Many people view cravings as weakness, which I hope to rectify with this post. Instead, they are important messages meant to assist you in maintaining balance. When your body is deficient in a nutrient, it sends an alert – sometimes a full-on alarm – to inform you of the problem. This “alert” can manifest in the form of an illness or disease, but often shows up as a craving first. Look at the foods, deficits and behaviors in your life that are the underlying causes of your cravings. When you experience a craving, deconstruct it. Ask yourself, what does my body want and why? It may seem silly, but learning to have a conversation with your body is a huge step toward a healthier you!
The Eight Primary Causes of Cravings are:
1. Water. Lack of water can send the message that you are thirsty and on the verge of dehydration, which occurs as a mild hunger, so the first thing to do when you get a strange craving is drink a full glass of water. Also, an excess of water can bring on a craving so be sure that your water intake is well balanced. Drinking half your body weight in ounces is a great place to start. For more on water, click here.
2. Lack of primary food. Primary food is the important aspects of your life that truly feed you in a figurative sense: relationships, spirituality, career, etc. Being dissatisfied with a relationship or having an inappropriate exercise routine (too much, too little or the wrong type), being bored, stressed, or uninspired by a job, or lacking a spiritual practice may all cause emotional eating. Eating can be used as a substitute for entertainment or to fill the void of primary food.
3. Yin/Yang imbalance. Certain foods have more expansive qualities (yin) while other foods have more implosive qualities (yang). Eating foods that are either extremely yin or extremely yang causes cravings in order to maintain balance. For example, eating a diet too rich in sugar (yin) may cause a craving for meat (yang). Eating too many raw foods (yin) may cause cravings for extremely cooked (dehydrated, yang) foods or vise versa.
4. Recent Indulgences, Childhood & Genetics. …or the inside coming out. Oftentimes, cravings come from foods that we have recently eaten, foods eaten by our ancestors or foods from our childhood. A clever way to satisfy these cravings is to eat a healthier version of one’s ancestral or childhood foods. Also, take a break from your go-to indulgences. You may find you stop craving them as much, because your body no longer remembers them.
5. Seasonal. Often the body craves foods that balance out the elements of the season. In the spring, people crave detoxifying foods like leafy greens or citrus foods. In the summer, people crave cooling foods like fruit, raw foods and ice cream, and in the fall people crave grounding foods like squash, onions and nuts. During winter many crave hot and heat-producing foods like meat, oil and fat. Cravings can also be associated with the holidays, for foods like turkey, eggnog or sweets, etc. Eating with the seasons is important for your body, agriculture, and your wallet (seriously, in-season produce is cheaper!).
6. Lack of nutrients. If the body has inadequate nutrients, it will produce odd cravings. For example, inadequate mineral levels produce salt cravings; Inadequate fat intake often leads to a misguided chocolate craving (try avocado drizzled with olive oil instead); Overall inadequate nutrition produces cravings for non-nutritional forms of energy like caffeine.
7. Hormonal. When women experience menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, fluctuating testosterone and estrogen levels may cause strange cravings. If you know your cravings are hormonal, try to eat the healthiest version of what you are craving (i.e. ice cream = healthy fat such as coconut or avocado).
8. Self-Sabotage. When things are going extremely well, sometimes a self-sabotage syndrome happens. I see 95% of my clients go through this. We crave foods that throw us off, thus creating more cravings to balance ourselves. These cravings often happen from low blood sugar (due to under-eating and/or certain dietary restrictions), and may result in strong mood swings.
Many times we experience cravings for multiple reasons, so again, continue to work on “talking” to your body. Identify the reason for the craving, acknowledge it, and try to reverse it. Learn to use food to fuel your body rather than simply satisfy your taste buds (with some exception, of course!).
Let me know how it goes!
adapted from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s “The 8 Causes of Cravings”