Food Cravings: Why We Get Them & How to Overcome Them
Food cravings. We all get them, some more frequently and more intensely than others. They make us feel out of control of our own minds — at the mercy of something salty, sweet or sour, just for a fleeting five minutes of pleasure. This blog post will help you understand how cravings work, what could potentially be causing your food itches and ways to overcome them, as well as healthier alternatives to some of the most common food cravings.
What is a craving?
In his book appropriately titled Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough, Omar Manejwala defines a craving as “a strong desire that, if unfulfilled, produces a powerful physical and mental suffering.”
A fun fact I learned in this book is that our brains associate specific experiences and sensory cues with the pleasure induced by a certain food or activity, so the brain then tricks us into “repeating self-destructive patterns” — aka giving into the same cravings again and again, without our awareness or approval the majority of the time.
A craving for something has to do with the neurotransmitters (chemical substances) in the brain, which affect our mood. So when we supply ourselves with the things we crave we induce a feeling of pleasure and happiness. And when we abstain from our cravings or they are not accessible to us, feelings of frustration, irritability, sadness, depression, anger or fatigue could arise. It’s a vicious cycle of wanting to be free of our cravings but then succumbing to them in order to please our brain chemicals!
What’s the difference between a craving and an addiction?
A key distinction is the difference between a craving, an experience that happens periodically and for about 3–5 minutes, and an addiction, an experience that can consume the majority of a person’s day and have a major effect on his or her quality of life and relationships. Many cravings can create addictive behaviours over time once we give in to them too frequently and begin to overuse and then abuse them.
It goes something like this:
Interest > Desire > Craving > Use > Overuse > Abuse > Addiction
Once a craving becomes an addiction, it requires more work to break it.
In his book, Manejwala offers a good tip: “If you want to know whether a behaviour is a problem or not, don’t just look at what happens when you do it. Look at what happens when you don’t.” Do you become emotionally unstable? Do you do whatever it takes to get your hands on the food you’re craving? Do you show signs of depression or irritability? Be honest with yourself in this reflection.
What causes unhealthy cravings?
Cravings can be caused by a myriad of things. Some of the most common causes that are worth looking into for yourself are dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, an imbalanced diet, a lack of protein in the diet, stress, lack of quality sleep, imbalanced hormones, underlying emotional issues or triggers, or a lack of social satisfaction (i.e. fun).
As for myself, a craving that I battle with nearly every day at least once a day is sugar, primarily in the form of chocolate. After some reflection I’ve realized that my cravings have worsened since cutting meat out of my diet five years ago, likely due to an inadequate amount of protein and other nutrients like B vitamins and Iron.
I also experience more cravings the week before my period starts, when I’m under more stress than usual and when I had a poor sleep the night before. Activities that minimize or help distract me from my cravings include socializing with others, going for a walk, participating in a fun activity, physical affection, exercising, getting a massage or other spa therapy, or drinking a glass of water.
How can I eliminate my unhealthy cravings?
Often we simply need to incorporate other forms of pleasure into our routines instead of giving into our cravings right away. If you feel like you have plenty of fun in your life, try taking a look at the suggestions in the last section of this post.
Some other tools to help you eliminate your cravings could be using an accountability partner every day (someone who cares for you, can stand behind your goal and will give you a kick in the pants when you need it), writing a daily journal reflection to narrow in on the situations, experiences and emotions that drive you to your cravings, and making a list of healthy go-to’s you can resort to when you’re on the cusp of caving in.
Healthier alternatives to potentially unhealthy cravings
Chips: Raw veggies with hummus, raw (or lightly roasted and salted) nuts and seeds, whole grain crackers with guacamole, kale chips, root vegetable chips
Chocolate: 80% or darker chocolate with minimal added sugar, cacao nibs, a homemade smoothie with unsweetened cocoa powder
Candy: No sugar added dried or fresh fruit, a homemade fruit smoothie, no sugar added fruit popsicles
Coffee: Decaf coffee with no added sugar, black tea, chai tea, chicory coffee, mushroom coffee
Soda: Sparkling water with fresh fruit
High fat foods such as cheese: Homemade guacamole, more chia seeds and nuts in the diet, unsweetened coconut
Your key takeaways
If you’re experiencing the same craving frequently, take a look at these aspects of your lifestyle:
Quality and amount of sleep
Diet (balance, possible deficiencies, etc.)
Physical activity level
Try incorporating more of these into your life:
Adequate water intake
Communication in your relationships
Socialization and social outings
Healthy, whole foods
Nutritional supplements (if recommended by your healthcare practitioner)
Thanks for reading!
If you’re looking for an accountability partner to help you kick your cravings to the curb, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Header image via unsplash.com