*Note: some links may contain affiliate links (meaning if you end up purchasing something when you click on the link then I may get a commission on it, with no extra cost to you, of course). For more information on what this means, visit my disclosure page.
Have you ever had a craving? I’m going to guess that’s a silly question to ask. Almost all women, and more than half of all men, have cravings.
So, please don’t feel alone or bad for having a craving! You’re really not alone, and there’s actual physiological explanations as to why we get them; no reason to feel bad whatsoever!
Some cravings are stronger than others, and the strength can be influenced by why you’re craving a certain food in the first place. Such as, when you’re trying to stick with a strict fad diet and you’re craving the food you’re restricting. If that craving doesn’t ruin the diet you’re on and stops you from losing weight, the diet itself will!!
**Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietitian or a professional nutritionist. I simply believe in eating well for people of all ages, and I believe that a whole foods plant based diet is eating well, whereas processed foods are not. I hold my degree in psychology, but aspire to go back to school for a masters in nutrition.
Why do we have cravings?
Most people have cravings at least once in their lives, some have more than one in a single hour! (Guilty of that!) But, what most people don’t know is why they are having the urge to eat whatever it is that they are craving, in the first place. Usually, the craving is for a food high in fat and there are a few different theories as to why we crave so many fatty items!
Yay!! We’re not crazy or completely lack in self-control!!
Cravings are an Instinct
There is an evolutionary theory, which actually ties into other theories for why we get cravings.
This theory, the instinct theory, tells us that our ancestors had feast or famine through out their lives. During the feast portion of their lives they would need to consume as many calories as possible while there was food available!! They did this to store the calories as fat in the body during times of famine.
If you have ever studied nutrition before, you’ll find that the type of food with the most amount of calories is fat. For every one gram of fat you eat, you are consuming 9 calories; the other macronutrients, such as carbs and protein, only give you 4 calories per gram. Therefore, the easiest way to consume the most amount of calories in the fastest way possible was to eat foods that contained mostly fats. So, yes, it’s basically an instinct for us to gain weight. It’s what kept our ancestors alive during famines! (So, blame your elders, haha, just kidding; but seriously, in theory we can!)
And, you may be thinking to yourself; well I don’t crave fats, I crave carbs, so that theory doesn’t apply to me. If you’re thinking this, then I invite you to go look at the nutrient label on the food you crave the most; find out how many calories of that food comes from carbohydrates, and how many calories come from fat. Keep in mind, that every gram coming from fat equals 9 calories, and every gram of carbs equals 4 calories. Hopefully, this will open your eyes to what you are really craving. If it doesn’t, there are still many other theories to explain why we have cravings.
By deficient, I mean that our diet is lacking in a certain macronutrient (carbs, fats, proteins) or micronutrient (vitamins and minerals). This theory concerns our innate ability to eat what we need to eat. Unfortunately, this ability is skewed with our knowledge of food, and the engineering of food to make them more addictive. Food engineers create food-like products that are irresistible and that mimic what real food does, without giving us the nutrients we need. For example, if you are craving sweets you could be deficient in tryptophan.
For anyone who hasn’t taken a psychology or nutrition class, or maybe was dosing off during this lesson; tryptophan is an amino acid. Amino acids are what make up proteins. More specifically, tryptophan is an essential amino acid (meaning that we need to consume it, it’s not made in our body). Therefore, we need to consume foods containing tryptophan, or proteins that contain it. Such as nuts, seeds, tofu, and animal products. Lack of tryptophan is, in itself, a reason we may have cravings for sweets, but there is an underlying reason, as well. Tryptophan is needed for serotonin production; serotonin is a major neurotransmitter concerning mood, and sleep. And, we all know that we crave more when we’re in a bad mood, stressed, or tired. This leads us right to the last reason we crave food; emotional eating.
Have you ever craved, or eaten, a specific food when sad, stressed, or anxious. This emotional eating. After all, stressed spelled backwards is desserts! When our mood is altered and you start feeling sad or stressed, the food you probably crave or eat is loaded with carbs and fats, and probably not the good kinds.
You’re craving sweets! And, this may not be a cause of lacking tryptophan (but, it could be); this could be a result of how you were cheered up when you were younger. The brain, and body, remembers those type of things. Or, it could be the fact that every time you eat what you’re craving you feel more calm. But, in this sense, you are simply strengthening your craving. Yikes!
Sometimes cravings are innate, or are an attempt to show you the nutrients you are lacking in your diet. Or, even that you need a better way to deal with stress. Whatever the reason for your craving, there will usually be something you can do to make it go away.
