Decoding your Cravings

Decoding your Cravings

October 1st, 2013 by Mary Beth Torgerson in Chatter

Combating Cravings

Although cravings seem to be a part of daily life for some, there are ways to take care of the body to avoid the imbalances that may cause them.

"Learning to listen to the body is extremely important. Cravings always mean something whether it is a cellular and/or metabolic need or an emotional state or need," says Kelle. "Mindfulness and body awareness practice are important tools that we often ignore and might provide answers or clues to why we have particular food cravings."

If you've adjusted your diet to make up for nutritional deficiencies and are still suffering from cravings, Kelle says that you may need to abstain from an intensely craved food entirely.

"Research has shown that reducing carbohydrates over time reduces those cravings," she says. "Similarly, low-fat eaters tend to have a better control of high-fat foods such as fried and rich foods over time."

Just as important as the nutritional reasoning behind your cravings is the emotional reasoning that could be the root cause for intense food desires, says Kelle.

"Always check in with emotions before you give in to a particular craving. If it appears suddenly as a 'must have it now,' most likely it is related to feelings," she says. "Ask yourself if the food will solve the emotions you are experiencing and how the craved food experience will affect your mood in an hour or two."

Food addiction and food cravings can be serious problems, so if you are experiencing persistent food issues and suspect that it is truly uncontrollable, contact a registered nutrition professional and licensed therapist for support.

Have you ever wondered why every day around 3 p.m. you get a hankering for a candy bar? Or why you have a terrible day if your morning doesn't begin with a cup (or two, or three) of Joe?

Most everyone has felt an overwhelming craving at some point, and some believe that through those cravings our body is trying to send a message notifying us of legitimate deficiencies.

"The word crave has several meanings and definitions. Typically it's an intense desire for a specific food beyond typical hunger that comes on suddenly. A wanting that will not end until the food is consumed. It is often called 'head hunger' or 'mouth hunger' because it originates in the mind in thoughts as opposed to stomach hunger," says registered dietician and licensed nutritionist Pam Kelle. "Listening to our bodies can help inform us of possible deficiencies or needs."

While experts have theories on the connection between cravings and actual deficiencies, most will agree that controlling diet can help control or eliminate cravings entirely. "Cravings almost disappear when we learn the proper ratios of fats, carbs and proteins that we should eat. Starting the day with all carbs can set us up for cravings all day that can't be reduced regardless of how good the diet is the rest of that day," says Ed Jones, owner and founder of Nutrition World. "Knowing that over exercise, chemicals in foods, MSG, food colorings, high fructose corn syrup and too much gluten can maintain cravings."

Here are 5 common cravings and what your body may be telling you:

Chocolate and other sweets

Kelle says that craving sweets is often related to "stress, loneliness and boredom."

"Sugars hit the blood stream fast and feel good, which can be a nice diversion if we are upset or lonely, but usually this rush is followed by a low blood sugar compelling us to eat even more," she says. "Some believe we crave sweets when we need sweetness or tenderness in our lives or if we need to be sweeter ourselves-maybe someone was unkind to you or visa versa."

Although chocolate is high in calories and should be eaten in moderation, Kelle says that it also contains magnesium and antioxidants that the body needs.

"Consumed in a small amount (1 oz.) is actually beneficial and may help keep cravings in check if eaten in a timely manner each evening," she says.

Caffeinated drinks

Those who work at a desk are particularly susceptible to the mid-afternoon slump which can make any cubicle look as cozy and tempting as a feather mattress. Coupled with this afternoon drowsiness is sometimes an intense craving for soda or other caffeinated beverages.

"Think of the cola commercials at the movies or during a football game on TV," says Kelle. "Advertisers wouldn't spend the money if it did not pay off. Cola represents whimsy ... refreshing, energizing. It is usually caffeine and sugar which can be enticing at the afternoon slump time and can be habit forming."

Instead of using caffeine to energize your afternoon, Kelle suggests trying sparkling water, water with lemon or hot herbal tea for a pick-me-up.

Carbs such as bread and pasta

We Americans love our pasta. In a new study published by the restaurant survey site Zagat, it was found that around 44 percent of the 1,468 people surveyed said they would eat pasta two times a week, 23 percent three to four times a week and 21 percent eat it at least a few times every month.

It's no surprise that carbohydrate-filled foods top the charts of America's favorite meals, but have you ever wondered why it makes you so happy when you eat your pasta dish with a side of bread and dipping oil? Kelle says that carbohydrates are associated with comfort food, and actually increase serotonin levels, which provide a calming effect.

"If you're craving carbs check in with emotions and hormonal changes," says Kelle. "There is nothing wrong with having breads and pasta, but if you are not feeling well emotionally you might be better off with a protein based meal with veggies and a nice walk."

Ice chips

If you've ever had a craving for ice, your body may be trying to tell you that something deeper is going on that you shouldn't ignore. "Ice chips have been identified with several possible deficiencies and this should be followed up with further investigation," says Jones.

Kelle says that studies have shown a connection with iron depletion and ice chewing, so if this is a craving that has been bugging you, make an appointment with your primary care physician.

Salty foods

Something about the crunch and saltiness of potato chips makes them a definite comfort food, one that most people have a craving for from time to time. But did you know that if you're craving salty foods, your body might actually be craving water?

"Almost always salt craving is associated with thirst. Your cells may be telling you to drink water," says Kelle. "Often during hormonal changes women crave salt, when in fact they are in need of extra hydration."

From an emotional perspective, she says that it is believed that craving crunchy, salty food may reflect frustration. Instead of reaching for snack crackers or other high-sodium snacks, Kelle suggests trying carrots, celery or radishes to provide that satisfying crunch.