Food cravings are powerful and sometimes, it feels like you can’t say no to them. If you have cravings, does that mean you’re weak? Or, that you don’t have any willpower? Not at all. Food cravings are actually signs that you and your body need something.
So, instead of feeling bad about your food craving, pay attention to them. They’re telling you something and it’s up to you to decode them. Here’s how.
What are food cravings?
Cravings have to do with food and eating, but they’re definitely not the same as hunger.
Hunger, for example, is all about your body’s basic needs and survival. Hunger begins in your stomach. Food cravings, on the other hand, start in your brain, and they’re powerful urges to eat a specific food.
When you have a food craving, you don’t feel satisfied until you eat that specific food – even after you’ve eaten enough to satisfy your hunger. Most health experts agree that food cravings, while powerful, only last about three to five minutes.
What causes food cravings?
Food cravings develop in the brain regions that are involved with memory, pleasure, and reward.
However, there are specific life situations that can increase the likelihood of developing a food craving. Let’s explore the most common causes below.
Hormones are always fluctuating throughout a woman’s monthly cycle. However, at certain times in her cycle, hormones can drive food cravings. For example, hormonal imbalance during PMS, or surging hormones in pregnancy, can lead to food cravings.
Similarly, if neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, are out of balance, a food craving may arise, too.
Stress and negative emotions
Food can often provide comfort in times of stress. And when stress is chronic and cortisol levels are constantly high and/or low, we can develop a craving for specific foods.
Often, when your body is low in a specific nutrient, you will develop a craving for a specific food to satisfy that nutrient deficiency. This is an important reason why we need to listen to our food cravings – they may indicate a mineral or vitamin deficiency.
11 common food cravings and what they mean
As we can see, food cravings start in the brain and are usually caused by hormonal imbalance, stress and nutrient deficiencies.
Now, let’s take a look at 11 common food cravings and what they’re trying to tell you. That is, do you have a hormonal imbalance, are you over-stressed, or do you need a specific nutrient?
Research shows that dark chocolate can boost serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain, helping to lift negative emotions. Additionally, dark chocolate is very high in magnesium, which is known to help lower feelings of stress and increase feelings of relaxation.
Therefore, if you’re craving dark chocolate, it may indicate that you’re very stressed and strung out. It’s OK to treat yourself to high quality, dark chocolate. But take your chocolate craving as a sign that you need to lower and manage your daily stress levels, too.
According to this study, feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived can increase your craving for sweet foods, like pastries, cakes, and candy.
The reason for this is simple. When you’re tired and don’t get enough sleep, your hunger-related hormones, leptin, and ghrelin go out of balance, making you feel hungry even after you’ve eaten enough.
What’s more, you’re not just hungry for any old food. You specifically crave sweet things when you’re tired. So, try not to punish yourself for craving all the cookies. Instead, find ways to get adequate sleep.
Red meat cravings
If you can’t stop dreaming of a juicy steak, it could be your body’s warning sign that you’re low in iron and vitamin B12. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or you simply limit red meat consumption, craving it could mean you’re deficient in these two nutrients.
If you want all the potato chips and salty fare, it could mean you’re dehydrated and need a bit more water.
Carbs and all that comfort food is usually a sign that we’re stressed out and emotionally upset. A bowl of broccoli just doesn’t have the same appeal as a steamy bowl of Macaroni and Cheese when you’re PMS-ing, now does it?
Fatty food and fried food cravings
If you’re always ordering French fries and fatty foods, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. And it doesn’t mean you have to eschew all fats. Instead, it could mean your body is in desperate need of essential fatty acids, like omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.
You can easily obtain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from high-quality fish oil supplements and fatty fish, as well as nuts and seeds, like walnuts, chia and hemp seeds.
Cheese can be a wonderful source of protein and saturated fats. However, if you’re always craving cheese, it could indicate that you don’t have enough body fat. Now, that might scare you. After all, most women are hyper-focused and vigilant about keeping body fat to a minimum.
But fat is necessary, and women do have a higher fat level than men. Could your cheese craving indicate that you simply need a little more body fat?
How to overcome food cravings
You’re not a bad person for having a food craving. Yes, even if the food craving is for something “bad”, like a cheeseburger and fries. But food cravings can overturn a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
To overcome your food craving without feeling deprived and unhappy, consider the following tips:
Identify what your food craving means
As we’ve seen, many food cravings indicate that your body needs something. It can be a specific nutrient, less stress, more fat, etc. So, identify your craving and see what it’s telling you.
Drink more water
Most food cravings actually only last three to five minutes. So, instead of caving in to your craving, drink a glass of water. Sometimes, we’re just thirsty. Other times, the water can help diminish the craving.
Increase protein in your diet
Protein helps you feel fuller longer. And when your meals include protein, the food cravings will go down, too.
Never go hungry
When you’re hungry, you can get ravenous and want to eat all the snacks and indulge in your craving. So, remember to include protein in every meal. On top of this, always have a healthy snack on hand to stave off both hunger and cravings.
Women are particularly vulnerable to having a food craving when they’re stressed out. So, start to practice stress reduction techniques and relaxation practices, like yoga, meditation, slow walks and connecting with your girlfriends. Together, these activities can lower stress and remove the food craving.
Food cravings can make you feel powerless. But they’re usually a sign that something needs to change in your life. Once you make those changes, you can say goodbye to food cravings and enjoy more freedom when it comes to your food choices.