What Do Your Cravings Mean?
Cravings. I get them. You get them. I’m pretty sure the first female humans started walking upright just to get a better vantage point on where exactly one might find some carbs.
I don’t tend to get daytime cravings. For me, daytime is busy, packed with adrenaline and fuelled by coffee. Lots of coffee.
Evenings? That’s when the snack monster arrives. My cravings tend to be spurred by boredom, so when I wind down and let myself relax in the evenings I tend to find my mind drifting toward the fridge because my hands are idle. Sometimes I cave and have some chocolate or a bit of sugary tea. Sometimes I have fruit or nuts. Sometimes it’s a single serving popsicle because it doesn’t spin me into a binge but still feels like a “treat.”
For lots of my online clients, mid-afternoon is a time they struggle with food obsession & mindless eating. They might be:
at home, finally finding a moment to themselves during nap time and craving something sweet as a “reward" or…
mid-way through their work day, tired of those four office walls and looking for a snack as an excuse to leave the desk and a bit of entertainment.
Sound familiar? Are you more of a daytime or evening snacker?
Here’s the thing: if you’re craving food, you CAN eat. You don’t have to distract yourself, drink a glass of water and wait 10 minutes, or have a coffee to suppress your appetite. Forget what we’ve all been told by women’s magazines. 🙄 Nobody ever told a dude to sip some water and wait 10 minutes when he feels like ordering a pizza.
Cravings don’t mean you need to “control” yourself. Cravings are normal and purposeful, and they’re ESPECIALLY common during pregnancy and postpartum when hormones and fatigue make everything in life just a little more technicolor.
Craving food for comfort is normal. Satisfying those cravings with food is also normal. You don’t need to feel guilty or “fix” anything. If you find you’re over-relying on food, not feeling well, or obsessing about food, you might seek help with your cravings and your relationship with food.
If you find you’re obsessing over food even when you’re not hungry, becoming aware of your hunger & craving/obsessing sensations is the first step in figuring out what your brain and body are actually trying to tell you.
But what if you can’t tell the difference between a food obsession/emotional craving and real, physical hunger? That’s the first step.
Be patient. It’s taken me years to learn the difference. I can feel it now. That doesn't mean I don’t sometimes eat even when I’m “not hungry.” It means I’m empowered and I choose to eat when I want to.
Here’s how to decode your cravings.
What it feels like:
You know it. This is the craving most of us deal with on a daily basis. This is the routine, regular & predictable craving, like the 4 pm scone with your tea, your bowl of chips in front of the TV at night, or the after-dinner chocolate craving when you know you are physically full. Your body may or may not be hungry, but your brain says "CAAAAAAARBS." It could be "SAAAAAALT." It could be "SUGAAAAAAAR." (Your cravings always yell in all caps. Jerks.) It's never "BROCCOOOOOOOLI." This is the craving that can highjack your healthy eating goals, and that masks real root issues of boredom, sadness, anxiety and - I believe - a lack of sufficient physical activity and physical/emotional stimulation.
How to deal with it:
Anticipate it. Pack something you actually enjoy — NOT celery sticks — for a mid-afternoon snack at work, or prep something yummy but not devastating to your blood sugar if you're at home. Try an apple or banana with peanut butter, fresh veggies with a dip/dressing, or full-fat yogurt with a sprinkle of homemade granola and cinnamon. If you’re always craving chocolate, make something chocolatey! Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll satisfy a cookie craving with carrot sticks. Bake your own cookies with nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate to fill you up, and pack one each day to enjoy at that time, with a hot cup of tea.
Cravings often come from deprivation. Don’t deprive. Plan to enjoy things you love instead of white knuckling it until you’re wrist-deep in a party size bag of M&Ms.
If your homemade snack option doesn't seem so appealing, chances are you're not actually hungry. If you’re not really hungry, take a moment and look within yourself to find out what is happening in the moment to make you crave soothing, stimulation or distraction. Are you bored? Upset? Anxious? Procrastinating? Tired?
Find a non-eating activity that helps to change the emotional state you’re not comfortable with. Maybe you need to all a friend? Have a shower? Throw the baby in the stroller and go for a stroll? Tidy up? Have an uncomfortable conversation you’ve been putting off? Go to bed?
Watch that craving disappear like a man from a dirty kitchen after a dinner party.
