Understanding and Managing Cravings

Lindsay smiling and holding a sweet bar up to her mouth

A lot of the people I get to work with complain about having a strong resolve to eat healthy but then cravings hit and it all goes out the window. Especially for women around the luteal phase of their cycle, when they are injured, or if they are feeling under the weather (hint: these are all times that your body may need more carbohydrates!). Now you could be tough on yourself and say that you need more discipline, yada yada yada, but discipline is a muscle that fatigues, so let's figure out why, and what to do about it. Some of this might have to do with the on average 335 advertisements of processed JUNK that the American consumer is bombarded with daily, but it also could be your body's way of communicating that it needs more of something.


Your body is completely connected, with every physiological function starting and ending with hormonal signals.

The food you eat determines the quality of these conversations. 


For example, vitamin A (found in broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, etc..) assists in immune function, vision, cellular respiration, and neurological function, while beta carotene accounts for this orange hue I have constantly on my hands and feet. If you are depending on a bag of cheetos to give your body the information it needs, could you see why there are so many hormonal issues, metabolic irregularities, and chronic diseases plaguing our country?

Most Americans today are walking around OVERFED and MALNOURISHED. 

When we think of malnourished we think of skin and bones and poverty stricken environments. But malnourishment happens when a person's diet does not have enough nutrients, even if it has enough calories.

Example: A fluffernutter sandwich with a side of chips will give you more than enough energy (calories) but nowhere near enough nutrients (vitamins and minerals) that your body needs. It will also give you tons of sugar to spike your blood sugar levels and release hormones that actually trigger hunger and cravings. Studies show that the average Joe is highly deficient in vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, folate, and iron. This will cause average Joe to feel cravings, which is his body's way of saying it need nutrients. 

Now that we understand them a bit more, here are my top 4 ways to fight cravings:


1. Drink Water  

The same hormones that trigger hunger also trigger thirst. SO, when you feel like you are hungry, you might be thirsty!

A good rule of thumb to make sure you are getting enough water is to drink 1/2 your body weight in oz. A 150 lb female will need AT LEAST 75 oz of water a day. (that is without workouts, traveling, eating out, etc..)


2. Eat Real Food.

I mean whole, unprocessed, God given foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, natural animal sources like fish, poultry, beef, etc.. Fruits and vegetables have the highest amount of vitamins and minerals of any food group. Studies show that the higher (At least 5 servings a day) your fruit and vegetable intake is, the lower your risk for chronic disease. Focus on including tons of fresh, vibrant, and seasonal foods (seasonal food guide linked there!!) in your diet and your chance of having nutrient deficiencies goes way down. Try having some frozen fruit or dark chocolate (or some dates stuffed with dark chocolate!) the next time your sugar cravings hit and see if that can do the trick.



3. Get Outside.


So 95%, I repeat: 95%, of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. This manifests itself in depression, muscle aches, fatigue, cravings, etc.. If cravings are triggered by deficiencies, then let's address this blaring one. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and mushrooms, but it is absorbed most efficiently by the body through sunlight. So now that it is sunny again, get outside, go for a walk, rollerblade, practice jiu jitsu on the terrace, whatever it takes to get your one hour of daily sunlight.


4. Address Underlying Emotional Causes.

I have been talking all about how food is important physiologically, but food is social and emotional as well. Cravings could be a response to loneliness, stress, fatigue, anxiety, etc.. The worst part is that if you are trying to satisfy emotional hunger with food, it will not work.

Next time you are having a bad day and wanting to reach for something to soothe your emotions, try and dig a little deeper. 

Ask yourself: What am I trying to satisfy with food right now?

Be honest with your answer, and see if there is a better coping mechanism to deal with underlying issues. I recommend to my clients to even write this down in a journal to see if there are consistent answers that may be worth dealing with. Try calling a friend, going to a social event, taking a walk, reading a book, or giving yourself some rest if that is what your body is truly asking for.