Why We Have Cravings
Cravings - we all have them. That insatiable urge to have a particular food that won't go away no matter how hard you try. It's so easy to give in and so hard to resist.
But why do we have cravings in the first place? In my practice and own life, it comes down to a few simple causes.
1. Lack of Nutrient Stores
When we don't have enough nutrients stored up in our body (our nutrient bank accounts as I like to call them), our bodies don't have any help to ward off cravings. Cravings in and of themselves are a signal for something our bodies need, and typically this need is nutrients! Stress, a poor diet, lack of sleep, too much or too little exercise, and inflammation all have a huge impact on our nutrient stores! If they aren't replenished, our health will suffer and cravings will run rampant.
2. Fake, Highly Processed Foods and Artificial Sweeteners
Fake foods that contain vegetable oils, colors, dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners are heavily processed and offer our bodies plenty of macronutrients (protein, fat, and/or carbs in the form of calories), but they offer very little in the form of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Actually, these foods deplete our micronutrient stores, so when we are eating them, we are losing micronutrients from the foods themselves and the process of digestion as well. Plus, highly processed foods often contain artificial sweeteners, which are usually 500+ times sweeter than sugar itself, altering our taste buds and sensitivity to sweet foods. Processed foods also alter our brain chemistry - they are created to be addicting and create cravings. Food manufacturers know this and use this to their full advantage.
3. Irregular Blood Sugar Levels
When we aren't eating real food or eating in a PFC balanced manner, our blood sugar levels run wild, going up and crashing down. When our blood sugar levels get to low, our bodies sense that dip in glucose and send signals telling us to eat something that will bring that blood sugar up quickly. So, we crave processed foods, eat them, and the cycle begins again. However, if we eat real food in a PFC balanced manner, we never have to deal with these extreme highs and lows in the first place, saving us a ton of trouble and awful symptoms.
4. Cortisol Dysregulation
Cortisol is our stress hormone, and when it is too high, too low, or off of its normal path or pattern, we start to have cravings. Usually, cortisol dyregulation is tied to another issue as well: hormone issues, irregular blood sugar levels, lack of sleep, or too much stress. When our cortisol is too low, we crave foods to help us get going and stimulate us. This is usually in the form of caffeine, sugar, or alcohol. These work for a limited time before sending us further back than when we started. If our cortisol is too high, our body suffers from chronic inflammation and we might find ourselves craving salty foods to help support our adrenals. Either way, supporting your cortisol equates to reducing cravings.
Hormones are a part of life, but they typically aren't much fun to deal with, especially in today's society. If our thyroid, sex, stress, adrenal, or any other hormones are out of wack, we will have cravings. This usually comes from our stress hormone (cortisol) or adrenal hormones (cortisol also being the main one here, among others). Irregularities in our hormones cause us to crave sugar or salt (or both), so we eat foods that satisfy those cravings in the moment, but they don't get to the root cause. They usually just make the cycle and cravings worse!
Stress is horrible when it comes to creating cravings. Stress causes us to overeat, undereat, eat highly processed foods, and then stress about it all again! Managing stress is one of the best action steps you can take to ward off cravings, as well as recognizing what your stress triggers are and what foods you crave alongside of that stress. That helps bring awareness to the situation, which in turn helps you be better prepared for the future.
7. Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep causes a host of issues, one of which is creating more and more cravings. When we don't get enough sleep, our bodies can't complete the processes of repairing and resetting that they do every night. This leads to an increase in stress, inflammation, hormone dyregulation, and irregular blood sugar levels, which all feed right into the cravings cycle. It's all connected!
So, what do we do when we have cravings? How do we make them stop?
It starts with awareness. What are the foods you crave, when do you crave them, and what are the circumstances surrounding that craving?
For example, you might find this to be true: "I crave Diet Coke between 2-4pm during the work week because my job tends to be very stressful."
Or, "When I don't get enough sleep, all I can think about is ordering my heavily sweetened coffee in the morning."
I crave ____________ at ________________time because of ________________________________.
Fill in the blanks with your story and cravings. This is the first step.
Next, it's time to work on reducing those cravings! Luckily, I have several previous posts helping you through this process:
The other HUGE step that you can take to ward off cravings would be to complete The 21 Day Sugar Detox. I haven't talked about this program much on the blog, but it is a truly transformational program that I am a coach of that focuses on reducing sugar cravings, as well as allowing the body to heal. The program is 21 days and focuses on real, whole food while eliminating common inflammatory foods. There is no counting calories or points, nor is there any deprivation. You can eat as much of the yes foods as you want! I have coached seven previous rounds of the detox at Prairie Life, and I'm about to start my eighth this coming January. If you are in the Lincoln area and are interested in the 21DSD, let me know! I'm hosting a free informational meeting on Monday, January 8th at 6:30pm at Prairie Life. If you aren't in Lincoln and want to give the program a try on your own, head to 21dsd.com for more information or you can also do an individual detox with me online as well!
Cravings don't have to run or ruin your life - you can manage them without issue as long as you truly listen to your body, eat plenty of real food, sleep, and work on reducing stress. It seems harder than just taking a pill or something easy, but in the long run, it is so much more rewarding and effective!