Food cravings are a yearning to eat a specific type of food. Research suggests that more than 90 percent of people experience some type of food craving. There is even research that suggests that males tend to crave savory foods, whereas females tend to crave high fat and sweet foods.Although food cravings are based on many factors, we all experience one of these types of cravings: sweet cravings; salty cravings; carb cravings; fried, fatty food cravings; and all types of comfort food cravings.
Common causes for food cravings
To make things simple, let us categorize the common causes for food cravings under two broad categories: Physical causes and Mental causes. Physical causes can include everything that is related to our physical body and physiology, and mental causes include everything associated with the intellectual and emotional aspects of our brain.
Physical causes that trigger the need for certain foods
- Hormonal changes: This is very commonly seen in the case of women especially during pregnancy and during the time of their monthly menstrual cycle. Food cravings are triggered because of hormonal changes. During pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen fluctuate which can lead to increased hunger and cravings for certain foods. Men also experience food cravings but for them it may be due to imbalances in the hunger and fullness hormones of their body.
- Not getting enough rest: When we’re tired physically and are not able to get enough and good quality sleep, our bodies hunger and fullness hormone levels get disrupted. The body may produce the hormone ghrelin which triggers food cravings.
- Blood sugar levels: Managing our insulin and blood sugar levels is very important for our health. Your body tries to deal with the low blood sugar levels by triggering the sweet, sugary food cravings as a way to raise your blood sugar levels.
- Dehydration: Our bodies are on an average 60 percent water, so low water levels affect the functioning of each and every cell in our body. Intense hunger or other food cravings may sometimes be a signal from our body to drink more water.
- Nutritional deficiencies: This is a well-known fact that certain nutrient deficiencies maylead to food cravings. For example, if you are craving chocolate, it could be because of low magnesium levels in your body.
Mental causes that trigger the need for certain foods
- Stress: Stress is one of the most common mental causes for food cravings. When we are stressed, our body produces the cortisol hormone which can increase our food cravings especially for high fat, high sugar foods.
- Emotional eating: All kinds of emotions inspire eating. We eat when we are sad, bored, or happy and excited. Most of us relate to food because eating food is an experience which can be stored as a memory. When we are feeling down and out, many of us turn to foods that provide us with a quick feeling of joy and comfort. We also avoid foods that gave us an upset stomach, or we associate with a negative memory. Even the weather and seasonsaffect our cravings for food. We crave fried food on a rainy day, fresh watery fruits and vegetables during sweltering summer days, and hot creamy soups on a cold, wintery day.
5 ways to manage our food cravings
Although food cravings can be challenging in the moment, here are a few natural and easy ways to help you manage your food cravings:
- Stay hydrated: Many times, our bodies’ need for water is mistaken for hunger or cravings. When you experience a craving, start by first drinking a glass of refreshing, life giving water and it is possible that the craving may subside.
- Eat balanced meals: Make sure your meals are well-balanced. Eat the rainbow and also include all food groups in the right proportions. Eat protein, healthy fats, fresh and cooked vegetables, and fiber-rich carbohydrates in every meal. This will help to reduce cravings by managing your blood sugar, and the nutritional needs of your body.
- Manage stress: Stress is known to trigger food cravings. We tend to crave sugary, high-fat, processed foods under stress. Work on making a self-care plan to help you manage stress in a healthy way. Regular meditation practice, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in activities you enjoy can help in reducing stress and cravings.
- Get enough sleep: Inadequate sleep can disrupt hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, leading to increased cravings. Aim for 6-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Healthy alternatives: Equip your kitchen with nutritious healthy alternatives to handle cravings. For example, if you crave something sweet, opt for a piece of fruit, a small serving of dark chocolate, or even dates.
It is normal to have occasional food cravings. All we need to remember is that striking a balanceis important. Allow yourself the occasional treat so you do not feel deprived. Adopt mindful eating as a lifestyle change. When we pay attention to our body’s hunger and fullness cues, slow down to savor every bite of our food, and pay attention to our body’s signals, we can easily manage any type of food craving.