Food cravings are the dieter’s worst enemy. These are intense or uncontrollable desires for specific foods, stronger than normal hunger. The types of foods that people crave are highly variable, but these are often processed junk foods that are high in sugar. Cravings are one of the biggest reasons why people have problems losing weight and keeping it off.
This uncontrollable pang for a certain type of food is something that everyone has gone through at some point. Be it at 3 am for some ice cream or at 7 pm for some junk food, we have all been there, haven’t we? Especially now, with the social distancing and extended lockdowns those food cravings just have to stay unfulfilled, waiting to be fulfilled in the days to come when everything becomes safe.
Food cravings come in all shapes and sizes but unfortunately they are all ill-timed. You might have just had a heavy meal, but you have this overwhelming craving for something sweet, “this is bizarre” you start to wonder, but in actual not so much. Food cravings are actually a way of your body signaling that it is in need of a certain nutrient. But, before we get into the meaning of each craving, let us first understand what are the factors that cause this overwhelming desire.
5 Factors that Cause Cravings
Several factors contribute to the sudden onset of a craving and understanding them is the first step to control that unpredictable appetite. Here are some main causes of cravings and a few helpful tips for overcoming them.
1. Lack of sleep
Our bodies renew our energy when we sleep and when we don’t get sufficient sleep, the body’s hormonal balance is altered. This imbalance then drives your body to eat more to keep your energy levels high, thereby triggering cravings. During this time, the cravings are most often for sweet items, as the sugar content in them raises blood sugar and gives an instant surge of energy.
2. Vitamin deficiencies
The fundamental reason for eating a wide range of foods is because our body needs essential nutrients to keep functioning. If you are not giving your body enough vitamins, proteins, fiber, fat, magnesium, and other nutrients, you are bound to experience cravings because your body wants what it lacks. So, the best way to keep your cravings at arm’s length is by making sure you are having a variety of foods that provide you with the right nutrients required for the proper functioning of your body.
3. Unhappy Gut
Your gut is the epicenter of serotonin production, which is a “feel-good” chemical. To maintain feel-good levels of serotonin, your gut needs to be in tip-top shape so it can absorb nutrients from your food and pump out serotonin through your gastrointestinal tract. This process is greatly dependent on healthy levels and the proper balance of good bacteria. But when your diet isn’t very healthy, the bad bacteria can overpower the good guys, thereby lowering levels of serotonin and creating food cravings. Cultivating a healthy balance of good bacteria by eating fermented foods, taking probiotics, and embracing gut-happy habits is key to calming your cravings.
Thirst and hunger can bring about similar sensations in the mind, causing you confusion. One of the best ways to keep cravings at a safe distance is by making sure the body is properly hydrated throughout the day. Drinking water regularly not only washes out toxins from the body, but also ensures overall well-being.
5. Going through emotional hell
Sadness, boredom, high-stress levels are all emotional situations that lead you to promptly cruise your kitchen pantry for some comfort foods. Several studies have shown that high-stress levels lead to cravings for sweets which eventually lead to weight gain and larger waist circumference. However, since food cravings are usually for short periods, choosing to eat healthily or indulging in some activity can safeguard you from going for junk or other unhealthy foods.
Anatomy of 7 Food Cravings and How to Overcome Them
Food cravings are actually of 2 types – Selective and Non-selective.
Selective food cravings are cravings for a specific food, it may be the person’s favorite food like chocolates, French fries, ice cream, meat, or others. Non-selective cravings, on the other hand, is a desire to eat anything. However, this might be the result of real hunger, but it can also be a sign of thirst. But has it ever crossed your mind, what these cravings mean and how they are caused? Here, we will be discussing what each food craving is trying to tell us and how we can overcome it.
If you are craving for something sweet, then it’s your body’s way of saying your blood sugar levels are low and it needs instant energy. The only issue is that if you fulfill this craving by aiming for a doughnut or a piece of candy, chances are that it can make your sugar levels spike, followed by a sugar crash, triggering another sweet craving. So the best way to avoid this sticky situation (especially when you are trying to watch your weight) is to drink some water first and then eat a fruit along with some protein-rich foods like curd, nuts, or seeds.
Some people crave foods like chips, mixtures, or savory snacks for its saltiness. Sometimes, this could be out of boredom, however, the craving could also be associated with low levels of electrolytes, dehydration, adrenal fatigue, and tiredness. Excessive sweating due to excess workout can also cause a dip in sodium levels, thereby, resulting in the craving. So, the next time you crave for something salty, hydrating yourself should be the first thing you do, followed by including foods like nuts and seeds in your diet.
3. Oily/fatty foods
Craving for oily or fried foods is not uncommon. When you have such a craving, it might be a sign that you have an essential fatty acid deficiency. So, if your craving for fried food persists, it’s best you don’t indulge yourself and follow an alternative that is good for your body. Including good quality fats and oils like avocado, nuts, nut butters, flaxseed, coconut oil, and salmon are some of the best alternatives one can add to their diet to fight off these greasy cravings. Steering clear of trans fats, MSG, margarine, fast food, and processed food will not only reduce your cravings but also keep you safe from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
4. Carbohydrates/Junk food
The thought of having some delicious pasta, garlic bread, noodles, crackers, keep hovering in your head?! Well, this craving is a sign to add more fiber to your diet for better blood sugar control. Craving for carbohydrates or junk food is mostly caused due to signs such as hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, chromium deficiency, or fatigue. To get this craving under control you may need to consume more magnesium-rich fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, spinach, broccoli, and celery. Eating small frequent meals to curb these cravings is also a good way to go.
