We can certainly blame all this on the hypothalamus. "The hypothalamus, which monitors the body’s available energy supply, is at the center of the brain’s snack-food signal processing."1 Right now skilled researchers are studying this phenomenon, which may be just the key in tackling some serious dietary linked diseases in the future. But what can we do every day for ourselves?
If you learn to use cravings as a compass, you'll discover a lot about your system and begin to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes that will allow you to be more in control. These promptings trigger valuable communication with ourselves and we learn the skill of listening to our bodies.
Some common triggers of cravings are dehydration, vitamin or mineral deficiency, unbalanced or unplanned meals, low energy, emotional stress or feeling a lack somewhere in our lives. I always ask my clients what time of day they experience the craving, which foods they reach for, and what meals they have eaten or not eaten in the hours leading up to the craving. I check on what the outer circumstances and environment is like when they are experiencing them. Unraveling cravings in this way makes you a savvy detective to decode them. Next you can tackle them!
Sugar is a big one. I’ve rarely met anyone who hasn’t craved sugar at one time in their life and it's certainly most common among the cravings. Many of us crave sugar around 2-4 pm. There is a natural energy dip after lunch and in the afternoon hours. Many people have been already sitting at their desks for hours or perhaps the day is turning out to be very stressful, and for some they find themselves bored or restless. A sugar craving is usually just the body asking energy. The trick to taming any craving is developing the skills to catch it before it snares you and part of that is having the right foods around.
Sometimes you may be craving the very food that your body needs to heal. A few years ago I was seeing a physical therapist for tendonitis in my wrist. One day we were chatting about diet and I mentioned to him that I was suddenly craving the grain, millet. He said that due to millet’s phosphorus content, it’s beneﬁcial for body- tissue repair. It’s also a good source of plant protein and a great gluten free choice with anti-inﬂammatory properties. Last winter I found myself craving sun-dried tomatoes, a food that I rarely choose. I thought hmm…this is not exactly a winter comfort food! Turns out they are rich in potassium, that helps regulate electrolyte balance, (I get quite dehydrated in the winter due to indoor heating) and magnesium, that supports healthy bone tissue. They're also a great source of iron and the powerful, anti-oxidant, lycopene. Listen to these kinds of cravings, as well, and research them. They may be just what your body needs to boost your health!
1. Investigate. Write down the what, when and where of your cravings. Jotting down what you are craving, the time of day and the type of environment or situation you are in when you have them are key to taming them.
2. Fill in the gaps. The foods you crave often serve to ﬁll a gap in your life that you long to enrich with something more lasting and fulfilling. Take a look at areas in your life that you may be feeling a lack and use the compass of your cravings to ﬁnd contentment in those areas.
3. Replace & crowd out. Replace your go-to-foods with a healthier version of that ﬂavor or texture. If you crave sweets, replace them with more nutritious sweet foods. Include sweet veggies and fruits, raisins or natural sweeteners in your diet, like vanilla extract, cinnamon or maple syrup. Of course, always watch quantities for any kind of sugar intake.
4. Run on ﬁber. Fiber makes you ﬁll fuller and sustains your hunger for longer. Start the day with a fiber rich breakfast. Include high fiber foods like veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains in your meals and snacks. This may just keep your cravings at bay!
5. Hydrate. Cravings and hunger may be a signal that you are thirsty and on the verge of dehydration. The next time a craving comes on, try drinking a tall glass of water, and see if it subsides.
6. Get moving. Even 20-30 minutes a day of an aerobic physical activity regulates blood sugar, boosts your mood and energy and de-stresses you. You may ﬁnd you are not as hungry as you think!