Cravings; defined as an intense and urgent desire or longing, and a phrase most commonly used in the office as we dash out to the shop for a mid-afternoon sugar hit. Often, cravings are seen as very negative things – a sign of low willpower for example – causing us to feel guilty when we succumb to temptation. However, they can actually be a very clever way for your body to tell you that it’s missing something important.
Okay, so despite what the internet might lead you to believe, eating more magnesium is quite unlikely to curb your chocolate cravings forever, but here are some important lessons we can learn from common food cravings:
Carbs, Carbs and More Carbs
Let’s just get the message straight here: there is absolutely nothing wrong with carbohydrates and they are a crucial macronutrient needed for energy. However, if you’re craving stodgy carbs all day every day, it might be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. It’s pretty logical when you think about it – your body needs energy, so it craves the foods that will give you the quickest source of energy. It's likely the reason you might crave a cup of coffee too. Try to focus on prioritising good sleep habits and eating enough slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and brown rice, to give your body the fuel it needs.
As well as a sign of exhaustion, it’s no secret that many of us turn to comforting foods for an endorphin hit when we’re feeling sad or stressed. Again, there’s nothing bad about enjoying such comforting foods, but it’s also important that we're taking care of our mental wellbeing in a healthy way. Processing your feelings, whether that’s talking to a friend, journaling or taking time out, is important for our overall happiness, and not something we should avoid in favour of an ice cream tub.
Sugar cravings can also be a sign that we’re in fact, already eating too many sugary treats. When we eat sweet foods, our blood sugar spikes and insulin is released. This high is often followed by a crash, which leaves your body tired and in need of its next energy hit. Eating meals and snacks that are higher in protein and slow-releasing carbohydrates is again a great way to help balance out your energy levels.
It's now quite commonly recognised that healthy fats aren’t the enemy in terms of either weight loss or health, however, there’s still a lot of people who choose low-fat products at every turn. We’ve no doubt all experienced cravings for a really juicy burger or a greasy plate of chips – mostly because they’re really, really delicious. But an intense and frequent desire for deep-fried foods could be a sign that you’re not consumed enough fat in your daily diet. There are so many processes in the body that need fats to work optimally, including hormone production and brain functioning, so try to make sure you're consuming enough portions of nuts, avocados and oily fish.
Even vegetarians or vegans with a strong aversion can sometimes feel the need for red meat, which is usually caused by a lack of iron. Meat is in fact, the only natural food source of B12, so if you’re getting intense cravings for meat, especially as a plant-based eater, it might be worth eating a few more iron-rich foods and supplementing with iron or B12.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but a desire for salty foods can be a sign you need more sodium. This is exactly why after exercise, or a particularly heavy night of drinking, we’re desperate for a salty bag of crisps or overly processed meats. Drink plenty of water and eat a lightly salted snack – such as popcorn – to get back into a state of balance.
Eating Too Little Calories
If you’re not fuelling your body correctly, your body will crave the energy it needs to simply survive and your natural human instinct to find fuel will kick in! Even if weight loss is your goal, avoid this by taking a slower, more sustainable approach with a smaller calorie deficit. No liquid-only diets here!
A Restrictive Diet
Strong food cravings, especially for foods you perceive as being less healthy, can be a sign that your diet is too restrictive. Make sure you’re eating enough foods that bring you joy and try not to label foods as good or bad. A strict diet of brown rice, broccoli and lean meats often isn’t sustainable and can trigger a dangerous spiral of restriction and binging. Avoid cutting out foods you love completely - no matter how nutritious they may perceive them to be - and include them in your diet in moderation. It's likely this will mean you crave them less often, as your body knows it can have them whenever it wants!