Cravings and What They Really Mean

by Kelley Johnsen on June 13, 2012

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Thank you to Kelley Johnsen for today’s post on reading cravings. I know all of us have experienced them at some time, so it’s nice to have an explanation of what they are and why we have them! Be sure to check out Kelley’s other contributions on Nutrition and check out her blog after you read this post – you’ll find the link below.

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Have you ever had that awesome experience where your food choices and exercise seemed to be perfectly aligned, only to have it ruined by cravings?  As women, we can have some intense cravings that have us running for the pantry, usually something that falls into the salty, crunchy, sweet, sour or caffeinated categories.

These cravings are not bad – they are an impressive messaging system your body uses to get your attention. Reading these signs correctly will have you diving into the pantry less and giving your body what is really needs.

Sleep Deprivation

I know for myself, one of the biggest cravings I get is coffee. Being a mom of four wonderful and active kids means my morning starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends after everyone is safely, quietly tucked in bed in the evening. This is when I get to have a little me time.

I love to read and it is easy to get wrapped up in a book and notice it is already 1 a.m. On these days, I still wake at 5:30 am and can feel myself gravitating to the coffee pot.

It never fails to give me a little kick start of energy, only to have an intense craving for a simple carbohydrate of some kind. This is how
we create a viscous cycle of cravings.

When I changed my night routine, to get to bed at a normal time and get a full night’s sleep, I would wake before the alarm. On these days I have better clarity, have energy to workout and eat healthier breakfast choices. I even have better energy levels through the day and do not get hit with cravings. I still enjoy coffee, but I know that tea is a better choice for my body, providing a better source of energy and not getting me bogged down. I like to enjoy coffee and tea both without feeling controlled by a need for one or the other. I took the intense cravings as a sign that something was not balanced, and in this case sleep deprivation was the culprit.

Dehydration

Dehydration can be a mask for food cravings. We tend to drink less water than we need since there are so many beverage choices. 2/3 of our body is made up of water and when we do not drink adequate amounts, our body will send messages to compensate. You might feel like you want a snack when what you need is a glass of water. Next time you get a craving, and it is not at regular meal time, reach for a glass first and see if the cravings go away.

While dehydrated you might crave salt as well. As a teenager I would get cravings for salty chips, especially when we went to the beach. This is another wonderful time to drink a couple glasses of water. You will be nourishing your body and hopefully passing on the high calorie salty snack foods.

Boredom

Sometimes we are craving entertainment and misunderstand it for hunger. Now that it is summer, I make sure the kids relax but also have activities during the day and throughout the week. I notice when they get bored, the first thing they ask for is a snack, and 10 minutes later they are saying they are still hungry. That is when I recognize they are bored and need to head outside for a hike, bike ride, the pool or play a game.

Watching TV is never a good substitute for activities. The commercials just heighten the cravings for sugary treats, crunchy
chips, and more. The same goes for us when we are grabbing popcorn and chips to watch a movie. A good alternative to boredom is to make a calendar of things to do and a nature walk around the neighborhood can be a nice daily activity. I love “Mama to 4 Blessings : Our Summer Lis of Fun To Dos “Bucket List.”

Festive Traditions

Seasonal festivities can create some intense cravings. We tend to think of holidays that are just not complete without certain foods. I am not even going to get started on Halloween.  At Thanksgiving we need turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Christmas kicks off all the rolls, cookies and candies that family and friends bring over. Think about the summer cravings for food like ice-cream, Popsicles, watermelons and hotdogs on the grill – foods that we commonly relate to summer.

For these occasions, we need to rewire our thoughts about these festivities. Healthy foods can still be fun, festive and creative without reaching for the junk foods. Use creativity to enjoy festive events with healthier foods and kick those cravings to the curb.

Lets look at a few typical cravings and what warning cry they might be trying to tell you.

