Most of us have cravings, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, cravings are a way our body tells us what we might be missing in terms of nutrients. Sometimes, they occur due to physiological needs or imbalances e.g. gut dysbiosis.
However, sometimes, cravings result when we need emotional soothing.
How do you tell the difference?
By checking into your body and your feelings. Cravings can sometimes become automatic responses and behaviors, so the first step to identifying root causes is to step back when you get a craving and look at why.
The last few months have thrown us side ways emotionally, to say the least. Many of us are reaching for chocolate, chips and ice cream more. I wish it was broccoli and carrots, but unfortunately, our taste buds are hard wired by evolution to reward our brain with dopamine when we taste fat, sugar and salt. This innate preference increased our chances of survival when food was scarce. However, it no longer serves us now that we, very fortunately, have food abundance in the West.
Here are a few actionable tips:
1. Identify WHY and WHEN your cravings hit. Sometimes, these cravings form as habits of eating the same thing at the same time every day, so your body comes to expect it.
Sometimes, a trigger like an emotion sets off the craving. When you feel a particular craving, take 3 deep breaths and bring your awareness to your body and ask yourself if you are really hungry. Could you be thirsty instead, or you are feeling a strong emotion and just needing to sooth yourself.
Be careful not to confuse boredom with hunger. If you are hungry, please eat, but if you think you could be bored, try replacing it with a simple activity like going for a brisk walk or drinking a refreshing cool glass of water instead.
2. Connecting with your emotions. How many times do we answer the question 'How are you?' with a 'Fine!' without really giving the question much thought. During this very difficult time, it is perhaps easier to suppress those strong emotions - the worry, the anxiety, fear, anger. A lot of people find it easier to suppress than to express them. However, our body keeps a score, and it gets added to an emotional debt. Sometimes we deal with that emotional debt by eating foods to get a dopamine hit, but this is just a bandaid to a deeper problem that needs addressing. The best way I've found is to set some time aside each day (even if it's just 5 minutes) to journal and meditate. Identifying your feelings can really be an art now that we've gotten so good at running away from our feelings. So it may not feel natural for you to do this at first, but it can bring you benefits in the long run. Another tip is to make zoom dates or call your friends or family, and making sure you are socially connected with loved ones.
3. Putting in place better options. Having done the above, you might have a better idea as to what is driving your cravings. And if it is not true hunger, then plan an activity to distract yourself out of that 'zone' and break a habit.
Is it that 3 pm lull in your day when you need a break? Instead of walking to the kitchen pantry and grabbing a cookie, take a 10-minute walk outside or talk with a friend instead.
Is your late-night anxiety creeping up around 10 pm or so, and the ice cream in the freezer is calling your name? Have some vegan mango ice cream ready to go, or curl up with a good book to distract your mind until it’s time for bed.
If you want delicious and satisfying comfort foods that are healthier for you, check out my Comfort Foods ebook.
4. Avoid getting too hungry. Have you noticed when you are “hangry” all you want is a big bowl of pasta, or a bread basket? When we’re starving, the first thing our bodies crave is a quick fix - a.k.a. SUGAR! To avoid this, focus on eating nutrient-dense meals, getting enough protein, complex carbs on your plate and enough calories at main meals. Very often, I see a poorly planned lunch triggering late afternoon cravings.
5. Indulge in moderation: I do not believe that you should never eat your favorite ice cream again, but replacing it with a healthier alternative will save your health in the long run. Occasionally, it is helpful to treat yourself, and the important thing is when you do, not to feel any guilt. Rather, enjoy your treat mindfully, REALLY enjoy and savor every bite. When we associate certain foods with guilt, we unwittingly put it on a pedestal and it can surprisingly drive more cravings.
6. Focus on nutrient density at every meal. As I mentioned, sometimes cravings result from nutrient deficiency. Given that we are facing more threat from our environment right now, good nutrition is vital to ensure our immune system functions optimally. Most commonly craved foods are nutrient poor, so when you come to meal plan, ensure you are incorporating a wide range of vegetables, quality proteins, fruits, nuts/seeds, herbs and spices into your diet. If you struggle because of time, then the next best thing may be to use a protein powder, a greens powder or supplements to add nutrient density. My favorite protein and greens powder is by Vivolife* (discount code Platefulhealth for 10% off) because they are tested for contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, their powders are whole foods based and formulated really well. I also love their efforts towards sustainability.
When I'm in a rush and don't have ingredients on hand, I add a scoop of the protein powder into a smoothie or into typically lower protein dishes like pancakes and crepes, to ensure that we don't get a blood sugar slump soon after we eat.
* I am an affiliate for Vivolife because I love this company, use their products daily, and want to be able to share a discount code with you. By using my link, I will receive a small commission and this goes towards generating free content for you to enjoy.