Eating goes far beyond hunger—especially when our body cues take over.
So what do YOU do when a craving strikes?—When your body is telling you, “Feed me!” and you’re confused:
- Should you honor your body’s cues and listen to its wants and needs?
- Or should you try to deny it—pretending it didn’t happen (and hope it goes away)?
You’ve tried both before and ended up in a predicament either way:
Scenario 1: The 3 p.m. “lull.” A craving for something crunchy enters your mind all of a sudden. Even though you ate a fairly decent sized chicken salad at lunch, you kind of want something to munch on—and you know if you don’t eat something, then come 5 or 6 p.m. all hell will break loose once you get home to eat dinner.
What do you do?
Exhibit A: You give in to the craving to munch and crunch. Even though your stomach is not growling, you’re a little-bored sitting at your desk and need something to spice things up. You reach for some Chex Mix, a granola bar or plantain chips to hit the spot. Ahhh…much better (at least for the moment). After the fact, you kick yourself, wishing you hadn’t eaten one too many chips. But, oh well, maybe tomorrow will be a better day.
Exhibit B: You fight off the craving with all your might. “Shoulding” yourself. I shouldn’t do it. It’s not what I need. I should just eat real food, I should just eat real food, I should just eat real food—no snacking. Come 5 or 6 p.m. though, while making dinner, you can’t help yourself. You’re hungry (like now) and you eat whatever’s in your eyesight while whipping up dinner.
Scenario 2: The post-dinner sweet tooth. Like clockwork, it happens every time. Dinner is finished and your brain triggers your taste buds for something sweet. You’ve been that way ever since you were a kid. However, now that you’re more aware of “eating healthy” you feel guilty for wanting something sweet—but for some reason, it’s like you need it.
What do you do?
Exhibit A: You give in. Whatever. By this time of the night—like every night—your will power from fighting off your sweet tooth all day long is gone. Ice cream. Chocolate. Fruit. Something sweet puh-lease. Even though you know it ’s a craving, it feels too strong to fight off.
Exhibit B: You deny your craving. But now you feel like a super restrictive diet Nazi with yourself. You try to distract yourself and back away from the kitchen, but NOT getting what you want leaves you feeling frustrated like a baby who is constipated with a furrowed brow. It just irks you the wrong way and you can’t stop thinking about something sweet. You’re able to stave off the craving today. But tomorrow…it comes back. Twice as strong.
Scenario 3: Craving _____ (nuts, cheese, ice cream, sweet potatoes, coffee, diet coke etc.) even though you feel bloated, stomach cramps, constipated or tired every time you eat it. You like “it.” Whatever it is. Your almond butter. Your cheddar cheese. Halo Top or Ben & Jerry’s. Your morning latte. It’s part of your daily eating routine, and even though you suspect that that food is making you feel constipated, bloated or lethargic, you can’t help it. It just tastes good and it’s comforting.
What do you do?
Exhibit A: Ignore the negative feelings and just eat it. So yeah, you feel constipated, stomach cramps, bloated or tired. You suspect your symptoms are triggered by the food, but really are they? I mean how could your favorite food(s) really cause you to not feel well? Whatever. Maybe tomorrow you’ll change.
Exhibit B: Do Something Different. Just this once. Instead of nuts, you try Tigernuts. Instead of your usual large sweet potato, you try some butternut squash. Instead of cheese, you try…well, a little less cheese. Instead of Halo Top one night, you try to go without. The thing is—you still think about that one food you like so much, even though you recognize…Hm…I actually feel l little better without it. Could it be?
Cravings for certain foods seem inevitable.
Fun fact: Did you know our gut bugs often crave foods we are intolerant too? If you have some bacterial overgrowth or an imbalanced gut flora with more “bad” bacteria than good, your “bad bacteria” feast off foods we are intolerant too and will signal to your brain for you to “feed” them with the very foods that you crave, but don’t make you feel well.
Why does our brain hijack our body and make us all confused around what we really want or what our body really needs?!
Is listening to a craving “intuitive eating?”
Or are cravings bad and should you try to deny them at all cost?
Aye! Aye! Aye! THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!
Cravings are a mixed bag, and they can actually be both “intuitive” and “mental” or emotional.
Here’s the difference:
Intuitive Craving: A cellular hunger, deficiency or body signal cueing you “I am missing something here.” (i.e. “I need some iron from red meat,” “I need some magnesium from chocolate,” “I need some healthy fats for energy—I am dipping.”)
