What Do Your Cravings Really Meanby Elise Museles
“I have no willpower.”
“If I only I didn’t have such a sweet tooth, I would be so healthy!”
“Why can’t I stick with my clean eating plan… What’s wrong with me??”
So often, well-meaning experts offer advice on how to “beat” or “conquer” cravings, as though they’re a personal failure to overcome. But that’s far from the truth! Why? Because our bodies are really smart, and they know exactly how to stay in perfect balance to feel good. In other words, your strong urges for cookies, cheese, or bread might actually give you insight into what your body needs at that moment. That’s why it’s so damaging when we meet cravings with negativity, rather than curiosity.
Think of your cravings as a message carrier for your body, instead of something to control, conquer, ignore, or even feel bad about. When a craving for sugar, salt, carbs, or caffeine strikes, it’s your chance to tune in and pay attention to what your body is trying to say. The key is to set aside any judgment and adopt a lens of authentic interest.
Here’s how to discover what your cravings might be telling you: Ask yourself a few questions, starting with the obvious.
Am I thirsty? When was the last time you had a glass of good, old-fashioned H2O? Your body might communicate dehydration with hunger pangs, so what you interpret as a food craving could actually be a plea for more water. And if you’re bored with plain old water, try spa water instead, or load up on hydrating foods as an additional thirst quencher. (Think: all fruit popsicles, chia pudding parfaits, and watermelon pizza!)
Am I hungry? Did you eat enough, or wait too long between meals? Were your macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins) properly balanced? When you look back at what you’ve had to eat, notice whether your meal provided everything you need. For example, a smoothie that’s mostly fruit without protein or healthy fats is refreshing, but it won’t keep your blood sugar stable or your body satisfied for very long. You’ll likely find yourself searching for food shortly after drinking it.
Am I tired? When you’re over-tired, hunger-controlling hormones like leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol can all be affected, which impacts your satiety levels and can cause a strong desire for carbs and sugar. If there’s a pattern to your cravings (for example, they hit every day at 3 p.m.), your body may be looking for a pick-me-up because you’ve simply run out of energy.
Did I start my day right? Your mother was right: a balanced breakfast, with an adequate amount of protein and fat, is essential to preventing cravings before they start. (Find lots of my favorite ideas here.)
If you can honestly rule out these physiological reasons for cravings, then it’s time to dig deeper.
Am I stressed? After paying attention to my cravings over time, I realized that I crave crunchy foods when I’m stressed. Of course, I could swap celery or carrot sticks for chips; ultimately, I found that physical activity actually works even better, engaging more than just my jaw to burn through those uncomfortable, anxious feelings. Try these unconventional forms of meditation to get grounded and create a sense of calm.
Am I bored? A classic cause of the afternoon munchies! If you find yourself staring blankly at your screen and dreaming about snacks all afternoon, consider what else you could do. When I was logging extra long days while writing my book, I craved lots of chocolate; in my calmer moments, I realized that I was really seeking pleasure fun, rather than the strenuous schedule of work I had laid out for myself. Instead of just sitting in front of my computer tapping away for hours on end, I scheduled in playtime, like walks in the woods with these two. It worked like a charm to reduce my chocolate cravings.
Am I looking for a treat? One client of mine, a busy mom of three, had a very healthy diet, but every day around 3 p.m., she had an overwhelming urge for a sugary blended coffee drink. When she and I dug into what was really going on, we figured out that it was a “treat” that she felt she deserved, as a respite before her kids got home. When we replaced the caffeine with things like a loud music dance break, a different kind of physical treat, she realized it was never about the coffee (or food!) at all, and found other ways to “reward” herself for a productive afternoon.
When you slow down and open the lines of communication to connect with your inner nutritionist, you’ll understand exactly what your body wants and needs. Remember, it’s hard to go wrong when you’re listening.
Now it’s your turn: I challenge you to tune into your body and its wisdom by filling in the blanks below.
I crave ___________. But what I’m really craving is____________.
Post your answer in the comments. Let’s inspire one another to get curious about our cravings – and creative about resolving them.