Cravings. We all get them. Some cravings are clockwork, like that 3 pm lull at the office when the vending-machine demons start to haunt, or the 10 pm siren call of the ice cream while you watch Netflix. Other cravings are based on real hunger, like the desire to down a giant, cheesy omelet after your early morning bootcamp class. Here's how to know the difference, and what your cravings might be telling you about what your body really needs.
What it feels like
You know it. This is the craving most of us deal with on a daily basis. This is the routine, regular & predictable craving, like the 4 pm scone with your tea, your bowl of chips in front of the TV at night, or the after-dinner chocolate craving when you know you are physically full. Your body may or may not be hungry, but your brain says "CAAAAAAARBS." It could be "SAAAAAALT." It could be "SUGAAAAAAAR." (Your cravings always yell in all caps. Jerks.) It's never "BROCCOOOOOOOLI." This is the craving that can sabotage your otherwise reasonable diet, and that masks real root issues of boredom, sadness, anxiety and - I believe - a lack of sufficient physical exercise.
How to deal with it
Anticipate it. Pack something healthy for a mid-afternoon snack at work, or prep something yummy but not devastating to your blood sugar if you're at home. Try an apple or banana with nut butter, fresh veggies with a homemade (or healthy store-bought) dip/dressing, or a scoop of full-fat yogurt with a sprinkle of homemade granola and cinnamon. We have a saying around our house: "If you're not hungry for an apple, you're probably not really hungry." It doesn't have to be an apple, but you get the point: If your healthy snack option doesn't seem so appealing, chances are you're not actually hungry. Skip the snack and instead take a break from your desk or change up your at-home routine. Do something other than eating to stimulate your brain and body, as it might be the stimulation and not the food that you're actually craving, after all. Watch that craving disappear like a man from a dirty kitchen after a dinner party.
How to prevent it
What it feels like
This is an obsession with a certain food, usually. (Cravings for non-food items are called "pica" and should be reported to your family doctor, as they can indicate severe nutritional deficiencies, and consuming non-foods can be dangerous.) If you reach into a bag of candy in your purse throughout the day, always have a coffee in hand, or over-zealously salt all your food, even prepared or restaurant items which are normally sufficiently seasoned, your body might be telling you something. Something like, you're not feeding it everything it needs. Or, you're about to have your period. But it's probably not telling you that you really, actually, need gummy bears.
How to deal with it:
Choose the healthiest version of your craved food possible. Do you feel the need for sugar all day? Perhaps your meals are low on sugar (which comes from carbohydrates) because you've been eating low-carbohydrate; try adding chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, whole fruits, & veggies to your meals. Do you crave salty carbohydrates like macaroni & cheese or french fries? Sodium cravings can indicate an imbalance of minerals in the body that is common with our modern North American highly processed diet. Perhaps you are craving fat as much as you are salt; try adding avocado, nuts, and coconut and olive oils to your cooking, as well as choosing whole eggs and full-fat dairy, which will help up your daily healthy fat consumption and are also both proven to aid in maintaining a lean physique.
How to prevent it
Eat properly, mummy! Make processed, take out and restaurant foods an occasional treat. Drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself so you can tell the difference between thirst and hunger cues. Cook at home, from scratch, as much as possible. Pack your breakfast and lunch if you're on the go. Create well-rounded meals of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and eat mindfully until you are full. Not stuffed, but full. Pack healthy snacks or keep easy-to-grab healthy snack ingredients on hand. When in doubt, think veggies. If your cravings are actually due to deficiencies in your diet, and not just the suggestive powers of the Food Network at night, your cure starts in the kitchen.
If you are suffering changes to your weight, appearance (especially the appearance of your hair, skin, nails, and eyes), mood or energy levels along with physical cravings, please see your family doctor.
Want to add more nutritious, craving-busting foods to your regular routine? Check out the chart below to understand which minerals people are often deficient in, and which healthy foods can help bring your body to a more balanced place.