Nutritional Health

Who’s got cravings?

We all have them — cravings! That feeling that you just “have” to have that specific something to eat or drink now! You know what I’m talking about, right? For some people this is an occasional occurrence, but for others it can feel like a constant struggle. Whatever group you put yourself in, know this: You are not alone and there are more reasons for those cravings than you think.

Essentially there are five reasons and often it is a combination of one or more of them. See if you can relate to any of them.

1. We crave the familiar and we are creatures of habit. Think of any holiday gathering and you will be transported back in time to childhood or other family traditions — for better or worse! There are those very specific dishes that are always a part of this particular celebration and if they are not there for some reason, something feels “wrong.” Another scenario would be a sports event or even going to see a movie. Is popcorn a must? What about those hot dogs that you can only get at Fenway? Of course, there is the perennial birthday cake to mark that special day. It could even be something like, “Every Friday we have fish for dinner.” And the list goes on and on. 

2. Our body needs a specific nutrient and we seek out the foods that have that nutrient. For example, craving chocolate can often be a sign that our body needs more magnesium - an essential nutrient that many of us are deficient in, particularly when we have many processed foods and/or sugar in our diets. Do you crave salty foods? It may not be sodium —the most common ingredient in table salt — but rather other minerals that are found in sea salt. 

3. We are sensitive to a specific food and we keep wanting it.

This one seems counterintuitive but the fact is, when we eat or drink something that we are sensitive to, our body is sending a signal to us to stop eating that food and switch to something less offensive. This typically happens with highly processed, refined, adulterated complex carboyhdrates. And that leads us to the next reason we crave foods. 

4. It is not, in fact, us that craves the food, but the myriad of microbes that live in our bodies that are seeking their food. Now, before this starts to sound like science fiction, bear with me. We humans are, in fact, host to billions of microbes. The vast majority of whom live in our small and large intestines, our gut. They are there by design and, when all is well, they live in harmony with each other and us. However, if something goes astray, like too many toxins, medications, sugar, stress, etc., they can get of balance. Our immune system will do everything in its power to restore balance but sometimes there is too much to contend with. Everything from skin rashes, irritability, inflammation and those darned cravings are a sign of imbalance. When we crave things that don’t really help our body — sugar being one of the biggest offenders here — recognize that it is not because you have no willpower, or you are weak or “bad” in any way. Sugar is, in fact, the primary food for all of the “bad” microbes and it can literally morph a healthy cell into an unhealthy cell.

I call these the “yeasties and the beasties.” When their number grow — and they grow fast and furiously once they start — it can feel impossible to stop them. The trick is to starve them to death. Please don’t misinterpret that as me saying that you need to starve yourself. On the contrary, you need to eat nutrient dense foods and stop eating their primary source of fuel, which is sugar. When you do this, you may not feel so great for a few days. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those yeasties and beasties are fighting for their lives and when you deprive them of sugar, they will literally starve to death. This is a simplified definition of what a true detoxification is. You feel those “die-off” or “detox” effects, which don’t feel good but, as you keep eating real, nutrient dense foods, you feel a whole lot better!

5. We are really craving something but it is not food. When we are stressed, bored, lonely, sad, angry, even happy, we often reach to food for comfort. A certain situation, or stressor, or even time of day can lead us to want a certain food. To become aware of this and recognize it for what it is is the first step in changing this.

The next step is to literally do something differently. Turn left instead of right. Write about what it is you really need in that moment. Move to a different place or just move your body. Drink water. Do something different. Acknowledge what is really going on and deal with that. That is definitely another way of nourishing yourself.

Jeni Hall of Dublin is a board certified nutritional therapist practicing in the Monadnock region. Her mission is to empower you to heal your own body and keep it healthy. See, for more information.

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