  • A chocolate craving (and I mean the I am going to kill something if I don’t have some chocolate right now kind of craving) might indicate you are lacking in Magnesium. Foods to increase are raw nuts, seeds, fruits and legumes.
  • The craving to chew on ice might show a lack in iron. Foods to increase are meat, poultry, fish, dark greens and seaweed.
  • Oily fatty food cravings (fast food, chips) might stem from lack of Calcium. Foods rich in calcium are mustard and turnip greens, kale, broccoli, cheese and legumes.
  • Char-grilled, burnt foods could indicate a lack in Carbon. You will want to increase a wide variety of fresh fruits rich in antioxidants.
  • A craving of breads could indicate a lack in nitrogen; increase lean proteins.
  • When we experience Pre-Menstrual (PMS) cravings, we can have some off the chart cravings. This can be from a diet high in processed foods and lacking a balance of fruits and vegetables. You can increase red meats (especially organ meats), seafood, leafy vegetables and root vegetables. See Does your diet effect PMS?  Herbs that help to reduce PMS are peppermint.

Emotional Responses

Not all cravings are from a deficiency of food, but a lack of physical and emotional fulfillment. In the book, “Integrative Nutrition: Feed you Hunger for Health and Happiness,” Joseph Rosenthal talks about how we sometimes have cravings and food choices due to emotional response to past and present.

Sometimes we are looking for a little vitamin “L”, Love.  He goes further to talk about how we misread these “cravings” for food when what we need is a little physical or emotional satisfaction in a hug, a smile or even a pat on the back.

Cravings are not the enemy. Do not feel these are a weakness or that you are no will power. Everyone experiences them and some learn to recognize them for what they are, simply your body’s way of communicating to you a need that something is off balance.  If I can give you a one sentence tip for a balanced life, it would be to find happiness in all that is around you, get a full night of sleep, rethink the way we view festivities, greatly reduce junk foods and increase antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Do this and you can kick the craving to to the moon.

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As a wife, mom of four, and Certified Nutrition Counselor, I care about my impact on the food choices we make. Everything we eat has a profound effect on our bodies, the environment and our future. We eat not just to satisfy hunger, but to nourish and enrich our lives. Eating and buying clean resources keeps your body and the Earth healthy and thriving.

About Kelley Johnsen

As a wife, mom of four, and Certified Nutrition Counselor, I care about my impact on the food choices we make. Everything we eat has a profound effect on our bodies, the environment and our future. We eat not just to satisfy hunger, but to nourish and enrich our lives. Eating and buying clean resources keeps your body and the Earth healthy and thriving.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shai Smith
Twitter: vagabondstudio
June 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I love this! I never knew that about cravings – I should probably reach for water WAY more often than I do!
Shai Smith recently posted..Facebook, The Debil.

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2 Steph June 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

When I have my insulin and sugar under control, my cravings focus on ice and meat. I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade and did not thrive on it. I can really reduce all cravings with some grassfed red meat and offal. It isn’t easy to find in supermarkets though.
Steph recently posted..Tropical Traditions Gallon Winner

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3 Kylie
Twitter: kjworthington
June 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm

How awful that we can crave salt when we’re dehydrated! What a mess..

I am such a night owl and I seem to be worse about it in my third trimester (happened with 1st pregnancy too) since that is when my babies seem to like to be active! I’ll stay up so late reading or on the computer and then be a zombie all day long..
Kylie recently posted..Emergency Planning for Families

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4 Flora
Twitter: FloraFoster2
June 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Thank you so much for writing this article! I especially appreciate that you have added healthy options for alleviating these cravings.
Flora recently posted..3 Free Kindle Books- Eating/Gardening

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5 Krissa
Twitter: krissajeldy
June 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Thanks for sharing this–such valuable information to remember when a craving hits!
Krissa recently posted..Camera Phone Friday {6.1.12}

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6 Melissa June 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Wow. I crave salt ALL the time. I probably don’t drink enough water, and I will definitely do better with that. What are your thoughts on what “counts” as water? Do you count tea? I have heard people say anything other than soda can count towards my 64 oz, and I have heard others who disagree. (I know this is a bit off topic; sorry.)
Melissa recently posted..Welcome to Silent Springs!

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