Yes, I crave foods. In the past, doctors and scientists have debated whether cravings really meant anything at all. It’s one of those topics that was long relegated to the realm of the largely unsubstantiated and alternative medicine areas of health and wellness. For myself and for my family, though, I’m a big believer in listening to our bodies.
That doesn’t mean I eat a bar of chocolate every day, but it does mean I try to support my own health and wellness with vitamins and nutrients. And I can tell what my body needs by listening to my cravings.
What Is A Craving?
If you’re a woman, it’s nearly 100% certain that you’ve experienced food cravings some time in the last year. Men are slightly less likely, with a 70% probability. Even though we nearly all experience them, it’s also likely that you’ve got the wrong impression about what cravings mean and how they affect you. The reason for that misunderstanding is simple. We link cravings with a lack of self-control and bad eating habits. Even the words we use, like “sugar addict” and “chocoholic,” have negative connotations.
It’s all in my head, though, as science has now been able to prove. When I eat certain hyperpalatable foods like chocolate, I’m just stimulating the neurons in the rewards region of my brain, along with the hippocampus, insula, and caudate. The foods tend to be enjoyable because they are salty, sweet, and/or rich. So, when I eat chocolate, I experience pleasurable feelings, which makes me want MORE chocolate.
But there’s more to the cravings than just seeking rewards. Scientists and researchers have discovered direct correlations between cravings and nutritional deficits.
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Craving Chocolate = Magnesium
A craving for chocolate or other sweets (often associated with PMS symptoms) could be linked to a magnesium deficiency. When you supplement your deficiencies with seeds, legumes, spinach, and whole grains, you could decrease the effects of other PMS symptoms like fluid retention, irritability, and headaches.
Craving Salty Fries = Dehydration
When I’m craving pretzels and chips, it often means that I’m dehydrated. Studies show that mineral deficiencies can also make me crave salt. In many cases, it’s just easier to eat salty foods, which fools my body into believing I’m just eating calcium. Of course, I can also eat calcium-rich foods like tofu or yogurt.
Craving a Burger = Iron
If you’re craving a juicy burger, there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing iron deficiency. When I was pregnant that was particularly evident. I was iron deficient, and that’s a big reason why my cravings were so intense. Studies show that those cravings are a way to encourage you to supplement that nutritional need.
When we know how deficiencies are affecting us, we can take steps to seek out healthy and nutritional ways to fulfill that nutritional requirement. Instead of a burger, we can eat iron-rich foods like seeds, dried fruit, or vegetables.
What Are The Top Factors Associated With Cravings?
Cravings may seem simple enough, but they can also evolve into something more akin to addiction, which is the negative we wanted to avoid in the first place. While cravings affect most of us, other factors like advertising, stress, exercise, and hormonal changes can affect how we react to our cravings.
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It sometimes feels like it’s impossible to resist those snack food cravings, but there’s a reason for that. Businesses spend an average of $10 billion to advertise snack food, and their primary focus is to get you to give into your cravings for crackers, potato chips, ice cream, candy, soda, and other hyperpalatable foods. They aim their crave-worthy messaging at kids because they are the most susceptible. Even when we try to minimize those influences, they still affect us.
Stress is often associated with cravings for carbohydrates like cupcakes and ice cream. Those carbs help to increase serotonin production, which make us feel good. Since the cravings arise to satisfy that emotional need, you may be able to satisfy those cravings by reducing your anxiety and stress levels. That’s also why we crave comfort food so much when we’re having a really bad day.
— PURE Natural Health & Wellness – Sharlene Styles (@purenhw) October 26, 2021
You may find that you have extreme cravings when you haven’t had enough sleep. That’s because your sleepless night has led to an imbalance of your ghrelin and leptin levels, causing hormonal fluctuations that lead to cravings.
Some prescribed antidepressants and other medications can lead to cravings, but your doctor will typically discuss those side effects. It’s important to understand how these medications can change your metabolism, the signal for hunger, and also make you crave food with such persistence.
If you’re like me, you always have cravings around those periods of hormonal change like my menstrual cycle. Women also have super cravings during pregnancy. That’s when my cravings for cinnamon rolls were the worst. Those cravings are often associated with low estrogen levels. Studies suggest that estrogen helps to suppress hunger and cravings.
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How To Know If Cravings Are A Problem?
Cravings are a natural part of our lives. They are the body’s way of sending signals that could just inspire us to improve our health and wellness habits. We all know that we should be sleeping, exercising, and minimizing our stress. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle. But, there are times when it’s just easier to give in to cravings.
If you feel that cravings have become a problem that is completely out of control, you should seek out medical intervention. It could be that your doctor or medical provider will be able to adjust your medication to mitigate the more extreme effects of cravings. Food and cravings can become an addiction, and there are wonderful and supportive resources available to help you on your road to recovery.
What are your thoughts on cravings? How do they affect you? We’d love to hear your thoughts on cravings in the comments below.
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