5. Sour foods
Craving for unripe mangoes, pickles, tamarind, or other sour foods is your body’s way of telling you there is an imbalance in your gut. It is mostly caused due to acidity/improper digestion, high consumption of fat-rich foods, or you may be experiencing a lot of stress lately. To curb this craving, all you have to do is drink warm water with half a lemon squeezed in it or you can add citrus fruits or watermelon in your diet.
One of the most common cravings of all time is chocolate. Chocolate cravings signify a magnesium deficiency. A deficiency of chromium, vitamin B, essential fatty acids, or even emotional problems or stress could also be reasons why you are craving chocolate. Chocolate is a rich source of magnesium, with the highest form coming from 100% cocoa. Adding 70% of dark chocolate, including more whole grains that are rich in vitamin B, and getting sufficient sleep to de-stress can all help in curbing chocolate cravings.
7. Spicy Food
Craving spicy food is your body’s way of signaling it wants to cool off. You might think this is strange, but spicy food makes you sweat which helps if your body is overheated. Congestion or lowered immunity are also some other reasons why you might be craving spicy food. How can you overcome the craving?! Well, you can first cool off by having a glass of water but in the long run you can start by including pungent foods and spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, garlic, turmeric & pepper. However, we do recommend you keep away from hot sauces such as sriracha or schezwan.
Some Other way to Fight Craving
1. Drink Water
Thirst is often confused with hunger or food cravings. If you feel a sudden urge for a specific food, try drinking a large glass of water and wait a few minutes. You may find that the craving fades away, because your body was actually just thirsty.
Furthermore, drinking plenty of water may have many health benefits. In middle-aged and older people, drinking water before meals can reduce appetite and help with weight loss.
2. Eat More Protein
Eating more protein may reduce your appetite and keep you from overeating. It also reduces cravings, and helps you feel full and satisfied for longer. One study of overweight teenage girls showed that eating a high-protein breakfast reduced cravings significantly. Another study in overweight men showed that increasing protein intake to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60%. Additionally, the desire to snack at night was reduced by 50%.
3. Distance Yourself From the Craving
When you feel a craving, try to distance yourself from it. For example, you can take a brisk walk or a shower to shift your mind onto something else. A change in thought and environment may help stop the craving. Some studies have also shown that chewing gum can help reduce appetite and cravings.
4. Plan Your Meals
If possible, try to plan your meals for the day or upcoming week. By already knowing what you’re going to eat, you eliminate the factor of spontaneity and uncertainty. If you don’t have to think about what to eat at the following meal, you will be less tempted and less likely to experience cravings.
5. Avoid Getting Extremely Hungry
Hunger is one of the biggest reasons why we experience cravings. To avoid getting extremely hungry, it may be a good idea to eat regularly and have healthy snacks close at hand. By being prepared, and avoiding long periods of hunger, you may be able to prevent the craving from showing up at all.
6. Fight Stress
Stress may induce food cravings and influence eating behaviors, especially for women. Women under stress have been shown to eat significantly more calories and experience more cravings than non-stressed women. Furthermore, stress raises your blood levels of cortisol, a hormone that can make you gain weight, especially in the belly area. Try to minimize stress in your environment by planning ahead, meditating and generally slowing down.
7. Take Spinach Extract
Spinach extract is a “new” supplement on the market, made from spinach leaves. It helps delay fat digestion, which increases the levels of hormones that reduce appetite and hunger, such as GLP-1. Studies show that taking 3.7–5 grams of spinach extract with a meal may reduce appetite and cravings for several hours. One study in overweight women showed that 5 grams of spinach extract per day reduced cravings for chocolate and high-sugar foods by a whopping 87–95%.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Your appetite is largely affected by hormones that fluctuate throughout the day. Sleep deprivation disrupts the fluctuations, and may lead to poor appetite regulation and strong cravings. Studies support this, showing that sleep-deprived people are up to 55% more likely to become obese, compared to people who get enough sleep. For this reason, getting good sleep may be one of the most powerful ways to prevent cravings from showing up.
9. Eat Proper Meals
Hunger and a lack of key nutrients can both cause certain cravings. Therefore, it’s important to eat proper meals at mealtimes. This way, your body gets the nutrients it needs and you won’t get extremely hungry right after eating. If you find yourself in need of a snack between meals, make sure it’s something healthy. Reach for whole foods, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables or seeds.
10. Don’t Go to the Supermarket Hungry
Grocery stores are probably the worst places to be when you are hungry or have cravings. First, they give you easy access to pretty much any food you could think of. Second, supermarkets usually place the unhealthiest foods at eye level. The best way to prevent cravings from happening at the store is to shop only when you’ve recently eaten. Never — ever — go to the supermarket hungry.
11. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is about practicing mindfulness, a type of meditation, in relation to foods and eating. It teaches you to develop awareness of your eating habits, emotions, hunger, cravings and physical sensations. Mindful eating teaches you to distinguish between cravings and actual physical hunger. It helps you choose your response, instead of acting thoughtlessly or impulsively. Eating mindfully involves being present while you eat, slowing down and chewing thoroughly. It is also important to avoid distractions, like the TV or your smartphone. One 6-week study in binge eaters found that mindful eating reduced binge eating episodes from 4 to 1.5 per week. It also reduced the severity of each binge
Cravings are very common. In fact, more than 50% of people experience cravings on a regular basis. They play a major role in weight gain, food addiction and binge eating. Being aware of your cravings and their triggers makes them much easier to avoid. It also makes it a lot easier to eat healthy and lose weight.
Who knew cravings could mean so many things, right?! Well, it’s important to pay attention to these cravings, because it’s the body’s way of sending us important messages. So, the next time you feel like succumbing to them, you should reconsider and snack on some of the healthier alternatives we have mentioned. Your body will thank you for sure.
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