Food cravings are a real thing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either SUPER lucky or lying (my bet is on the lying). If you’ve spent any time listening to our lives on Facebook (Find them on our page RnR Journey), you know my (Robyn) weakness is chocolate chip cookies. There is NOTHING healthy about them. Salt, sugar, fat, eggs – horrible stuff. But sometimes I just HAVE to have one. But when I give in and have one, for the next several days my brain will randomly say, “Hey a chocolate chip cookie would be good.”
How do you know if something is a craving?
This is how I decided: If I think, “Hmm, I would like to eat something” I know I’m likely hungry. On the other hand, if I think, “Hmm, I would like to eat THAT thing” and nothing else really sounds good, I can safely bet it’s a craving.
Are food cravings always bad?
I don’t think of cravings as good/bad necessarily. Your body is likely trying to tell you something. Unfortunately, most of us crave foods that are not very healthy (loaded with fat, sugar and salt) and we don’t do a good job of figuring out what our body is actually trying to say so we can fix it.
What causes food cravings?
- Lack of sleep – If you aren't getting enough good quality shut-eye your body is going to be looking for quick-fix energy. Nothing works better for that than fat, sugar and salt. Throw in some caffeine and you can continue to ignore the call of your bed. Study after study shows that most adults are sleep deprived. It is highly unlikely that you are an exception.
- Lack of water – Being dehydrated can cause cravings for food. I don’t have the science as to why. But it does.
- Lack of nutrients – We’ve talked a lot about how the Western Diet that most people eat doesn’t have nearly enough nutrients in it. Your cells could be starving. Your evolution says, “Find something calorie dense” because it makes the mistake of assuming that calories = nutrition. This is simply not the case in the modern world.
- Lack of bulk (fiber) – If you’ve eaten enough calories but still crave something it could be that you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet to make you feel full and feed your gut bacteria (see next bullet)
- Unhappy gut flora – The human gut is an amazing place. Healthy bacteria can reduce inflammation, make you feel better and generally keep things humming along. But – unhappy gut bacteria can make life miserable, including creating sugar cravings.
- Social setting – Sometimes a craving is just about where you are and who you’re hanging with. When junk food is easily available (like at a party) it can feel almost impossible to not have some.
What can you do about cravings?
The “easy” answers are, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat real food that feeds your cells, eat whole-foods that have fiber in them and don’t be social. Okay, that last one isn’t really an option. But the rest of them certainly are. And if you do the rest of them you’ll be more likely to be able to resist stuffing yourself with fat, sugar and salt just because you’re out with friends.
Another thing you can do is start keeping a cravings calendar. When do you crave what? Do you have triggers? How often do you give in? Write it down. Color code it if that helps (adding color to make patterns easy to see is always good for me). The more you know about what is happening the easier it is to do something about it.
All that said, once in a while it’s not a huge deal. It’s not the exception that causes the problem; it’s the every day. Sometimes (2x a month at most?) I give in and I have a chocolate chip cookie. And you know what? IT IS AMAZING! I really enjoy it because it is a rare treat. Now, I know that after I give in I’m going to have to deal with wanting another and another. So, I only buy a two pack. That’s it. No more cookies in the house. If I want a cookie I have to make a point to go to the store to get it. Most of the time when I think about a cookie I don’t have the time or the desire to go get one. For me rule number one for fighting cravings – don’t have cookies in the house!
Do you have a specific craving? Pop over to the community page and share!
If you are ready to address how your food choices are negatively affecting your health, let’s set up a free get-to-know-you chat. Send me an email and let’s get you on track to taking control of your stress eating. Health@RnRJourney.com
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.