Cravings: Why You Get Them
Cravings. That familiar magnetic feeling of being pulled towards a certain food that you cannot resist, no matter how much you try. Cravings can often lead to unwanted consumption of certain foods which can trigger guilt and shame. This blog post will explain why we get cravings, and what you can do about them.
First of all, let's get clear about one thing:
Cravings are not bad.
The weight loss industry vilifies cravings and we see articles and supplements all over the place, promoting ways to avoid or suppress the drive to eat certain foods. This undermines your body and its physiological cues, which are telling you something. Instead of fearing and trying to avoid cravings, it’s important to examine what is causing them, as this is where the potential issue (if any) lies. By looking into our cravings, rather than away, we get to know ourselves better and from there we can make better choices. Make sure to read until the end where there’s an important message about our perception of cravings!
WHAT'S CAUSING YOUR CRAVINGS?
Everyone’s different and have different reasons for their cravings. However, here are the 4 most common causes PLUS suggested solutions which can help you deal with your cravings.
1. PHYSICAL CRAVINGS
Physical cravings are quite straightforward and they make sense. For example, maybe you haven’t eaten for a while, so your blood sugar has dropped (physical change) so you get a strong craving for something sweet or high in calories.
Or maybe you’ve avoided a food group, e.g. carbohydrates, so your glycogen stores (sugar stores) are dropping. Even though you’re still eating other foods, that craving for bread, rice, potatoes and pasta just gets stronger and stronger.
Physical cravings might be telling you that you’re simply hungry and need to eat! Check in with yourself - what have you eaten today? When did you eat last? Are there any foods or food groups you’ve avoided? Food restriction will indeed increase cravings as your body wants you to stay alive and nutritionally topped up. Eat when you’re hungry and don’t eliminate or avoid macronutrients (carbs, fat or protein). You need them all.
2. HORMONAL CAUSES
This section applies more to women than to men. For my ladies out there, you’re probably familiar with the fact that your hormone levels change every month in accordance with your menstrual cycle.
During the luteal phase of your cycle (occurring about 1-2 weeks before your period), it’s common for women to experience strong cravings for certain foods, such as chocolate and foods high in fat and sugar. Believe it or not, there's logic behind the madness.
Insulin sensitivity decreases during the luteal phase of your cycle. This means that the cells in your body take up less sugar. As a result, hunger and cravings can increase, as your cells want fuel!
Don’t beat yourself up for this. There are vast changes going on in your body and there's nothing wrong with you for having a stronger appetite right before and during your period. It’s normal. Sometimes when you’re PMSing, chocolate just makes life a little bit better, and that’s OK.
3. HABITUAL CRAVINGS
Humans are creatures of habit. For example, you probably have a certain breakfast that you eat most of the time, a certain way to have your coffee or tea and certain dinners that you tend to eat.
The same goes for cravings. We can develop habitual cravings in certain situations simply by association.
Did you grow up eating in front of the TV? Then it might be hard for you to NOT eat in front of the TV. The TV becomes a trigger which encourages you to eat.
Do you always eat candy, cookies, chocolate etc. when going to the movies? Then it’s hard NOT to.
Do you habitually eat when you’re alone and bored, even though you’re full? Then it’s hard NOT to.
Do you have a glass of wine every night? Then... you get the drift.
It’s hard NOT to do the things that you usually do!
Remember that there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these behaviours. But you want to have the option and freedom to CHOOSE if you want to engage in them, or not. If you feel like you’re a slave to your habits and that food has control over you, then it’s time to take your power back.
I can teach you how. I would love to write a short one-size fits all solution of how to do it here, but the truth is: changing habits is a process which takes time, effort and support and it will look different to each person. Your habits and the reasons for your habits are unique to you. Rather than giving you an overly simplified and generalised "fix" that may or may not work, I would rather help you individually to actually get you to where you want to be. Click here to learn more about how you can work with me and feel free to send me an email, I love them! There's no shame in reaching out for help.
4. EMOTIONAL CAUSES
Certain emotions can trigger cravings, such as sadness, boredom, stress or even joy and contentedness (Netflix and a bucket of ice cream?). Let me tell you this: emotional eating is not bad either. Sometimes, emotional eating is the only way you can cope with your emotions and get through a rough time. Food can be a comforting crutch when we have nothing else which can soothe out emotions.
However, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that emotional eating will not solve your problems. Emotional eating is giving you a sign that something may not be 100% right in your life. Knowing that emotional eating may be highlighting an underlying problem, means that you can make a choice to do something (or nothing) about your potential issue. Feel lonely? Call a friend. Feel stressed? Go for a walk if you can, or scream into a pillow. Or eat. It’s your choice.
Don’t feel bad about emotional eating. We all do it. But if it’s becoming a burden in your life, make sure to take action. You can check out my blog post “How to have a healthy relationship with food” here, to learn strategies to deal with emotional eating.
Are cravings bad or is it our perception of cravings that's bad?
At the beginning of this blog post, I mentioned that cravings can lead to unwanted consumption of foods which can trigger guilt and shame. But are feelings of guilt and shame really warranted? Is it the craving that's the problem, or how we view the craving that the problem? Many times, it's the latter that's the issue. There's nothing wrong with wanting chocolate when you have PMS (or anytime for that sake) and there's nothing wrong with eating ice cream whilst watching Netlix.
Cravings are only a problem if you think and feel like they’re a problem. If you genuinely think that cravings are getting in your way of enjoying life, do the below exercise.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET A CRAVING
Whenever you get a craving, remember the four reasons explained above and ask yourself:
What is causing my craving? Have I been avoiding certain foods? How am I feeling?
What is my perception of my craving? (Positive, neutral or negative?)
What would be the consequences of choosing to give into my craving? Would it really be that bad or would it actually be A - OKAY?
By asking yourself these questions, you can make your own decision about whether to eat, or not eat, what you crave. This way, your decision will be in alignment with your own individual needs. Rather than falling into a disempowering surrender you can make an empowered choice. Power to you!
Do you still feel lost and out of control around food? Feel free to contact me and check out how I can help you here. Sometimes we need a bit of guidance to get on the right track and that’s OK too.
I hope you’ve found this useful and feel free to share this article with others who can benefit from reading it!
Eat and be merry,