Cravings Are Body Signals
What are cravings?
Chocolate. Deep, dark, delicious chocolate. Yesterday, I craved chocolate. I wasn’t even hungry; I had eaten sufficiently to feel full. But I didn’t feel fully satisfied, and visions of sweet chocolates danced in my head. Intellectually, I knew that meant that my body was craving something that chocolate provides, but my body just went for the chocolate bar. I appreciate that chocolate can be healthy in small doses, but a mini bar or little chocolate kiss was most decidedly not what I was all about yesterday. I wanted a king-size version of the treat. It was a “don’t get between me and my chocolate, people!” kind of day. I indulged. I mean, it was organic chocolate from the local health food co-op, so it couldn’t have been totally unhealthy right??!! Well, maybe so, but it didn’t entirely satisfy, as yummy as it tasted at the time.
Why cravings hit
Let’s begin by noting that I’m a vegetarian–mostly. More accurately, I am a Lacto-ovo-pescatarian, meaning that I eat small quantities of dairy, eggs, and fish, in addition to plant-based foods. I’ve spent long periods of time (years) following this semi-vegetarian diet. I’ve done shorter stints (months) following a vegan diet, eating plant foods only. I’m not opposed to people eating meat, though I think it would do us all good to choose only meats from responsibly and respectfully raised animals, if that’s what one chooses. Meat just doesn’t really appeal to me at all for a variety of reasons, so I don’t eat it. I don’t ever crave meat. That does not mean my body never craves nutrients that meat provides, however.
What to eat when you crave junk
I occasionally crave chocolate, and that’s quite possibly directly related to the fact that I do not eat meat. Red meat contains iron, copper, and magnesium, as does chocolate. It is very possible that yesterday my body was feeling deficient in those nutrients, and so that hunk of mineral-rich chocolate didn’t stand a chance. Although it was extraordinarily satisfying (albeit temporarily) to chomp that lovely bar of chocolate bliss, I probably could have reigned in my cocoa consumption by choosing a nice spinach salad sprinkled with almonds and garbanzo beans. I didn’t; I chose the candy version of my craving fix, and therefore felt like a slug by bedtime.
Instead of the chocolate I overindulged in yesterday, today I focused on lots of magnesium-rich veggies–Yum!
One of the things I really enjoy about staying active and working out in general, is that it increases my body awareness, including a stronger awareness of what I’m hungry for, and what I need in my diet. So, why on earth would I ever crave soda pop, potato chips, or chocolate? Because the body needs something those foods provide–or seem to provide–as quick-fix substitute that shuts the craving up for a time. Usually, our bodies aren’t fooled for long, and another craving emerges. We work hard to get our bodies fit and strong, so we really don’t want to screw that up with a bunch of junk food, RIGHT?!
Don’t ignore cravings
So don’t ignore cravings; acknowledge them. It’s good to listen carefully to cravings, because they are important signals from your body. In our society filled with quick-fix, fast-grab, pre-fab artificially-flavored foods with bright colors and prolific advertising, our interpretation of our bodies cravings can become warped. It’s high time we wise up to what our bodies are really trying to shout at us when we mistakenly hear “FEED ME CANDY!” (Or chips, or soda, or a venti caramel latte with extra whip…). Let chart below help you decipher your body’s cravings language:
Healthy Alternatives to Food Cravings
Additional web resources on food cravings and nutrition:
Decode Your Food Cravings by Bridget Doherty of Women’s Health on the NBC NEWS.com site gives an overview of general types of food cravings and what they say about your body and about you.
This article on the Livestrong website briefly discusses the difference between physical and psychological cravings, and cravings associated with several specific vitamin deficiencies.
And an article on WebMD geared toward dealing with food cravings.