Cravings are something that we are all familiar with and we all have our own unique relationship with them. Sometimes they may lead us to over-indulge in foods, they might create imbalances in the body, they may even give our inner mean girl permission to come out – but they always are an indicator of something more going on inside our bodies. Regardless of how they show up, it’s important to understand where they come from so that we know how to handle them in the best and healthiest way possible.
There are so many different reasons why you might be craving certain foods or food groups, so I’ve put together a list of the 8 most common causes of cravings.
Emotional eating may stem from a variety of areas and pathways but most of the time it comes down to a lack of primary food.
Primary food is everything that feeds us besides the food and drink we consume. It includes things like your career, passions, relationships, finances, physical activity, creativity, home cooking and even your levels of happiness and fulfilment. Anything that feeds your soul is primary food and if your lacking something in your primary food, it may lead to emotional eating to fill that void. Think about it as a deficiency. If you’re deficient in a vitamin or mineral, it will show up in your body. It’s the same with your primary food. Whatever you’re deficient in will show up and sometimes the way it shows up can be cravings.
Drinking enough good quality water is essential for optimum health. Your body is extremely intelligent (in fact, that’s an understatement!) and it’s constantly trying to balance itself both internally and externally so that it can function optimally – this is what’s known as homeostasis. When you’re dehydrated, signals are sent to your brain to indicate dehydration and sometimes that can manifest as hunger. Most of the time when you’re dehydrated, you become thirsty and your mouth becomes dry to indicate that it’s time to drink water. However, sometimes that can be mistaken for hunger and actually cravings can occur due to dehydration – so if you know you shouldn’t be hungry but are craving something to eat, then double check if you’ve had enough water that day.
Some foods have more yin qualities (expansive) while others have more yang qualities (contractive). Eating foods that are either too yin or too yang can cause cravings to maintain balance. For example, eating a diet too rich in sugar (yin) may cause cravings for meat (yang) or eating too many raw foods (yin) can cause craving for cooked foods (yang). Consider balancing your meals and making sure that you’re not over-indulging in any foods. When you over-indulge, you’re more likely to have a yin-yang imbalance.
Cravings can come from food we have recently eaten, foods eaten by our ancestors or foods from our childhood. When we have recently eaten a certain food, it not only is fresh in our minds but it’s also present on our tongues and within our bodies which may lead to cravings.
We are also naturally drawn to eating foods eaten by our ancestors which is why it’s one of the questions on every health consultation I do with my clients. These foods are almost seen as safe foods to us and therefore we may crave these in times of discomfort or stress. We’re also more likely to over-indulge in these foods.
The same goes for foods from our childhood. What we used to eat growing up can also be seen as ‘safe’ and again, can lead to cravings and over-indulging when we’re sick, sad, lonely etc.
If you notice you’re craving these foods, then it’s best to find a healthier version. There are always healthier versions of the foods you love but remember everything in moderation and it’s about finding that happy and healthy balance.
The body craves foods that balance the elements of the season.
As well as the seasons, holidays can play a massive role when it comes to cravings. Food plays a massive role in so many holidays such as Christmas, religious holidays, family gatherings, Halloween, Valentine’s day, birthdays etc. So, you might find yourself craving certain foods at different times throughout the year.
Our bodies need certain nutrients to survive – we need certain amounts and types of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) as well as sufficient amounts of essential micronutrients (including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants). Deficiencies in micronutrients or inadequate levels of macronutrients can lead to a variety of health problems. As the body is always on a mission to balance itself, lacking in one or more of these nutrients may lead to certain cravings to bring it back into balance. For example, inadequate mineral levels can lead to salt cravings. Inadequate nutrition can also create cravings for non-nutritional energy sources like caffeine. When we’re tired, for example, we may be lacking in certain nutrients but may crave coffee to take us through the day instead.
As our hormone levels fluctuate, it may create certain cravings. One example is PMS – just before we get our periods, we may experience cravings for chocolate or carbohydrates. I’m sure that this is one example most women can relate to! Just before our periods, our oestrogen levels drop and in some women, this can cause a drop in serotonin as well (the body’s ‘happy’ hormone). Eating carbohydrates can actually stimulate serotonin production which is why some women may crave carbs just before they get their period.
Our hormones can change for a number of reasons and cravings can occur depending on what’s going on inside of our bodies – Your cycle, pregnancy, menopause, fluctuating testosterone and oestrogen levels can all create unique cravings.
Maintaining a balanced level of blood glucose (blood sugar) is vital for our health and wellbeing. Our bodies need glucose not only because it’s our brain’s preferred fuel source but for energy production in general. It’s important to get this balance right so that we don’t encounter serious health problems later on. Given half the chance, the body will heal itself by itself, which is why there are certain mechanisms in place to make sure that the narrow window of ‘healthy’ blood sugar levels stays balanced.
If your blood sugar level drops, that can lead to craving carbohydrates to bring that blood sugar balance back into equilibrium.
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