Everyone knows that feeling of intense craving for a specific food. Cravings come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Whether it's that late-night pizza, mid-day coffee, or post-dinner chocolate bar, your cravings are real, but what are they really telling you?
At the end of the day, it's important to understand that while everyone experiences cravings, your body is unique, and your cravings are too. In order to fully understand the root cause of your food cravings, it's important to self-reflect on when your body experiences them and what could be triggering them. Ask yourself what happens before you get a craving, how are you feeling and what are your stress and mood levels. Does it happen at the same time every day?
The reason behind cravings can be both physical and mental. In this blog, we are going to dive into three common food craving categories and explain why your body might be hankering for them.
Let’s talk about sweets. You know them, you love them, and maybe you even crave them daily. Have you ever noticed your body craving sweets when you are sad? When we eat sugar, our body secretes the hormone of happiness, serotonin, and feel-good hormones, endorphins. These give us feelings of happiness, especially in times of unhappiness. There are several other factors that could be contributing to your sugar cravings. When our blood sugar is low either from skipping meals or experiencing prolonged hunger, our bodies want an immediate fix of energy, and sugar is the quickest to be absorbed for a jolt of energy. It has also been shown that people with iron, chromium and magnesium deficiencies are more prone to crave sugar. Many women also might experience intense sugar cravings a week or so before menstruation. This is due to the body’s decrease in estrogen and fluctuations in serotonin, which drops our blood sugar levels and, you guessed it, makes many women crave sugar during this time.
There are endless reasons why our bodies can crave sugar. Whether emotional or physical, it is important to be aware of how you feel before and after you satisfy a craving.
While some cravings could be due to a nutrient lacking in the diet, this is most definitely not the case when it comes to salt. Most people in the U.S. consume too much salt, so why is it that so many of us still crave salty snacks? One main reason why our bodies crave salty foods is stress. Lack of sleep is another culprit for triggering salty cravings. Sleep deprivation makes the body crave foods with high “satisfaction levels” such as your favorite salty snack. Lastly, salt is important for maintaining hydration and fluid levels in your body. Craving salty foods may be a sign of dehydration and a need for replenishing electrolytes. Have you had enough water today? Consider replenishing your electrolytes after a hard workout or after spending time in the sun or heat.
Sometimes you may crave foods that are high in fat too, especially at night. Do you find yourself craving a cheeseburger, buttery bread and pasta, or extra fries? Your body might be craving more calories and energy, especially if you haven’t eaten for several hours or if you haven’t eaten enough throughout the day. Fats are high in calories, so your body wants you to reach for fatty foods in order to increase your energy reserves. Saturated fats, however, can increase your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol levels, so you want to focus on healthier fats whenever possible. Consider having more regularly scheduled meals throughout your day to reduce these late-night cravings. Ask yourself, can you add healthy sources of unsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts or nut butter, and avocados into your diet?
Cravings are common, especially during times of stress or changes to your typical routine. You can use your cravings as an opportunity to learn more about your body and get curious about how you are feeling and what your mind and body need. If you are unsure about your diet plan, struggling to reach your nutrition goals, or have any nutrition questions, consider signing up for free Pawsitive Nutrition Counseling at the Student Rec Center here: