This morning, I did a segment on Instagram all about cravings & what has worked for me (long-term) to manage & curb them wisely. I got such a positive response from you guys that I felt it would be a good idea to publish a blog post all about what I discussed.
This is a question I get asked so much & rightfully so. We’re all human. We all eat. We all get cravings. It’s part of life & part of the way the human body functions!
But why do they happen?
How can you curb them wisely & in moderation?
Are there healthy ways to curb them?
Is there any way to get over them permanently?
It sounds simple, right? Eat intuitively, a.k.a. when you’re hungry & stop when you’re not. But it’s actually not as simple as it sounds. Our bodies have become so used to bad eating habits & lifestyle choices that they can no longer accurately read or understand their own cues.
HUNGER VS. CRAVINGS
First things first, cravings & hunger are not the same thing. Hunger is a feeling controlled by the stomach & is all about survival. Cravings, on the other hand, are controlled by the brain & its neurotransmitters. They are your body’s way of communicating with you & telling you that something is wrong (in the same way that when you break out, your body is telling you that something is going on inside that’s causing or triggering that breakout, such as: stress / gut health or in the same way that if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your body is telling you that you’ve been exposed to a trigger that forced the anxiety to come to the surface).
Think about it, when you’re hungry, you’ll be down with any type of food. You’ll just want to eat. When you have a craving, on the other hand, it’s for a specific food. This is because when you’re actually hungry, you need food to satisfy that hunger. It’s natural & any type of food will satisfy that physiological requirement. Once you eat, you’ll no longer have to eat because you accomplished your goal of satisfying your natural instinctive, normal & inevitable state of hunger.
Cravings, on the other hand, are for a particular food or drink. You might crave chocolate or sugar but not be physically hungry at all. They are often brought on by emotions, associations, hormones, physical needs & memories, for example: if you always get the fish & chips at a certain restaurant & you go to that restaurant, you might crave that dish (association or memory craving) or if you’re feeling emotional & sad, you might crave ice cream or chocolate because you associate those foods with sadness. As you can see, cravings are often the result of learned behaviours or thought processes shaped over time through mechanisms of habit formation. But that’s not to say that they can’t be cured or that you can’t find ways to break the habit or tackle it in a healthier way.
Cravings also happen because your body is trying to communicate with you & tell you that it’s lacking a certain vitamin, mineral or nutrient that you’re not giving it enough of & that it needs to survive, sustain you & function optimally. The reason for this is that while your body may know you are missing a certain mineral or vitamin, your conscious mind is not aware of the flavour of that vitamin or mineral.
There are charts that exist online that provide a breakdown of common cravings & what they actually mean.
Here are some examples:
- If you are craving chocolate, it means you’re lacking magnesium. You can curb that craving with raw nuts, seeds & legumes.
- If you are craving sweets, you’re lacking chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur & tryptophan. You can satisfy your so called “sweet tooth” with broccoli, grapes, cheese, dried beans, chicken, fresh fruits, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes, grain, cranberries, kale, cabbage, cruciferous veggies, sweet potato or leafy greens.
- If you’re craving carbs (bread, toast), you’re lacking nitrogen. You can curb that craving with high-protein foods, such as: fish, meat, nuts & beans.
- If you’re craving fatty processed/packaged foods or fast food/oily food, you’re lacking calcium. You can curb that craving with dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, mustard greens), legumes, cheese, Greek yogurt.
- If you’re craving salty food, you’re lacking chloride. You can curb the craving with unrefined sea salt or fish.
- If you’re craving acid food, you’re lacking magnesium. You can curb that craving with raw nuts, seeds & legumes.
- If you’re having PMS cravings, you’re lacking zinc. You can curb the craving with red meats, seafood, leafy & root veggies.
- If you’re having general cravings to overeat, you’re lacking silicon, tryptophan & tyrosine. You can curb the craving with nuts & seeds (but avoid refined starches – they will just make you crave them EVEN MORE!), cheese, raisins, sweet potato, spinach, vitamin C supplements, orange, green & red fruits & veggies.
All this to say, if you’re craving french fries, for example, instead of reaching for those fries immediately when the craving hits, try to reach for some kale, spinach, other leafy greens, cheese or Greek yogurt & see how you feel. If you feel better after it & no longer crave the junk, odds are you were lacking calcium. All this to say, it’s not because you think you’re craving a specific food that that’s necessarily what your body is lacking.
When you’re craving something specific, sometimes it means you want & need that specific food, but other times, it could also be that you’re lacking a vital nutrient, mineral or vitamin that you can get in much healthier form.
In my experience, when you’re craving something, odds are that it’s mostly a result of having been restricting or depriving your body of that food or food group for far too long. At a certain point, guess what? Like all things in life, it catches up to you. Your body reaches a point where it tells you that it’s had enough: “GIVE ME THAT FOOD OR A HEALTHY SUBSTITUTE FOR IT SO I CAN WEAN OFF THESE CRAVINGS ONCE & FOR ALL AND SO THAT THEY HAPPEN LESS FREQUENTLY“.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FEEL THE CRAVING COMING ON?
When I have a craving, I sit down & ask myself WHY I AM HAVING THE CRAVING. Is it because I haven’t eaten dairy in a week or because I’ve been cutting back on dairy or carbs and still working out as much as I have been? For me, it’s all about putting the craving into perspective, understanding where it’s coming from & asking myself if there is a way I can satisfy it in moderation. Can I let myself have this food that isn’t necessarily healthy, without binging & while practicing moderation & balance? If so, great. It means I’ll feel satisfied & happy and I won’t be thinking about that food for the rest of my day. OR, I ask myself if there is a way I can satisfy the craving in a healthy way & learn to incorporate that healthy substitute into my diet so that eventually I can wean off the cravings & not have them as often anymore. That’s the ultimate goal. But sometimes, you gotta give into the craving here & there to work your way up to that end result.
Here’s an example: I absolutely love chocolate (vanilla too, but right now, let’s talk chocolate). Quite frankly, I was not willing to give it up as part of my journey towards adopting a healthier lifestyle. Believe it or not, I was the girl who would go to the pharmacy & fall for the chocolate trap at the cash. I’d pick up a Kit Kat, Aero or Crunchie (MY WEAKNESS) & DEVOUR it before I even got home. Oh, how the times change. No, but seriously, a crucial part in starting to get my health back & incorporate healthy foods into my diet was finding healthy alternatives to chocolate that I could still eat so that I wouldn’t feel deprived or like I was missing out on one of my favourite foods. I began to shop for healthier chocolate alternatives & came across quite a few brands whose ingredients I stand by. My favourite brand these days is Alter Eco (You can find them at most health food stores). Go Macro bars are also great for chocolate cravings because they have similar texture to some chocolatey caramel bars, contain chocolate chips, nut & seed butters, are naturally sweet & super filling!
Months later, I don’t even miss the old processed refined packaged chocolate I used to get trapped by at the cash. This is because I made a conscious effort to start incorporating these healthy alternatives to sugar/chocolate cravings that I probably would’ve gotten anyway. Now I crave my Alter Eco & Go Macro bars! When you start incorporating healthy alternatives to satisfy & curb your cravings, you learn to LOVE THEM. Overtime, you’ll see that you won’t even crave the unhealthy junk anymore because your body is going to forget what it tastes like & get over them.
BE MINDFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE CRAVING
Cravings are like a really bad toxic relationship. If you get a craving & you keep feeding it with garbage, going back to it, feeding off of it & going back to the vicious cycle, even though you know it’s bad for you, you’ll never be able to stop. You’ll get addicted. The same goes for a toxic relationship. If you keep going back to it even though you know it’s bad for you, as opposed to ignoring that person & slowly eliminating them from your life, you’ll never be able to move away from & stop feeding off the toxicity of the relationship.
Now, I’m not here saying that you can never satisfy a craving with a less healthy treat here or there. You can definitely do so in balance & moderation if it’s something you absolutely love. Eating is one of the main pleasures in life & you shouldn’t have to feel deprived entirely.
BUT, you must also be mindful of WHAT YOU ARE CRAVING & how often it’s happening. If it’s sugar (the refined, processed one), keep in mind that research has proven that it is ADDICTIVE. The thing with addiction is that if you keep giving in to the cravings with the processed, packaged, chemical garbage that you are craving, those foods will actually make you want MORE SUGAR & you will fall into the vicious cycle. You’ll never be able to get over, curb or find ways to do so healthily because you are giving your body chemicals & ingredients that do the opposite. While you may think you’re satisfying a craving, you’re actually giving fuel to that craving & causing more of it in the long-run (& eventually, causing an addiction to develop).
