Are you having trouble with healthy eating because you have uncontrollable cravings for junk food all the time? Perhaps, you are reaching for snacks during times of stress or just before bedtime… Here are the most common possible reasons for your cravings and a few extra ideas on how to manage them.
Most of the time, our body signal to us a sign of dehydration in the form of cravings. Unfortunately, we tend to lack the sense that we are actually not hungry, but in need of water. Dehydration can especially cause cravings for both sweet and savoury/salty foods (e.g. fried foods, desserts, refined carbohydrate and processed sugars).
Do you know: Excess water intake can also cause cravings, so make sure you have a healthy balance! In addition, taper off your water intake right before bed. Getting up in the middle of the night for frequent bathroom visits disrupts the sleep cycle and produces a worse effect on health, as compared to drinking more water in the day.
Monitor: How much water do you drink daily? Have a bottle that is 500ml and bring it with you everywhere, even to lunch. Make a mental note to refill it at least 3 to 4 times a day, which ensures that you drink at least 1.5 Litres. If you are distracted with work and other issues, use an app that can send you a reminder to drink up every 2 hours. A simple one to use is ‘Drink Water Reminder’.
Manage: If you are the sort of person who automatically satisfies your craving whenever it comes up, it is time for you to reach for water first instead.
We as humans are emotionally driven, some of us more so than others. It is, then obvious that our cravings can come about by our emotions. Perhaps, you crave for that sweet aftertaste after lunch because you dread going back to the office, or you might crave for more snacks during periods where you are rushing to meet deadlines. In addition, negative emotions such as loneliness, fear, depression, anxiety can all lead to cravings developing, especially at home or right before bed.
Do you know: When we lack the love that we need from our family, loved ones or a partner, we tend to crave more and more so of comfort foods. Foods or snacks that we grew up eating during happier times; we are filling in an emotional void with physical foods instead.
Monitor: Start a cravings diary and note down the times at which you have particular cravings. Do this for 2 weeks and you might start to see a pattern!
Manage: Use your intuition! When you start to have cravings, reflect instantly on your emotions first. Look at yourself honestly at your mental and emotional state. Are you feeling stressed at that point of time? Are you lacking in some area, more so often, love and companionship? Are your relationships at this stage unhealthy? Find ways to stress relieve, including having meaningful conversations with close friends, going for a massage, adequate rest, de-clutter your work space, be organised, and find time for calming activities. If you crave comfort foods, you can have them but in smaller portions, or find a healthier version of it.
Having too much sugar
Sugar is a huge cause for concern and has been the talk of the town. Natural sugars found in fruits and sweeteners like honey are fine in appropriate amounts. However, fructose and artificial sweeteners found in chemically processed packaged foods are the main inducers for cravings. This can lead to greater insulin spikes, fat storage and a food coma later on during the day. In addition, excess sugar intake creates more cravings.
Do you know: Sugar is considered a yin (energetically) food. Having too much yin foods can cause cravings for yang, an example of which is meat. Similarly, having too much yang foods can also cause cravings for yin foods (like raw salads). This is because the body is always striving to maintain a balance. Notably, all the other additives like preservatives, nicotine and caffeine are considered extremely yin as well.
Monitor: Start a food diary! If it is too daunting, start by jotting down all the foods which you partake in that includes excessive amounts of hidden sugars. For Singaporeans, sugar is also added to sauces that are poured over fresh vegetables or meat; this creates a hidden trap to those who are fans of eating Chinese or Malay economic rice. You might be surprised at how much sugar you consume without even knowing!
Manage: Cut out all processed, chemically produced foods as much as you can. Most of the time, these come as packages with a long list of ingredients that you would not be able to pronounce. Do not forget that sugars are added to our beverages too!
Lack of nutrients
Inadequate nutrients involving the macro ones protein, fats and carbohydrates and also micro ones (minerals and vitamins) can produce strong cravings. Most of the time, not having enough overall phytonutrients from vegetables can cause cravings for caffeine and other temporary additives.
Do you know: Many of us do not eat enough fats. Our brains can run equally well on fats, then it does on carbohydrates. The imbalance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats can lead the body to have cravings. In addition, not having enough essential vitamins and minerals that are abundant in vegetables, nuts and seeds can lead us to feel sluggish and demoralised. Furthermore, it affects our hormone levels which can cause heavier cravings especially for women.
Monitor: Draw a plate and portion out the sections by which you have carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Most likely, the protein or carbohydrate/grain section would be way bigger than the fats portion. Fuel your body properly, before and after a workout.
Manage: When in doubt, reach for healthy fats found in fish, walnuts and avocadoes, and vegetables. Chances are, you would be fairly deficient in the ingestion of these foods.
Yeast/fungi overgrowth in the gut
Our gut contains trillions of bacteria and microorganisms that are absolutely crucial not only to digestion but all the other functions of our body. If you have regular bowel issues, problems with digestion or frequent gut pains, you might be having candida overgrowth or an inflamed gut wall. Having gut issues can lead to cravings as the body requires healing from the intestinal linings, however, we might interpret it wrongly.
Do you know: Our immune system is regulated by the gut, and so are our hormonal levels, which in turn affects our moods. When our gut thrives, our bodies thrive from the inside out.
Monitor: Observe your bowel movements over several weeks, and jot down your symptoms alongside what your previous meals consist of. Sometimes, gut symptoms appear more than a day after, thus a week’s worth of food journaling can help to find out the root source.
Manage: If you suspect candida, get tested by a doctor or work on eliminating foods which can harm the gut. This includes food intolerances and sensitivities. Foundational steps include eliminating processed and chemical junk foods, fast foods, anything that has additional preservatives and sugars added to them. Consider working with a health professional like a nutritionist or health coach to get started on a detox or elimination diet that can help to cleanse your gut.
There are so many ways by which cravings can creep up on us! Do not be prey to cravings and learn how to manage them from the ground up. It all starts with mindful eating, observation and listening to our bodies. Tune in to what your gut is telling you and say hello to a lifestyle devoid of cravings as much as as possible !
This article was contributed by Melissa Dorai of NourishMel who is also a personal trainer.
Photo credits: Pixabay