What Your Food Cravings Mean And How To Stop Them
Most people look at their food cravings in a negative light.
The thing is, cravings are our body’s way of communicating with us, which is why it’s important to pay attention to your cravings, instead of just ignoring them.
Cravings tend to be extremely specific — and there’s a reason for that. When your body is lacking a certain micro- or macronutrient (vitamins or minerals or carbs, protein, or fat), it tries to get those nutrients through craving certain foods.
Take your cravings as an opportunity to address holes in your diet. Below are some common foods you might find yourself craving and what they mean.
If you have trouble keeping a chocolate bar in your home for more than a couple days, you might be dealing with a magnesium deficiency. In fact, dark chocolate is particularly rich in the mineral, containing 64 milligrams in a one ounce serving.
Magnesium plays a role in over 300 processes in the body, including blood sugar control, blood pressure regulation and mitochondria support (which can also help boost your performance in the gym). Consuming nuts like cashews, almonds, and peanuts, as well as leafy greens, like spinach and kale, on a daily basis is a healthy way to keep your magnesium levels up to par.
Unsurprisingly, if you’re always looking to munch on a salty snack, this may be due to a sodium deficiency. Despite the bad rap that sodium often gets, this nutrient is essential. A lack of sodium can lead to electrolyte imbalance, which can inhibit our body’s nervous system — the system that allows us to move, think, feel, and function optimally.
Where you get your sodium from is crucial. Stay away from processed foods that are high in sodium, and instead use a high-quality sea salt to season your food. This is especially important for those following a low-carb diet where sodium excretion is increased.
Carbs and sugar
Along with sodium, carbs are another nutrition topic that often gets demonized. But you need carbs, particularly if you exercise intensely — think CrossFit or Barry’s Bootcamp. High intensity training is fueled by glycogen (sugar), and if you do not replenish muscle (and liver) glycogen post workout, your body is going to crave it. That’s why timing your carb intake around your exercise routine is vital if you exercise intensely. Make sure to have a source of carbs as part of your post workout meal.
Another reason for a carb or sugar craving might be a blood sugar dip. When we eat food that’s high in carbohydrates or sugar — think a doughnut or a bowl of pasta — our blood sugar spikes. This causes our body to release insulin into our bloodstream, which then removes the sugar by shuttling it into various cells. When insulin is released slowly, our blood sugar remains stable, but this expedited shuttling process leads to a drop in blood sugar, resulting in a craving for yet another carb- or sugar-heavy item.
Ever wonder why you crave snacks between meals or why you’re always experiencing that mid-afternoon slump? It’s likely because your blood sugar isn’t stable. To avoid this, try to eat balanced meals throughout the day that consist of protein, fat, and carbs.
While it might seem logical to think that eating fat can make you fat, this simply isn’t true. We actually need fat in our diet to function. Fat is responsible for many processes in the body, including making up our hormones and cells, and serving as a long-lasting energy source. Fat also provides the most calories per gram, so it helps you stay full longer than other macronutrients like protein and carbs.
Eating fat with every meal can ensure that you don’t end up missing out on essential fatty acids (which can potentially lead to craving fat from not-so-healthy sources). Make sure you’re getting at least 20% of your overall daily calorie intake from healthy fat sources like avocado, unrefined nut butters, coconut oil, and olive oil. Also consider supplementing with anti-inflammatory Omega-3’s, which are difficult to get enough simply through diet alone.
Everyone knows that meat provides our body with protein, but what many don’t realize is that it also gives us iron and B-vitamins. And while you can also get these from plant sources (except for B-12, which is naturally occurring in only animal proteins), chances are, if you’re craving meat, you’re not getting enough of these vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are vital for sustaining energy and promoting cognitive function. If you don’t eat meat, it’s worth finding a high quality supplement for iron and B-vitamins.
From a macronutrient standpoint, you may just need the protein. Generally, eating 1-2 grams of protein per kilogram of of body weight is recommended per day. Having animal protein with every meal will likely get you there, but your exact intake will depend on your goals and activity levels. Keep in mind, though, that if you strength train regularly, you may need to supplement your protein intake.
Habitual and emotional cravings
Beyond these specific nutrient deficiencies, cravings can also be emotionally driven or habitual in nature. For example, if you associate watching movies with popcorn, you’ll most likely crave popcorn every time you sit down to watch a movie. If you turn to ice cream when you’re sad, that may lead to an emotional craving for ice cream.
Next time you have a craving, ask yourself, “why do I want this food?” Identifying the answer to this question will help you build awareness around, and if you’d like, eliminate certain cravings.
As you adopt an eating style like the one we believe in at KBK — one that is nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, and includes balanced macronutrients — you’ll likely find that the physiological cravings subside. This happens because this way of eating supports balanced blood sugar and provides the body with the macronutrients and micronutrients that it needs, leaving no holes to fill in your diet.