Mental or Emotional: Your mindset or emotions are driving the show because your mind and heart tell you that you’ll feel better (or less bored, less sad, less uncomfortable, more satisfied) if you just have X (“If you just have coffee, you’ll have more energy;” “If you just have something sweet, your taste buds will be satisfied.
Cravings are NOT a bad thing.
The only time they become “not a good thing” is when they control you.
The difference in a healthy craving vs. a “craving gone wrong” is when those cravings take over. When they hijack your feelings, thoughts and emotions—and those feelings, thoughts and emotions don’t go away until that craving is satisfied. And, often times, even after that craving is satisfied, you are still left thinking about that food, or that craving.
On the other hand, an intuitive craving for chocolate (magnesium) for instance may strike around your period. You may not understand why you want chocolate, but by listening to your intuitive craving, you eat some chocolate…and you’re satisfied (and not necessarily thinking about the next time you can eat some chocolate).
Like riding a wave, you let the waves of cravings come and go. You listen to them. But then you’re good.
You’re not left thinking, planning or salivating for the next time you “can have it.” You’re not feeling guilty for “giving in” to it. You don’t overthink how you can “make up for it” in your workout.
You’re satisfied, until the next wave comes, when maybe your body tugs at you:
“I want some refreshing watermelon!”
“You know what—nuts really don’t sound good today, I felt pretty bloated when I at them.”
“A piece of pizza sounds delicious.”
No more thought than just that—food is food, and you let your body lead in nourishing you, eat to satisfaction, and build the majority of your nourishment upon real foods, letting “life happen” occasionally when that pizza does sound good (versus letting your mind and emotions dictate what you do and don’t eat).
The bottom line: Cravings are NOT a bad thing.
When you do get a craving, check in:: Does my body want it, or do I “neeeeeed” it, and is this a healthy (mindset) for me? will help you decipher how to proceed.
SO WHAT DO I DO STILL IF I AM CRAVING SOMETHING?!
Good question.The answer is up to you decide. Often times, constantly craving the same things happens because:
a.) We are intolerant to the foods we crave (and our gut bugs feast off them)
b.) We are missing other essential nutrients in our diet (or not eating enough during the day). This causes our blood sugar to drop and our body cue us to reach for our craving.
c.) We keep doing the same habits and rituals around the foods that we crave and eat (like watching TV every night and needing popcorn every night when we do that activity).
d.) We have unaddressed emotions that we are not talking about or in check with (loneliness, poor self-esteem, bored in our lives, etc.)
Check in with yourself—do any of those fit for you?
The best way to conquer a craving?
#1 Do Something Different
If we don’t do something different in our lives—whatever it is—nothing different (cravings included) will change.
Mix it up.
Instead of sitting on the couch for instance to eat your usual bag of popcorn and wine, sit on a yoga ball to watch TV or stretch on the floor—and chances this new trigger will make you at least think before the same habit takes over.
With sweets, instead of completely denying your craving—reach for a protein or fat based snack below, and portion it out on a plate or away from the container.
Lastly, think in the POSITIVE (not the negative): “It’s not bad to have a craving;” “My cravings do not control me;” or “I can nourish my body with an abundance of fresh foods.”
(When we think in the affirmative—rather than the negative, we quit “wanting what we can’t have” as badly).
#2 Eat Balance
We’ll review more of this in the next chapter, but the bottom line: Focus on making sure your body is getting the energy it needs and you ARE eating enough by eating balanced meals throughout the day.
If your basic needs are NOT being met, then of course you’re going to crave SOMETHING for energy and satisfaction—(and typically a quick source of energy and satisfaction, like sugar, coffee or a crunchy salty snack).
To reset your cravings:
Aim for three balanced meals per day.
For the average moderately active woman (lifestyle movement + 3-5 days of exercise during the week) this looks like at least:
-5-6 oz. of protein (1-2 hand sizes)
-Veggies (half your plate, especially leafy greens)
-1-2 healthy fat sources with each meal (coconut oil, coconut butter, ghee, grass-fed butter, 1/2 avocado, handful nuts or seeds, olive oil, olives, avocado oil)
Half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Plus,1-2 starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, squashes, etc.) and 1-2 fresh fruits per day (carbs are your friends) as well, and you’re golden.
As for snacks, if you do need snacks throughout the day-great! Reach for a protein or fat at most snacks as the base of your snacks to help stave off blood sugar drops.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
#3 Check In
If a craving for a snack or sugar STILL strikes…Check in.
Cravings are NOT bad.
A gut-check-in can point your towards whether it is a want (mental, emotional, low blood sugar, gut bug craving) or legit body need.