Everyone experiences cravings now and again, but have you ever wondered what might be triggering your cravings? You might be surprised to know it’s more than just, ‘cake and french fries taste delicious’.
Cravings generally stem from an imbalance in your body which can be caused by a number of different factors; the most common of which is inadequate nutrients in your diet.
I experienced this firsthand in my first trimester of pregnancy. All I wanted was carbs and ice cream. I was chatting with my mom on the phone and mentioned that I thought this was the most ice cream I’ve ever eaten in my entire life and her exact response was, ‘well that makes sense – your body is craving calcium.”
After thinking about it for a minute she was SO right. I really don’t consume much dairy in my diet. I cut out animal milk a few years ago, switching to almond and while I do enjoy Icelandic, Skyr or Greek yogurt, I go through phases. In a conscious effort to fill the calcium craving and do so in a healthier manner, I decided to switch up my breakfast routine. Instead of my normal eggs and avocado, I’ve now been having a yogurt bowl or overnight oats made with low fat cow’s milk and Voila! – my ice cream craving has severely diminished.
When our bodies aren’t getting the proper nutrients they need, they can try telling us through our cravings. Next time you feel one coming on, instead of indulging, take a step back to think what this specific craving might mean and how you can satisfy it with a healthier alternative.
If you’re wanting something sweet for instance, reach for a piece of fruit. Something salty? you might actually need more protein in your diet, and if fatty foods are what you’re after, go for nutrient dense versions such as nuts or avocado.
Exercise can be another culprit behind cravings. When we work out, we sweat, which can lower our electrolyte levels (specifically sodium and chloride). Electrolytes, which are electrically charged minerals (sodium, chloride, calcium, potassium, magnesium), help regulate numerous systems in our body so outside of just cravings, imbalances (which are often due to dehydration) can cause much more severe health concerns.
To avoid such disruptions be sure to always stay properly hydrated, especially while exercising, and incorporate electrolyte rich foods into your diet: bananas, potatoes, leafy greens, nuts, table salt and pickled foods are all great options.
Have you ever noticed that when the season’s change, you start to crave certain foods? This is me 100%. In summer all I want are refreshing fruits and salads but come cooler weather, I move into full on hibernation/ hot soup/ chili/ carb mode.
This isn’t just some weird coincidence. Studies show that environmental changes such as shorter days and cooler temps can have an affect on the foods we want to consume. There are two major theories that discuss these points. The first centers around serotonin levels: as sunlight dwindles, levels of serotonin (your happiness hormone) can also decrease. Your body may respond by craving foods that could raise these levels, which what do you know are carbs!
The second is tied to thermoregulation or in more basic terms, when temperatures drop your body desires warm foods to stay warm. While these are just theories, play it safe and stick to healthier options:
Broth-based soups, whole grain carbohydrates (quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice) root and cruciferous vegetables (carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts) and foods rich in Vitamin D (salmon, tuna, mushrooms, cheese) and C (oranges, winter squash, spinach, red peppers).
Always cold like me? Consider incorporating warm water with lemon and shaved ginger to ensure you’re staying hydrated!
Stress, Boredom, Hormones and Comfort
Stress can raise our cortisol levels, which in turn can increase appetite. As with boredom, stress is often times tied to emotional or over eating, as a sort of coping mechanism. Food in these cases give us comfort and it’s not uncommon to crave childhood or seasonal favorites. When you’re in a stressful situation, your body (namely your brain) seeks out glucose for energy, which is why you might also find yourself wanting sugary treats.
Hormones are another huge component of cravings. Outside of serotonin and cortisol as mentioned here, imbalances in estrogen or testosterone levels, can also affect the foods your body desires.
In these cases, it’s important to not only get at least 8 hours of sleep, but incorporate exercise as well as proper nutrition.
While cravings can stem from a host of different reasons, at the end of the day the best way to avoid them is to stay properly hydrated and to eat a balanced, whole diet avoiding processed foods. If you find yourself experiencing cravings more often than usual or feel that there may be a deficiency in your diet, be sure to consult your physician or a registered dietician who can evaluate and provide you with a personalized meal plan to best suit your dietary needs.