What do you crave?

Cravings. We all get them at one point or another.  Some of us are better at controlling them, and then some of us give in and indulge in whatever it is we want.  When trying to eat a healthy diet it seems that cravings are what crush our resolve and pull us back to our old habits.  Why do we crave certain things? What is going on in our brain/body that we just HAVE to have that piece of chocolate or those BBQ potato chips?  Is there any way to break free from cravings?

There are a few reasons that we experience cravings.  First, it is important to distinguish cravings from overeating.  When you have a craving, you have a taste for a specific type of food.  You want something salty like pretzels or something sweet like a candy bar.  Overeating is eating mass amounts of food no matter what type.  So why do we get cravings?  One of the biggest reasons is emotion.  When you eat something that you love, like your favorite home-cooked meal, the pleasure centers in your brain light up.  Your brain makes that connection that this food not only tastes good it gives you a good feeling.  When you are stressed, or sad, or anxious, your brain likes to remind you that there is a quick way to feel better.  It wants you to eat that slice of apple pie because that will release those good feeling hormones that will lift your mood.  Unfortunately, eating that apple pie will not help your healthy eating habits and then you feel guilty for indulging.  If only you could explain this paradox to your brain….

Another reason that we get cravings is a restrictive diet.  People who follow certain diets such as low carb or low fat tend to have very intense cravings.  That is because your body is missing something that it needs, and when your body needs something it WILL let you know.  In the case of food, that means a big ol’ craving.  With this type of craving your body is trying to let you know it really needs some certain mineral or vitamin and you need to find some source of it pronto.  This often means grabbing some junk food, mostly because it is quick.  In reality there are other easy ways to get what your body craves if you know how to interpret your craving.  This is a really nice chart that shows what craving “bad” food really means.

How are we suppose to deal with these cravings?  As anyone who has experienced a craving knows, it is hard to fight it when you are caught up in it.  Well this is the first way that you can fight a craving, don’t let yourself get to the point of craving food.  Thanks Captain Obvious, I’ll make sure I try that next time.  But seriously, take steps to make sure you aren’t getting to that desperate moment of craving when your willpower is at its weakest.  Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.  Include a variety of foods so that you know you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs.  Eating the exact same thing everyday might be easy and convenient, but this can sometimes become problematic because you limit the amount of nutrients your body is receiving.  Mix it up, try a few new recipes and add variety to your eating.  Learn to listen to your body.  If you feel a craving coming on, stop and first make sure that you aren’t just thirsty (dehydration feels a lot like hunger) and then determine what it is you are craving.  Use that chart and see what the healthy version of your craving is and have that instead of the huge slice of cake.  Have a list of other activities that will distract you and your brain from your craving.  Go for a walk or maybe call a friend and chat for awhile (hard to eat chips while you’re talking on the phone).  Anything to get your brain focused on something else other than your craving.  Find healthy alternatives to your junk food.  Yes, it would be nice if we could all have the willpower to say no to a chocolate bar and choose a handful of raw almonds.  But sometimes you really need that bar of chocolate.  There are tons of blogs/recipes out there that have healthy versions of your favorite junk food.  One of my favorites is The Gracious Pantry.  There are tons of recipes for any craving you have.  Healthy chocolate bars, caramel popcorn, potato chips and a ton more.  Do a little research, find a recipe, and give it a shot.  Will it taste exactly the same? Maybe not, but a lot of them are just as good or better and won’t leave you feeling guilty or depressed.

The biggest thing to know about cravings is to try to remain calm when dealing with them.  Take a deep breath and think about what it is you really want.  If you are trying to lose weight, focus on how much progress you have made and how giving into your craving will set you back.  If you are just trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, think to how you feel after eating junk compared to how you feel after you eat a healthy balanced meal.  Will you be perfect every time and resist? No.  We are human and sometimes we falter.  But you can learn something from those weak times and use it to make your resolve stronger for next time.  You are in control of your body and you CAN overcome any obstacle!