We’ve all experienced cravings of some sort.
They whisper to you at first light or taunt you during the day with the height of the sun.
They find you crashing at the end of a most horrible day or grab you in the night when all is quiet.
They can sneak up on you at a time you thought you had everything completely under control.
And BAM! You need ice cream right freakin’ now!!!
We’ve been told that cravings are bad.
We’ve been told that if we give in to our cravings, we are caving.
We’ve lost will-power.
But the truth is, we’ve been disastrously mislead.
Cravings are indicators. They are little flashing lights pointing to something, telling us to look in their direction. Cravings don’t deserve a negative attachment, to be shoved away; they don’t deserve to be fought off while we succumb to feelings of guilt and failure. Cravings are simply asking for our attention, they are saying: “Hey You! I need you to pay attention to me!”
There’s good news: we have a choice.
Choice number one is to listen.
Choice number two is to feel crappy about ourselves.
A tough choice, I know.
Ok, so let’s assume here that you’ve chosen the first option (wink, wink).
What are your cravings trying to tell you?
Let me first say that cravings are highly individualized and there is no one-answer for every craving. Take on the role of detective and be curious. I am offering a few different directions to take, you choose which one, if any, rings true for you.
You Are Not Consuming Enough Macronutrients: If we are not paying attention to how much of each Macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) we are consuming during the day, we may indeed be out of balance. Often times, the body will crave a sweet (chocolate gooey goodness – ring any bells?) late at night, if it has not been given enough sugars (carbohydrates) during the day, or it will crave meat (protein), or chips (fat). My suggestion: consume plenty of complex carbohydrates (quinoa, millet, oats, brown rice, starchy vegetables, yams), healthy proteins (nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fish, organic chicken, eggs), and good quality fats (avocados, fish, coconut oil, nuts, seeds) during the day, so that your body is not lacking. If you are craving a sweet late at night, try buying a good quality, high cacao chocolate bar and break off an inch piece to savour in the middle of the day. Our metabolic rate is at its highest when the sun is highest in the sky (10am-2pm), so having a little bit of good quality sweetness earlier in the day can satisfy the body enough to eliminate that late night craving.
Your Diet is Too Restrictive: Cravings will often come about during some kind of dietary change: during a cleanse, a diet, increased activity level, after an illness, or during a state of trauma. The body will react to a greatly reduced caloric intake and crave the very thing you are trying to avoid. Making dietary changes that are too drastic and restrictive sets us up for failure. As with any change in life, going slowly encourages sustainable goals. My suggestion: back off your protocol just a bit, making small changes in small increments. If a dietary change seems much too daunting (cutting your coffee cold turkey, perhaps?), find a change that is much more attainable (reduce your intake to 1 coffee per day).
You Have a Nutritional Deficiency: Calm down! This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go in for extensive testing. There are a few ways to figure this out on your own. Firstly, it is imperative to keep track of your cravings: what you are craving, when, and how often. Next, do a little research. Here’s a helpful list I found for craving guidelines: http://www.guidinginstincts.com/2011/04/food-cravings-truth-behind-mystery_03.html. Lastly, do an experiment and implement a diet higher in the nutrient you expect you are lacking and see what happens.
5 Ways To Prevent Cravings:
Drink Enough Water: When we are not consuming enough water, we run the risk of throwing off all our other bodily systems. Consuming at least 1-2litres of water a day will ensure adequate hydration, encourage proper elimination, and possibly reduce the occurrence of cravings, simply because the body will be functioning at a higher and more balanced capacity.
Eat Frequent, Small Meals: Allowing large gaps between meals severely increases the chances of developing cravings. If we are not eating every 2-3 hours, our blood sugars dip and the body demands food in a hurry, particularly glucose (sugar). By eating regularly, blood sugar levels stabilize and the body is kept satiated with nutrients and fuel, making it less likely to develop a craving.
Reduce Non-Foods: By non-foods, I’m talking about candy, pop, generic chocolate bars, energy drinks, margarine, cheese sticks, freezies, etc: items we eat that do not contain any nutritional benefits to the body. When the body tries to digest a non-food substance, it has no idea what to do with it, so it extracts the sugar quickly (spiking blood sugars) and passes on the rest (mainly chemicals) to the liver for processing. These non-foods create stress within the bodily systems, damaging our organs, and slowing down our digestive fire, immune system, and metabolic rate. Our body feels like it’s been tricked, continuing to ask us for nutrients because it hasn’t received any. This can manifest as a craving. Ditch the crap, your body will thank you!
Consume Nutrient Dense Foods: Real whole foods contain all the nutrients our bodies need (straight up!). When we consume a well-rounded diet rich in whole foods, we receive all the needed nutrients to satisfy the body, our organs, and supply enough energy to fuel us throughout our busy days. Consuming a diet rich in nutrient dense foods (vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains), ensures adequate nutrient intake, reducing the body’s need to crave any.
Tune In To Your Food: Taking the time to pay attention to what we are eating, how we are eating, and cultivating good practices around food, helps us receive and assimilate the nutrients from our food. If we are rushed and tuned-out while eating, our digestive system follows suit and will not absorb the food as efficiently as it ought to. Sit down, practice deep breathing, savour, chew, enjoy and be present with your food, so that your body can enjoy it too.