8 Causes of Cravings (and what to do about them)

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Have you ever wondered what causes food cravings?  That 3pm call to the candy machine at work?  The 9pm ice cream calling to you from the freezer?  Do you tend to crave foods on the salty side or sugary side?  Or perhaps both.

A lot of people view cravings (and the giving in to them) as a sign of weakness, when in reality they could be telling you a lot about your body and the craving it may have for something else …. for balance.

Here are 8 primary causes for cravings:

  1. Water ~ A lack of water can mimic hunger.   So the first thing to do when you crave something or feel a little hungry is to drink a glass of water and wait 10 minutes.  See if the craving or hunger goes away.
  2. Yin/Yang Balance ~ It sounds very hipppyish doesn’t it?  But think about it for a moment, ever go on a really strict diet, all fruits and veggies, low fat?  And what happens?  You crave sugar.  Ever eat WAAY too much sugar (like last week during the holidays)?  And what happens?  You crave more alkaline foods to rebalance yourself.  Going too far one way or the other results in an imbalance and our bodies try to rebalance itself by sending signals of cravings.
  3. Hormones – Ever notice how during that time of the month you crave salty foods or chocolate?  Well those cravings, again, may be telling you something.  During those few days each month your body is experiencing fluctuating estrogen and testosterone levels.  Also, according to Amanda Bontempo of NY University Longone Medical Center,” the hormone cortisol spikes, and the feel-good hormone serotonin dips. This fluctuation makes your body crave foods with lots of sugar and fat because they boost levels of serotonin and combat cortisol production, making you feel happier and more relaxed.”
  4. Conditional Cravings – Have you ever associated a certain food with an activity?  Popcorn with a movie?  Hot cocoa after sledding?  Beer with pizza or a burger?  These are called conditional cravings and are quite common.  As a matter of fact, research has shown that the brain can remember associating a certain food with a reward.  Did you ever hear from your mom growing up, “Be a good girl and we can get a ____ after we leave here.”  Your brain remembers those feelings and associates that food with those memories therefore reinforcing that food with a happy memory.
  5. Party Party ~ Like conditional cravings, parties can invoke cravings that are part of our memory.  Holiday party?  BBQ?  Birthday?  They all bring up certain foods in our minds that we can start craving before we even get there.
  6. Seasonal ~ As the seasons change, so do our cravings. For instance, people may crave more salads and citrus type foods in the Spring.  Summer can bring on cravings of ice cream, burgers, corn.  The turning of the leaves and cooler weather in the Fall can bring on cravings of soup, pumpkin, apples and root vegetables.  And the colder darker days of Winter can bring on cravings of stews, and chili, pasta and lots of breads.
  7. Lack of Nutrients ~ Cravings don’t always have to come from an emotional issue or conditioning.  It could also be from a lack of the right nutrients.  Listed in the next section are some of the most common unhealthy cravings and substitutions for when they hit.
  8. Addiction ~ Sugar seems to be the biggest culprit when it comes to addiction (besides alcohol).  Ever know someone who is addicted to broccoli?  Thought not.  But I bet you know a few people who can’t seem to put down that soda or who can’t eat just one chip, right?  Sugar has been found to be truly addictive to the human body.  So if your diet tends to have a lot of sugar in it, chances are your cravings could be an actual addition.

What is Your Craving Telling You?

Here are some common cravings and some helpful substitutions for unhealthy foods you may be craving.  Some of these alternatives may even get to the nutritional ROOT of the problem and eliminate these cravings once and for all.  Give them a try!

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Chocolate

What you really need: Magnesium
Healthier alternatives: Raw nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits

Bread, toast

What you really need: Nitrogen
Healthier alternatives: High protein foods: fish, meat, nuts, beans

Oily snacks, fatty foods

What you really need: Calcium
Healthier alternatives: Mustard, and turnip greens, broccoli, kale, legumes, cheese, sesame

Salty foods

What you really need: Chloride
Healthier alternatives: Raw goat milk, fish, unrefined sea salt

Cold drinks

What you really need:  Manganese
Healthier alternatives:  Almonds, pecans, blueberries, walnuts, and pineapple.

Alcohol

What you really need:  Protein
Healthier alternatives: Meat, poultry, seafood, nuts

What you really need: Avenin
Healthier alternatives:  Steel cut oats

What you really need:  Potassium
Healthier alternatives:  White beans, baked potato, acorn squash, yogurt

How to Break Cravings

First ~ Try to figure out the craving and identify any patterns.  When does it occur? Do you crave that 3pm pick me up?  Is your craving at the same time each day or random?  Is it during that time of the month?

Second ~ once you can identify when these craving occur, the next step is to determine what types of foods you crave and why.  Are they mostly sugar?  Do you crave them when you are sad?  Anxious?  Depressed?  Happy?  Bored?

It’s also important to note how the food makes you FEEL before, during and after eating or drinking it.  What is it I WANT this food to make me feel?  For example, if you are feeling down what is it you want the ice cream to make you FEEL.  Comforted?  If you are craving alcohol, what is it you want the alcohol to make you FEEL or better yet TAKE AWAY?  Feelings of anxiety?  social phobia?  boredom?

Remember!  Your body does not NEED this food (or drink) you have just conditioned yourself to crave it.  Which means you can UNcondition yourself to crave it.

I’m not suggesting this is as easy as it sounds.  Changing the way we eat, habits we have gotten ourselves into, conditioning, etc. does take time to reverse.  But once you reverse it and find alternatives (ESPECIALLY for sugar) you will find yourself no longer being a victim to the sudden and overwhelming cravings for unhealthy foods.

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