We all experience cravings from time to time, often every day. We usually think about cravings as something bad or something we need to resist. But what if we shift our mindset and we start to think of cravings as a sign that our body is sending to us, perhaps a message that tells us that something is missing or that something needs to change?
This approach can break our cravings and give us peace and a sense of control. Instead of going on autopilot and eating just because we crave a certain type of food, we can breathe, understand what’s going on, and then replace that habit or food with something else. Only by understanding the root of the cause of our cravings can we finally be free from them and make peace with ourselves.
Below I explained the eight causes of our cravings I learnt during my studies with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Consider which categories apply to your cravings. For each category, I offer actionable tips to help you immediately to think beyond foods and feeling guilty within yourself.
Let’s make friends with these cravings and explore the different causes.
You might crave food in accordance with the season.
- In the spring, you might crave lighter foods, like leafy greens or citrus fruits.
- In the summer, you’ll probably notice you crave cooling foods, like raw foods, fruit like watermelon and ice cream.
- In the autumn, you might tend to crave grounding foods, like squash, onions, and nuts, and many crave foods like meat, oil, and fat in the winter.
Cravings can also be associated with seasonal holidays, for example on Christmas holidays it’s hard to resist our panettone or Christmas cookies.
These seasonal cravings are normal. Our bodies live and breathe in accordance with the seasons. Warm or cold weather can trigger emotions that affect our taste and food choices. If you understand that your cravings are normal and linked to the seasons, don’t fight them; give your body the chance to have them without feeling guilty. The more you fight them, the more you want them.
My tip for you, especially now that we are close to Christmas, is to enjoy whatever treats you desire and try to share it with someone. Treat your cravings as an excuse to go out and celebrate your wins.
2) Lack of nutrients
If you don’t eat enough nutrients, you might have odd cravings.
That’s why it is important to have a balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals, good carbs, proteins and healthy fats. If something is missing in our body, the body will crave it and it will act like it is starving. This is because we’re looking for the easiest source of energy, which is usually white carbs like pasta, bread and sugary treats.
Try to always have a balanced plate with whole foods, including grains, proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats. Don’t skip meals.
Cravings often come from foods you’ve recently eaten or foods from your childhood. Recently eaten foods tend to be fresh in your mind, so you’re more likely to crave that food in an attempt to re-create a positive eating experience. Similarly, when you crave foods from your childhood, you may really be seeking the feeling of comfort those foods may have provided when you were younger.
In this case, my recommendation is to explore what you are looking for. If this is a reconnection with your past or your family, why don’t you organise a dinner, lunch with your loved ones?
4) Lack of primary food
Being dissatisfied with a relationship, having an inappropriate exercise routine, being bored, stressed, or uninspired in your work, or lacking a spiritual practice can all cause emotional eating.
We tend to cope with uncomfortable emotions or difficult situations by seeking balance through food. Food can provide a form of relief or escape when we’re stressed. In this way, food is being used as a remedy to nourish areas in our life that aren’t being satisfied. If we analyse which area of our life needs more care, we can actively address it instead of hiding this discomfort with food.
Think about the following: when do you find yourself craving more food? When you are at work? When you are by yourself at home? By understanding when you begin looking for an escape through food, you’ll start figuring out what’s missing. From there, you can replace those habits with something that can nourish you on a deeper level, like an outdoor walk if you are bored at work, or a call with a loved one if you feel lonely at home.
When women experience menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, fluctuating testosterone and oestrogen levels may cause unique cravings. Stress has also been shown to alter hormones in order to promote cravings.
We need to alleviate stress by doing some breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, Pilates, or something similar. Anything that involves the mind-body connection can help soothe stress during hormonal fluctuations.
Any big change that you make, dietary or in your life in general, isn’t going to happen overnight. Sometimes, you may go back to old habits because they are familiar or you’re not totally ready to let go of them. If this happens, remember to be patient with yourself – take a step back , breathe and recognize that even if your diet got off track briefly, you don’t have to throw all your efforts away.
In fact, this is often just a part of the process of changing your diet. Be kind to yourself and live the journey.
7) Imbalance of food
Having extreme diets (too salty or too sweet) can lead to cravings. If you have a diet rich in salt, you might crave sugary food and vice versa. Balance is key. Maybe you crave pasta, pizza, bread when you are more relaxed on the weekend; this can be because, during your busy week, you often eat cold food, like sushi, salads, and sandwiches. Even if you are healthy, you are not balanced as you are missing warm food. This can lead to certain cravings that are tough to resist. If your diet is rich in sugar it may cause a craving for meat, and eating too many raw foods may cause cravings for heavy-cooked foods.
Try to eat more neutral foods (like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans) to feel more balanced.
8) Lack of water
Staying hydrated is a great way to reduce extreme cravings. A glass of water before eating has actually been shown to reduce the amount of food consumed during a meal. Another factor to consider is that our hydration status affects our body’s electrolyte balance. When we sweat and lose water, we also lose electrolytes like sodium. This may lead us to seek out sodium-rich foods following an intense workout.
To learn more about your cravings and yourself, try to journal about your cravings, writing down the time, the moment of your day, and your feelings at the time. By journaling every day, you can begin to understand what’s missing in your diet and in your life.
Remember that a craving is a sign our body is trying to tell us something, you need just to listen without fighting for it.
I loved this quote from Chelsea Clinton that I would like to share with you:
“I am a big believer in listening to my body’s cravings.”- Chelsea Clinton
If you want to discuss one-on-one about your personal journey with cravings and health, please check my nutrition programme here. I will be honoured to connect with you and help you find the path of freedom, sustainable long-term results, and happiness.