cravings :
1) Lack of balance in your life .
Food can be a temporary relief when you are struggling with stress, boredom or lack of fulfillment in some area of your life . Maybe your relationship with a loved one is strained , or your job is too stressful, or even un challenging and boring. Perhaps you are lacking exercise, or alternatively you are exercising too much, or in the wrong way? Maybe you are having some financial difficulties. Perhaps your life has become boring and you are lacking joy and social interaction...maybe you are not connected spiritually, and feeling stagnant. Emotional eating is at work here.
Dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalance and cause you to seek sodium rich foods. Dehydration can be caused by a workout , excess sweating , or simply by not consuming enough water during the day.
3) Yin-Yang imbalance
Traditional Chinese medicine supports the theory that some foods are more yin ( expansive) and others are more yang (contractive). If you are consuming too much of one type of food, you will begin to crave the opposite in the body’s effort to self regulate and balance. Considering this principal, concentrating on neutral foods such as whole grains ( unless you are gluten intolerant) and fruits, vegetables and beans will help you avoid a yin-yang imbalance. It may not also just be the type of food but whether you are eating excess raw foods (yin), or heavily cooked foods (yang).
4) inside coming out
Recently eaten foods will be fresh in your mind. If a food was tied to a positive eating experience, you may crave that food in an effort to recreate that positivity. Also consider that foods that brought comfort during our childhood will also play heavily into our cravings.
5) Seasonal cravings
Seasonal holidays can bring about strong cravings....who isn’t thinking about turkey, egg nog and Christmas cookies around the holidays ? But also just the seasons of the year will bring about different food cravings...for example, in spring lighter foods such as leafy greens and citrus will attract us, summer we often crave cooling foods such as raw foods and ice cream. In fall...squash, onions and nuts may be what we look for, and in winter we will seek warming foods such as meat, oil and fat.
6) Lack of Nutrients
What are your cravings trying to tell you? Salt can indicate a mineral deficiency. Sweets lean towards a need for chromium. Chocolate is linked to lack of magnesium, essential fatty acids will cause dairy cravings, iron and b12 deficiencies will elicit red meat cravings.
Stress wreaks havoc with our hormone levels and can contribute to all sorts of cravings. As well, for women specifically, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause will cause fluctuations in estrogen and testosterone leading to unique cravings. 8 ) Devolution
Life and diet changes do not happen over night. It is a process and will involve steps forward, and a few slips back. Reverting to old ways may just be that they are familiar, or you are just not quite ready to let them go. Don’t think you have to give up when you slip up...it’s all part of the process...forgive yourself, acknowledge why you reached for and satisfied your craving and focus on getting back on track the next day.
Some questions you can ask yourself when a craving occurs :
-Is this craving associated with a particular emotion or feeling? -is this for a highly tastey or appetizing food? -is this craving related to a habit? -is this craving for a food that would support health and well being ?
Emotions and feelings can be the driver behind food cravings....however by giving in, you are not solving the problem, only merely providing a short term treatment for a symptom. Sleep deprivation - fatigue and stress are the most common reasons we overeat and make poor dietary choices. When people are tired, they crave more snacks , particularly calorie dense foods. Stressed individuals seek comfort foods that are energy-dense and nutrient poor.
Highly palatable foods are designed to be craved. There is science, research, math and engineering behind processed foods, and they are designed to make you crave them with the perfect ratio of sugar, salt and fat to bring you to your “bliss” point to increase your desire for them. These foods are usually low in fiber, protein and nutritional value, and high in calories and fat. Besides an initial hit of energy, they really do not serve our bodies well. Science has shown, the more sugar you eat, the higher your tolerance for it...leading you to need more and more to provide that same pleasurable eating experience. Craving sugar can also be a sign of fatigue...your body is searching for a quick energy source.
It is not uncommon for people to feel a drop in energy in the late afternoon..and habitually we will reach for a sugary snack or drink to get that hit of energy. This may become a habit, whether you are actually fatigued or not. It may simply become your routine. Being in tune with your body and deciphering what you actually need may break this habit.
How often have you come home from a vacation where gluttony was the focal point and you crave salads or colorful veggies and fruit? This is your body’s way of bringing you back to balance with a craving. Alternatively, craving a delicious dessert shared with friends and family may just contribute to a strong sense of love and connection and will therefore nourish your soul.
So what can you do to manage cravings?
Think about what is fueling your craving
Replace sweets with sweet fiber dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets, corn, carrots, onions, winter squash
Be sure you are well hydrated. Drink a glass of water prior to reaching for your craving Add a pinch of Himalayan salt to your water for an electrolyte boost
Go for a walk when a craving hits
Eat more protein
Avoid getting extremely hungry...eat well balanced meals
Practice mindful eating - chew your food well, sitting down in a stress free environment
Find healthy replacements for traditional cravings - for eg, replace ice cream with healthy, sugar free , dairy free “nice cream”, and choose 85% dark cacao chocolate
Avoid having nutrient poor foods in your home
Get enough sleep
Manage your stress levels
Have activities you can reach for when boredom strikes ( a good book downloaded to your device, needlework, sport activity, a phone call with a friend )
Consider you may have nutritional deficiencies and look for healthy ways to resolve it
Whatever your craving may be....being in tune with your body and emotions and reviewing the 8 common causes will help you to manage those cravings in a positive healthy way.