How to prevent it:
Try to find time each day to exercise, even for 10-20 minutes. A tired body will melt gratefully into a slow evening routine at the end of the day and you will find you can turn off the TV and tuck yourself in a little earlier, cutting out that prime late evening mindless eating time.
Ensure your meals are sufficient. If you are always hungry (even for a healthy, reasonable snack) at 3 p.m and lunch was at noon, it might be that your usual lunch choice isn't large or nutrient-rich enough to carry you through your work day. Ensure your meals contain a combination of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Add a 1/2 avocado to your chicken salad. Pack a banana for "dessert." Make extra at dinner time so you can pack leftovers with plenty of protein instead of grabbing a quick sandwich that garners most of its calories from two slices of bread.
Keep your hands and mind busy during your usual craving time. And, by busy, I mean out of the cracker box. Paint your nails, do a crossword, take up knitting, play video games, take up an evening yoga routine, or read a book! At work? Schedule a mid-morning trip to the stairwell or start taking your coffee break a few blocks away so you can zip out for a few minutes of walking and fresh air. Do something during these usual craving times to stimulate your brain and body and help calm the emotional waves which are actually causing the desire to eat.
What it feels like:
This is an obsession with a certain food or type of food, usually. (*Cravings for non-food items are called "pica" and should be reported to your family doctor, as they are somewhat common in pregnancy and can indicate severe nutritional deficiencies.) If you reach into a bag of candy throughout the day, always have a coffee in hand (GUILTY!) or over-zealously salt your food — even prepared foods which are normally high-sodium — your body might be telling you something. Something like, you're not feeding it everything it needs. Or, you're about to have your period.
But it's probably not telling you that you really, actually, need gummy bears. Like, to exist. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone’s body ever said that.
If you’ve been consistently dieting, or been unwell and had a hard time eating, this is the type of craving that might indicate you’re genuinely low on fuel, stored energy, or even specific macro- or micronutrients.
How to deal with it:
Listen to your body; it’s trying to tell you what it needs. Don’t try to just quiet it down with Diet Coke or low-cal “fillers.” You can choose the most un-processed version of your craved food possible, if eating whole foods is important to you.
Do you feel the need for sugar all day? Perhaps your meals are low on sugar (which comes from carbohydrates) because you've been eating low-carbohydrate; try adding chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, whole fruits, & veggies to your meals.
Do you crave salty carbohydrates like macaroni & cheese or french fries? Sodium cravings can indicate an imbalance of minerals in the body that is common with our modern North American highly processed diet.
Perhaps you are craving fat as much as you are salt; try adding avocado, nuts, and coconut and olive oils to your cooking, as well as choosing whole eggs and full-fat dairy, which will help up your daily healthy fat consumption and also pack a protein punch to help you feel full and calm.
How to prevent it:
Eat well and sufficiently, mama! Make processed, take out and restaurant foods an occasional treat so they don’t crowd out the nutrient-rich meats, proteins, and grains we tend to eat in our homemade meals.
Don’t deprive yourself of treats or strive for 100% “clean eating.” (Hint: It doesn’t exist, no matter what it looks like on Instagram.) Choose foods with delicious ingredients and try making homemade treats. Food is love. Show yourself some love regularly with foods you enjoy and you’ll be less likely to have cravings of any type.
Plan a few items to #mealprep on the weekend so you’ve got ready-made breakfasts and lunches for busy weekdays. Create well-rounded meals of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and eat as slowly and mindfully as possible, until you are full — not stuffed, but full. Try using a bit of time to prep or shop for healthy snacks or keep easy-to-grab items on hand, like hard boiled eggs, mini-cheese wheels, chopped fruit and veggies, hummus, and nuts!
Drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself so you can tell the difference between thirst and hunger cues. Breastfeeding and pregnant mamas, especially, need to hydrate consistently. Aim for 8-12 cups of water per day and lots of hydrating fruits and veggies.
When in doubt, think PLANTS and PROTEIN. If your cravings are actually due to deficiencies in your diet, and not just the suggestive powers of the Food Network at night, your cure starts in the kitchen. Nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, and protein sources - animal or vegetarian - will provide your body everything it needs without supplements.
If you are suffering changes to your weight, appearance (especially the appearance of your hair, skin, nails, and eyes), mood or energy levels along with physical cravings, please see your family doctor.
I’d love to hear which foods you crave? 👇🏾 Do you have any usual cravings? 👇🏽 Or did you crave strange things in pregnancy?