[clickToTweet tweet=” “To give in or not to give in; that is the question”” quote=” “To give in or not to give in; that is the question””]
To Give in or not to give in; that is the question
My guess is that if you are reading this then you have already figure out that your cravings are strong and you don’t know how to prevent them. Possibly, even trying to find a solution to make them go away; or subconsciously, you’re looking for someone to tell you that it’s alright to give into your craving completely. And, whether or not you should give into your craving depends completely on you! Sorry, I can’t tell you what to do!
You have complete permission to dive right in and give into you craving if…you have enough discipline to have a small amount of the food, and not go overboard. Unfortunately, a small amount of food to one person can be a large amount for another and vice versa.
I won’t tell you how much specifically to eat. But, looking at the nutrition label on the package and seeing the size of one serving is a great start! While you’re reading that, look a little lower, as well. Read the ingredient list! If you don’t know something that’s in the food; there’s a good chance it’s not that good for you. Try looking up what the ingredient is; it may just discourage your craving. (Like red food dye…)
If you can not control yourself with how much you eat when craving a certain food; this is a sign you should look else where to satisfy your craving. And, luckily for you, I studied stress and eating disorders in college (not saying a craving is an eating disorder, but binge eating is). So, I have come up with some simple things to do that may very well satisfy that craving of yours!
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” Who doesn’t remember this quote from Legally Blonde? I may have been too young to watch this movie when it first came out, but it was certainly the first time I learned anything about neurotransmitters! And, guess what, this movie had it right, and it’s 16 years old!! Exercise does produce endorphins, along with serotonin and other neurotransmitters that “make you happy”.
So, next time you’re craving sweets, instead of giving in, go for a walk, play tag with your kids, or just move. There’s a good chance you’ll get what you’re looking for, without eating food that’s not that great for you anyways!
If you’re looking at this page and thinking I’m out of my mind for saying this, let me explain.
First of all, if you’re on a fad diet trying to lose weight, having cravings is even more a reason to get off of it NOW!!
It’s called a fad for a reason; it’ll only last so long, and when it’s over you’ll gain more weight than you lost. Plus, when on this type of diet you are in general going to be restricting one type of food, while consuming more of another, such as in the Atkins diet.
And, it’s common sense that if you tell someone not to do something, guess what they’re going to do? They are going to do what they’re told not to! We see this in our children, please don’t ignore it in yourself.
Never restrict any type of food. Seeing a food off-limits makes it more desirable. You can use words to help you overcome this. Instead of telling yourself that you can’t have the food you are craving; tell yourself that you don’t want it. Saying it out loud can have an even greater affect! And, if you tell yourself, or better yet- others (to keep you accountable), enough times; you may actually start believing yourself and stop eating it for good!
(I don’t want pizza. I don’t want pizza. I don’t want pizza.)
You already know that ‘stressed’ spelled backwards is ‘desserts’, and sometimes it’s very obvious that our cravings start when we’re stressed!
So, take some time out of your day to de-stress.
If you’re a mom, like me, or even just human, there are tons of things every day going on in your life that can cause, or simply contribute, to stress. For example, if your trying to lose weight, then you’re putting physical stress on your body. If you’re dieting to lose weight and restricting what you eat; you’re bound to have cravings.
Stress increases our cortisol levels; this brings us back to our ancestors and our instincts. It encourages weight gain for the ‘famine’ (which never comes for us, but was a huge stressor way back when). And, it usually prompts the weight gain where most us don’t want it; our midsection. Unfortunately, our instincts haven’t evolved as quickly as our way of life has!
So, here are some ways to shed the stress:
- Have ‘me time’
- Read a book
- Take a walk outdoors
- Take a long bubble bath or hot shower
- Worry less about things you can not control
- Drink a glass of water
- Talk with a friend
- Watch a funny movie (like Legally Blonde)
- Snuggle something cute, like your kids or a pet
- Keep a journal
You could even clean something, or organize, if that helps you relax, like Monica from Friends. Whatever it is that helps you relax, will help you stress less, and hopefully kick that craving you had!
Now that you know…
Now that you know why you may be craving something, and how to defuse the craving; go ahead and try a few different things!
If you’re still uncertain for the reasoning behind your specific craving, try writing down how you feel and the situation you’re in, when you feel your craving creeping up. Are your kids screaming? Is a deadline at work coming up? Or, is it first thing in the morning, right as you wake up and smell the coffee?
This will help the reason behind your craving come to light; and that’s half the struggle! Once you know why you get cravings and how to start overcoming them, all that’s left is to apply your knowledge.
I know it’s not easy sometimes, but it’ll be worth it.
I hope this has encouraged you to kick your craving and inspired you to START NOW!! Share in the comments how you deal with stress, or what you found helps curb your cravings.