This past weekend, I read a lot about diabetes & sugar and I read one statistic that really stroke me published by the American Heart Association: The average human being consumes 22 tsp. of sugar (refined / added) a day. HORRIBLE. You have no idea what this sugar is doing to ur insides. It’s literally creating and fuelling an addiction to sugar. All this to say, instead of putting chemicals & foods into ur body that will fuel the addiction, curb the cravings wisely (see the examples I gave above!). If you’re craving chocolate chip cookies, for example, BAKE THEM YOURSELF. Make them with natural & healthier sugar substitutes & alternatives & then devour them KNOWING you are eating HEALTHY nutrient-dense foods that will provide your body with tons of health benefits. AND HEY, NOBODY SAID YOU COULDN’T HAVE YOUR MILK & COOKIES!
GO FOR NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS
If you get cravings often, you might also want to consider upping your food intake, particularly with regards to healthy fats & protein. They’ll keep you full & satisfied & your mind won’t be preoccupied with food all day. On the contrary, if you’re loading up on just fruits & veggies all day long to add bulk to what you call your “meals” & to try to avoid your cravings, you’ll be thinking about them all day long & you will have trouble focusing & concentrating.
This is linked to another tip that I want to share: HEALTHY SNACKING! I have a full blog post all about that here: Everything You Need (& Want) To Know About Healthy Snacking a.k.a. Why I Believe in Snacking If It’s Done Right (& Right Doesn’t Mean You Can Never Let Loose!).
Healthy snacking is something that I am very passionate about & that I believe in wholeheartedly. If u snack throughout the day, you give your body the fuel that it needs & wants. You indirectly curb your cravings. You also won’t go into your main meals feeling like you want to devour the entire fridge. When that happens, you lose your ability to listen to your hunger cues & to eat & mindfully. Let’s be honest, when we get hungry & frustrated, we naturally want to devour everything in sight. We end up snacking on a million different things and we don’t end up having a balanced meal. But, if you snack throughout the day on healthy, protein & healthy fat rich foods, it will actually help you go into your meals feeling not full, but satisfied, so that you don’t feel like you need to devour everything in sight. It will also help with portion control & encourage you to eat mindfully and intuitively, to stop when you aren’t hungry anymore & to eat good, healthy nutrient-dense foods that will bring you long-term benefits.
Exercise is another big one for me. When you exercise, you release the same endorphins & have similar neurotransmitter response to the one that you would have when you eat sugar. Exercise allows your body to release those endorphins, to feel good & happy, without consuming the addictive sugar. It also brings a lot of other health benefits to your life, such as boost energy, provide mental sanity & clarity, boost heart health, fosters a routine & a healthy lifestyle overall & encourages you to eat healthier.
Another reason you might be craving sugar is that you’re not getting enough sleep. Many illnesses, diseases & conditions are linked to lack of sleep. The reason why sugar & sleep are connected is because sleep is vital for balancing & maintaining healthy blood sugar levels & the hormone that manages/controls insulin. Research has shown that JUST ONE NIGHT of impaired sleep can leave the person with the blood sugar levels of a pre-diabetic. We all underestimate the amount of sleep we need. But, sugar cravings can be a sign that your body needs more sleep, needs rest & that you might just be expending too much energy & not giving it the fuel it needs to sustain it & allow it to function optimally.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE LACKING ENERGY?
As human beings, we also have this preconceived idea or stereotype that when we feel like we’re lacking energy, it’s because we are lacking sugar. So, we associate the lack of energy with sugar & naturally, we begin to crave the sugar. We then go ahead & binge on all the sugar in sight because we have an ultimate goal: ENERGY. But, unfortunately, when we eat a lot of sugar, especially if it’s refined, processed & in packaged foods, we actually experience quite the opposite of sustained energy boosts. We end up experiencing sugar lows, feeling tired, energy slumps & eventually, WITHDRAWAL, a.k.a. we feel like we need more of it (this all goes back to the whole addiction thing).
B-COMPLEX, L-GLUTAMINE & COLLAGEN
In reality, when we feel we are lacking energy, odds are we are lacking healthy fats, protein & if we are working out a lot, CARBS! Our muscles are most probably talking to us & telling us they need that refuel & replenishment to recover & sustain us through our next workout & our simple daily tasks. If you find your nutrition is on point & you are eating healthy nutrient-rich & dense foods but you’re still getting energy slumps, you may want to consider taking a B-complex vitamin. It helps with the metabolism of carbs, fuels the body, provides a sustained source of natural energy, helps calm, soothe & heal the mind, boosts nervous system health & is full of antioxidants that fight off environmental toxins & oxidative stress that may be contributing to or putting a damper on your life & making you feel depleted, tired or weak.
L-Glutamine &/or Collagen are also great supplements to include in your diet to help curb sugar cravings. L-Glutamine has been proven to help curb both sugar & alcohol cravings. It’s made up of amino acids & research has shown that for certain people that are deficient in the amino acids it contains, that nutrition & diet cannot substitute for, a reaction occurs in the brain where the neurotransmitters are incapable of fighting & getting over the sugar addiction on their own. As such, overtime, amino acids in supplements like L-Glutamine or collagen will help mend & cure the imbalance of neurotransmitters to allow you to better be able to get over the sugar addiction.
To read more about the benefits of collagen, click here: Collagen Here, Collagen There, Collagen Everywhere: The Basics & Why You Should Add It To Your Daily Routine!
WHY I DON’T BELIEVE IN DIETS OR ELIMINATION DIETS
As you guys can tell, I don’t believe in strict & complete elimination diets. In fact, I don’t believe in diets at all. While these fad, short-term diets may render short-term results, I don’t believe they are a long-term way to live your life. I think that if you are trying to get healthy & change your lifestyle, deprivation and starvation won’t help. It actually has the potential to lead to detrimental, harmful & even life-threatening illness.
So many people think that health is just about the physical. but health is so much more than what you look like. Health is mental health. Without mental health, we have nothing. I didn’t have it for two years and I had nothing. I was sad, depressed, deprived & lonely. I’m rly passionate about this & I’m not someone who will preach to you to eliminate gluten & dairy to curb sugar cravings or cravings in general. I’m the type of girl who is going to sit here and tell you that if you’re having cravings, YOU ARE HUMAN & YOU ARE NORMAL. Everyone has them whether they want to admit it or not & everyone needs to eat a variety of foods from different food groups (unless of course its not recommended for your medical condition or according to your physician’s instructions).
If you wake up every morning feeling shitty about the fact that you’re on a two-month long diet where you have this pre-determined set number as your goal weight & knowing that you have to deprive yourself all day, you will end up hating life, resenting yourself & where you’re at in life & you won’t feel good. You really need to find your balance & learn moderation. Cravings are not a bad thing. They are your body talking to you. Realize how fortunate you are that your body is functioning in such a way that it still has that ability because there are so many people out there who lose it far too soon. Listen to you body.
One thing I want to stress is that I’m not here telling you that if you have cravings everyday for Doritos, Cheetos & packaged foods to curb them everyday & go crazy & have three chocolate bars in one sitting. What I’m telling you is that every now & then, you can curb the craving with that unhealthier version of food you are craving, but what’s important is that in the grand scheme of things, you also find ways to make your own similar foods in a healthier way or find healthier alternatives. This will help you wean off the craving for good & you will see overtime that you won’t crave the garbage anymore. Cravings will be satisfied, your body will get what it needs, you’ll feel happy & everything will be & feel great!
Call me crazy, but almost a year into my lifestyle change & I crave salads, smoothies, greens, healthy chocolate bars & yogurt (& this is coming from the chick who used to crave McDonald’s chicken nuggets, Crunchie bars & Kit Kat). IT’S A PROCESS. Only you can build yourself upwards to there. But, you must do so in a way that allows you to feel like you are living your life in a balanced & moderate way & not in a way that you feel starved, depressed, restricted & feeling like you are the only one in the room who can’t eat what you want because you’re on a diet. DIET CULTURE IS BULLSHIT. You don’t need a diet to be healthy or to maintain a healthy weight. You need to change your lifestyle.
Anywho loves, this is my perspective on cravings & I covered some of the things that have worked for me to manage & curb my cravings in the long-run! I hope that it was helpful & always remember that you need to engage in some trial & error to really find what will work for you based on your medical condition / health & how your body reacts!
In the meantime, I’m continuing on my journey to stay healthy, get healthier & maintain this lifestyle in such a way that I wake up everyday & I feel HAPPY. I don’t dread my day because I’m on some sort of fad diet or elimination diet that makes me feel deprived. I wake up everyday & I love life & look forward to it. And I want to keep it that way!
If you guys need inspiration for healthy recipes, baked treats (muffins, cookies, brownies, cakes), salty healthy treats, such as kale or beet chips, that you can enjoy without feeling like you are deprived, use the search bar on the front page of my blog & search for whatever your heart desires!