Although cravings may sometimes be your body’s way of asking for something it needs, they tend to hit those of us relatively well-nourished folks in moments of stress and weakness. Why? Because when we are at our most stressed out, we seek comfort. Of course, we know better than to think that comfort actually comes in the form of mini chocolate doughnuts, but our neural pathways don’t necessarily.
Read on for the low-down on cravings, and how to beat ‘em.
Cravings are usually one of two types: They’re either born out of habit, or out of a nutrient or other biochemical deficiency.
So how do you know which is responsible for your late-night longings? It would be hard to answer that question without a full blood chemistry analysis, but there are a few ways to dig a little deeper than reaching for your nearest bag of chips.
Let’s break cravings down into three categories: Salty, sweet and specific foods.
Cravings for salty foods can indicate a sodium deficiency, and unless you suffer from high blood pressure, it may be valuable to find ways to slightly increase your sodium intake. We don’t, however, recommend doing this by gorging on potato chips, but rather by adding a sprinkle of pure sea salt to a bowl of veggies.
Cravings for sweet foods may actually be your body and mind’s longing for a hit of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which is activated when you consume carbohydrates. Yet there are a number of ways to tap into a carbohydrate high that doesn’t involve binging on donuts. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains all contain healthy doses of carbohydrates that will feed your brain and fuel your body.
Cravings for specific foods like chocolate or carbonated drinks may indicate low levels of nutrients like magnesium, copper and iron (in the case of chocolate), or calcium (in the case of carbonated drinks). The best way to address these cravings is to find beneficial sources of the nutrients in demand. Magnesium can be found in nuts and seeds, and calcium in leafy green vegetables. You’ve always got the power to choose—and making small choices for the better can help you shift the bad food habits you’ve built up over time.
And remember, what matters more than the craving itself is how you fulfill it! Here’s where tackling the crave-monster comes in: You need a strategy to overcome the habitual patterns of eating that lead you to make poor food choices in times of stress.
At home, that means getting rid of unhealthy foods altogether, and filling your fridge with nutritious munchies instead. Substitute cheese puffs for carrot sticks, and chocolate chip cookies for pre-sliced apples with nut butter. The options may sound less than exciting on paper, but the results of eating them will leave you glowing rather than bloated. Need we say more?
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