When we talk about food cravings, it is first important to differentiate whether what you are experiencing is a craving or hunger as although they both elicit a desire or need for food, they are not the same.
Hunger is a biological function of the body’s need for food – essentially a survival mechanism
Cravings are eating triggers controlled by our brain and usually an attempt to satisfy a need – body communicating with you.
- Are usually for specific foods
- May be stronger when you're dieting
- Can occur even after you've recently eaten
- Pass with time
- Isn't just for one specific food
- Usually occurs when you haven't eaten for a few hours & results in stomach pangs, headache, weakness
- Doesn't pass with time
- Can be satisfied by a healthy snack or meal
So why do we get food cravings?
Leptin is a hormone that controls our appetite and tells you when you’re full. Since it is produced in fat cells, high body fat as well as eating a high sugar/highly processed diet can cause surges of the hormone to be release and dull our ability to perceive real appetite. That means it can trick your brain into feeling hungry even when you’re not.
Low levels of Serotonin
Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter directly linked to mood, appetite and digestion. Eating carbs and sugar increases a quick release of serotonin making us “feel good” temporarily (which is why those cookies, or donuts make us feel so good before we feel so bad).
Endorphins and Food Addiction
When we are nervous or anxious, endorphins make us feel calm and relaxed. Sugar & salt increases the production of endorphins in your body allowing us to get a sense of stress relief which is why we usually experience food cravings when stressed or use food to un-plug.
Poor Gut Health/Leaky Gut
Low serotonin levels are linked to cravings in efforts to improve our mood. Since our serotonin is primarily made in the gut, to maintain serotonin levels, your gut must be able to absorb nutrients from food and pump out serotonin. This process is greatly dependent on healthy levels and the proper balance of good bacteria.
STRESS. Sadness, boredom, stress, poor self-esteem, negative body image can prompt cravings. Food cravings arise to satisfy emotional needs, such as calming stress and reducing anxiety. Cravings kick into high gear when we're stressed or anxious.
Cravings could mean that you're missing a very specific nutrient in your diet.
Certain nutrient deficiencies manifest as specific food cravings in an attempt to obtain that nutrient as quickly as possible.
Here are a list of common cravings and what they could indicate:
CURB YOUR CRAVINGS FOR GOOD
1. Find other ways to unplug and de-stress.
Deep breathing, exercise, journaling, distraction, take a bubble bath, call a friend.
2. Fix your gut!
Take a cycle of probiotics (and increase fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, yogurt/kefir), cut back sugar, consider a digestive enzyme with meals to enhance nutrient absorption.
3. Address nutritional deficiencies
If there is something you continuously crave, I.E. CHOCOLATE it may be your body’s way of trying to get that nutrient quickly and let you know you may be deficient in something (i.e. magnesium - raw cacao is one of the highest natural sources of magnesium).
→ Finding healthy food with high content of magnesium and adding them to your diet, can get rid of your chocolate & sweet food cravings.
4. Eat a small portion of your craving
It's better to eat a small portion then eating multiple things in efforts to curb your craving and ending up eating double the calories anyways!
5. Eat healthier alternatives
If you make lower-calorie healthier versions of your ‘treats’ that taste just as good, you can satisfy craving without sabotaging your diet.
replace oil in brownies with apple sauce or mashed banana for a lower fat version
replace sugar with a natural zero calorie sugar alternative (i.e. stevia)
add protein powder to cookies for a lower carb muscle building nutrient boost
replace chips with roast chickpeas or sub 1/2 for chopped celery so you get double as full on the fiber for half the calories!