Ever wonder why sometimes you just crave certain foods? Why is it that sometimes NOTHING will satiate your hunger except nachos? Or curly fries? Or a cupcake? What is it that allows those foods to wiggle into our minds, monopolize our thoughts and hijack our taste buds?
Cravings can be broken down into three main categories: physical cravings, mental cravings and addictions.
These occur when your body is letting your brain know that you’re running low on a certain nutrient. Often, craving chocolate (a craving I think everyone can relate to) often indicates a need for magnesium. Cravings for pizza or cheese could mean a fatty acid deficiency. Lucky for us, all of these ingredients can be found in much healthier alternatives. Try munching on nuts and seeds or a banana to satisfy the magnesium craving; or soybeans, cauliflower and walnuts for those healthy fatty acids!
These are the tricky ones. Frequently, we develop a tendency to “crave” certain foods once we’ve conditioned ourselves to associate eating with a certain activity. For example, when I was growing up my family would often sit around the living room table to watch a movie together. On those evenings, we would have nachos, as it was an easy dinner to eat in front of the television. It got to the point that if we purchased or rented a new movie and planned on watching it, suddenly everyone also wanted nachos for dinner. We had become so accustomed to associating the two activities, that the idea of watching a DVD triggered a craving for nachos. Other common mental cravings result from things like purchasing popcorn at the theater, bringing a caramel macchiato into your morning meeting, or always having pretzels and wine while you watch Grey’s Anatomy.
When you find yourself in the midst of a craving, stop and think about where you are and what you’re doing. Is your craving a mental craving? Having perspective on your habits allows you to better prepare to combat them! Bring a thermos of coffee from home to your meeting instead of your sugary regular drink, pack baby carrots for your movie day, or count out one serving of pretzels before Grey’s starts so you can indulge without going through half of the bag in one episode!
Last but not least, cravings can be the result of an addiction. This is the most difficult sort of craving to combat. Frequently, the additives and extra chemicals in our foods – particularly processed foods, frozen foods, fast foods and anything loaded with preservatives or artificial sweeteners – create a chemical imbalance in our brains that makes us just want MORE. These chemicals are designed to excite our taste buds, and amaze our brain with flavors and sensations that cannot be experienced by consuming naturally occurring flavors and substances, only by continued consumption of the chemical additive, thus creating a desire for another taste. And one more taste becomes another, and another, and another until our brain’s relationship with chemically altered food is just as addicted and unhealthy as the addiction some people have to nicotine, alcohol and other substances. It all boils down to the way the chemicals interact with the brain.
Luckily, once identified, fighting a food addiction is relatively simple, however it does require a tremendous amount of willpower, self-control and dedication. Once you’ve identified a food addiction, resolve to immediately and completely cut that food out of your diet. Tell the people around you about your desire to stay away from this food, and allow them to support, encourage and help you. Drink plenty of water, and try to distract your brain as much as possible when you feel the craving set in. Thankfully, after about two weeks, your chemical addiction to whichever food should be significantly less of an issue, if not gone completely. Be sure to replace this food in your day-to-day life with a healthy alternative! Aim for something natural, organic, and containing five or fewer ingredients. If you can’t read the name of an ingredient on the label, you shouldn’t be eating it!
Cravings are a part of life. But, through self-awareness and introspection we can learn to identify, manage, and occasionally and healthily indulge them. It takes practice, but with time curbing your cravings will seem like second nature.