Food Cravings: Where Do They Come From and What Do They Mean?
As I've been working to improve my eating habits, I've faced the challenge of food cravings and how to deal with them.
We've all dealt with cravings at one time or another, and we all have our favorite things to reach for. I lean toward sweet or salty, depending on the day, while my husband usually wants some sort of meat. My kids often reach for bread or cookies.
Food cravings aren't always bad. Easing a desire with fresh veggies, fruit or nuts certainly won't do my diet in. The trouble comes when I try to fulfill a craving with less healthy alternatives. Getting calcium from a giant bowl of ice cream is tasty, but counterproductive!
What Food Cravings Mean
Many people believe we crave foods that contain a nutrient our body is lacking. Although there is medical evidence to support this idea, it isn't the only possible reason for the experience. A craving might have a mental or emotional root to it, such as looking for an escape from stress. Ingrained habits associating certain foods with places - like having popcorn at the movies - can lead to desires as well. The knowledge of what's behind a craving can help dispel it's power over us.
Food Cravings and Nutrition
These diet deficiencies might bring about specific cravings:
- Not enough iron could trigger wanting ice, or even cause a condition called pica (eating non-food items including dirt, paint or cornstarch).
- Needing chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, or triptofan might lead to an urge for sweets.
- Lacking Vitamin B or magnesium can bring about a chocolate craving.
- To get more protein, calcium, or potassium, a body might mistakenly want alcohol.
More Info About Food Cravings
Health Issues and Food Cravings
This condition, an overgrowth of yeast in the body, creates a craving for sugar. Taking in extra carbohydrates and simple sugars only continues the cycle.
Illness and Prescription Medications
Xanax, Paxil, and Zoloft are just some prescription medications that may cause cravings for sweets and carbs. Lower energy because of an illness or condition can take away the willpower to change eating habits.
Food Cravings and Women
- Pregnancy - The influx of hormones into the body plays a huge part in creating cravings, especially in the early months. Some are beneficial, like recognizing a need for more calcium. The famous pickle craving may really be an urge for vinegar, which helps in the absorption of calcium. And conversely, a sudden dislike of coffee could protect the fetus from unhealthy caffeine. Wanting salty things later in the pregnancy may be due to a greater need for sodium.
- PMS - Almost 70% of women deal with symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and face several potential food craving triggers. Increased levels of the hormones estrogen and cortisol send a message to the brain to consume fatty foods. If the level of sertonin lowers, a craving for carbs is created. And lower blood sugar toward the end of the monthly cycle can bring on desire for foods that provide a quick sugar boost.
Food Cravings and Vegetarians
Both vegan and vegetarian eaters can crave protein, mostly for the feel-good effect of casomorphins that help break down the food. Dairy foods, cheese in particular, have the highest concentration of this chemical. Over time, the body adjusts to the substitutes. Some cravings may arise out of a need for more fat or calories in the daily diet.
When a food craving doesn't go away, it's time to take action:
- Keep a food diary for a few days - this will give you a sense of what you're craving and how often. Also, you will be aware of what foods you're using to help deal with the craving.
- Talk with your doctor and bring your food diary. Get a check up to rule out any serious medical issues. Then, find out if there are any vitamin or mineral deficiencies in your diet. Your doctor might recommend supplements or meal changes that will provide some relief.
- Honestly examine your eating patterns - are you using food to satisfy more than your physical needs? Emotional eating can be triggered by both good and bad feelings. If you're looking for comfort, companionship or celebration through food, you can find new ways to take care of yourself.
- Make a plan to handle the cravings when they hit. Get support from your family or friends if you need it. Give yourself encouragement and rewards along the way. You are heading toward a more healthy and satisfying way of eating, and living.
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