SALT LAKE CITY — You’ve likely experienced cravings before. Maybe you even feel like you're someone who experiences cravings to a greater degree than what may be considered normal.
Our current nutrition culture may have you feeling some judgment about your cravings, especially if they're for “unhealthy” foods. Alternately, you may feel pride or relief about craving something considered "healthy,” like a salad or oatmeal.
Judging our cravings, however, gets us nowhere. If you get curious, you’ll likely find that your cravings have wisdom. They can teach you a lot actually, if you’ll let them. Here are five possibilities of what your cravings may be trying to tell you:
1. Inadequate nutrition
A very common cause of cravings is inadequate fuel and nutrition, particularly if those cravings (or resulting behaviors) feel compulsive. Often we blame this on willpower or lack of discipline when really it may be because you’ve felt unsatisfied and undernourished.
If you’ve skipped meals, gone too long without eating or been restricting foods or food groups, it could easily lead to cravings later. It’s common practice to skimp on carbohydrates or fats, and isn’t it often high-fat carbohydrates that we crave? It’s definitely worth checking to see if you have an even distribution of carbohydrates and fats throughout the day. Of course, adequate protein is important as well.
2. Food insecurity
We typically associate food insecurity with people who don’t have access to enough food. While that’s true, it could also be self-inflicted through dieting or restrictive mindsets. When you feel like food isn’t going to be there tomorrow, it could absolutely affect your thoughts and behaviors today. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat will decrease the power food has over you. Being in control by having food rules is actually an illusion because those rules are actually controlling you.
3. Emotional hunger
We are complex human beings with many different kinds of hunger. Eating outside of physical hunger is totally normal and happens to us all. However, consistently using food as the only way to meet your needs is likely leaving you confused and lacking confidence in your ability to take care of yourself. We need food. We also need rest, connection, movement, love and variety. We need to feel relevant and feel like we are making contributions in positive ways. We want to feel like we belong and are a part of something meaningful and valuable.
If you feel like something is lacking, it could be easier to distract or numb with food instead of leaning into what it is or how you’re feeling. In this case, working to become more emotionally aware would be worthwhile to you. This could be done through journaling, therapy (nutrition therapy with a registered dietitian) or some other form of self-reflection.
4. Need for variety
Have you been eating the same thing over and over again? Our bodies want and need a wide variety of foods to function optimally. It’s physically and psychologically unsatisfying to eat the same foods day in and day out. Building more flexibility into your meals and snacks will likely help you feel less preoccupied with food.
5. Medical concerns
Some cravings — like salty foods, for example — may indicate a medical issue. If you find these cravings to be very intense and very frequent, it may be necessary to seek medical advice.
Lastly, be sure you aren’t confusing hunger, appetite or food preferences with cravings. It's normal to get hungry and want something satisfying to eat, which may vary from day to day. Remember to listen to your body. If you're craving pizza, then a salad may not do. If you want a treat, fruit may not cut it. While it's good to be aware, don’t waste too much of your time overthinking cravings. Most of the time it’s best just to honor it and move on.
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