Instead of feeling bad about those chocolate cravings that hit midday, why not try to consider some things your cravings say to you that can help you understand why they occur? That “about to die for a piece of chocolate” feeling you have might not just be because chocolate is one of the best foods in the world, but could be due to legitimate biological factors that lead to the cravings. Cravings can come from many different reasons, and sometimes in the strangest forms. For instance, during a time where I had been meat-free for about 10 years, I was at work one day and all the sudden thought I was about to die to have burger. I know, crazy, right? The thing is, I knew if I had a burger in front of me, I might want to eat it, but still don’t really want the actual meat. What my body needed was more protein and iron, not technically a piece of red meat. So, instead of chowing down on a fast food burger, I increased my protein more the next week, as well as added plant sources of iron to my diet, and high quality sources like wild salmon. The results? I no longer crave burgers. This is just an example, of course, but still, a great way to show you that there are certain things your cravings say, which you might not always understand or relate to at first. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t have that chocolate, but it might help you feel less guilty about why you do.
Most of the time, one of the main things your cravings say about you is that you’re coming up short on one or more nutrients. Most people crave chocolate, salty foods, and sugar more than anything else. Rarely do you ever crave broccoli or baked chicken, right? Anytime your diet is lacking in high quality fats, magnesium-rich foods, B vitamin rich foods, healthy carbohydrates, and natural sources of minerals that your body mistakenly craves as salt, you’ll often crave unhealthy forms of these foods that can give you a quick “fix” for these nutrients. Chocolate is a rich source of magnesium, which is needed to fight stress, give you energy, and is responsible for over 200 enzymatic reactions in your body. Magnesium is also quickly depleted through stress and exercise, meaning you have to keep eating magnesium rich foods to increase your levels without supplements. Chocolate and leafy greens contain more magnesium than any food on the planet. Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and almonds are other fantastic sources.
If you’re craving salt, consume some no-sodium-added vegetable broth, which is rich in natural sodium, or sprinkle a bit of Himalayan sea salt on your food. Your body doesn’t need salty chips, it needs the minerals found in salt, like magnesium and potassium. That’s what your body is really trying to tell you, not that it needs Doritos.
If you’re craving sugar, add sweet vegetables to your diet like carrots, sweet potatoes, and roasted winter squash. These foods are naturally sweet, along with grape tomatoes and berries. Have these foods instead of sugar, and most likely, the allure of that candy bar will disappear. If you’re craving cereals and cookies, or quick-fix sweets, try having a small handful of nuts with raisins or dried figs. This is one of my favorite healthy treats when I’m craving something sweet, and it always does the trick.
Do you ever feel like you need something more substantial in your diet? Like you’re just always hungry even after you eat? I’ve been there! I can’t say enough about how much my cravings have diminished since adding high quality protein to my diet. I used to have low blood sugar, constant fatigue, and terrible cravings after just eating. I wasn’t really hungry, I just wasn’t eating enough protein for my body. I listened to certain “numbers” that told me how much protein to eat, instead of listening to my body’s needs. After adding in more protein from plant protein powders, more leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and even organic plain yogurt, my cravings almost disappeared. My body needed those amino acids from protein for healthy brain function and my metabolism, as well as better blood sugar regulation. If you suffer from this issue too, try implementing more protein into your meals and snacks to see if it helps.
What times of day do your cravings strike the most? Most likely, they’re probably mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or late at night, right? This isn’t your imagination, and it doesn't mean you have an uncontrollable appetite. Consider that those three times are the most stressful times of the day for most people. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are often in between meals, when blood sugar levels plummet and caffeine intake drops off. These are also high stress points during work hours of the day. Late at night, though you’re not stressed from work, your body naturally wants to unwind from the stress from the day and enjoy itself the best ways possible. This naturally comes in the form of eating in front of the television or computer, as a way to numb out. It becomes a “sacred” time, when you don’t have to think about everything from the day you just had. Recognizing that your cravings come from stress alone most of the time during these hours can help you combat them more effectively by dealing with the stress first, in another way or form besides food alone. Try to moderate caffeine, eliminate sugar, take a hot bath, do yoga and exercise, and eat a clean diet. Deal with your stress head on instead of doing everything you can to avoid it, like numbing out with a tub of ice cream or takeout.
Do you ever just crave hearty, dense food? Decadent foods that you know are high in calories, but you’re too hungry to care? Most likely, your body isn’t getting enough healthy fats. This is an easy issue to fix, since all you need to do is eat more healthy fats! Fat is not the enemy, and can be your best friend if you pick the right ones. Luckily, it doesn’t take much good fat to halt those cravings quick. When you eat low quality fats, such as fast food, trans fats, and processed fats, your body often wants more and more, because these are addictive, and they’re not nourishing like healthy fats are. Your body knows when it's getting nutrients and when it's not. When it doesn't get nutrients, cravings stay strong, but when it does get nutrients, they start to silence themselves pretty quickly. Eat raw nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil, raw coconut products like shreds and coconut butter, fish, olive oil, and flax oil. These foods offer a high satiety content your body will recognize, and cravings will disappear almost instantly. Pastured eggs are also another fantastic source of healthy fats if you enjoy eggs, since they are richer in vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fats, more than conventional forms of eggs are.
Last, but not least, many times our cravings become a habit, and even if we aren’t hungry, we find ourselves craving a certain food that we eat daily, out of habit. For instance, I’m not talking about a wholesome meal here, but instead those little “secret” foods we give ourselves and don’t tell anyone The hidden chocolate stash, the fast food run on the way home from work before anyone else knows or sees you, the nightly glass of wine to cap things off, or even the morning doughnut that’s quick and convenient alongside your hot latte. All these things become habits, so much so that because people partake in them daily, they rarely give them thought anymore. You might think you’re craving a food when in all actuality, it’s become as routine as brushing your teeth everyday. Give your cravings some thought, and try to recognize if they’re just habits, or true hunger. This can often help you eliminate them and find better options.
Most of the time, cravings don’t mean you’re weak, or that you have an inability to turn away junk food. Instead, they might just be trying to tell you something. Are you listening? What do your cravings say, and what do you think they might be trying to really tell you?
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