Your longing for that slab of chocolate or creamy pasta goes much deeper than you think. Tracy Branfield investigates
We have all experienced cravings. They can strike at almost any time, are seemingly unstoppable and often lead to you raiding the fridge in the middle of the night. Some schools of thought advocate surrendering to your cravings (in moderation). After all, if your body keeps demanding a particular kind of food, that means you need it, right?
Wrong. Yes, a craving is your body’s way of letting you know you’re missing valuable nutrients, but you’re not necessarily solving the problem by eating that particular food. The trick is to figure out the need behind your cravings, as Megan Clark Matthee, a nutritionist, explains: ‘By evaluating cravings and then determining your triggers, you will have the knowledge and power to control them – and stop them controlling you.’
You want comfort foods, such as bread, pasta and potatoes
What it means You’re running low on serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, mood and appetite. Eating carbs initiates a chain reaction that causes your serotonin levels to rise, having a positive influence on your mood. But you don’t need to give in to that super-sized muffin (or cake) to reproduce its effects.
• Go for a brisk walk: exercise has been shown to have mood-lifting effects (plus you’ll burn kilojoules)
• Megan also suggests adding the following supplements to your diet: ginkgo biloba, for improved memory as well as brain function; Acetyl-L-Carnitine, which assists with burning stored fat; and St John’s wort, which will raise serotonin levels and lift your mood.
• ‘Consuming high-carb foods in the evening means you will go to bed with an elevated circulating level of insulin, so your body won’t burn any fat while you sleep,’ Megan says. So rather cut out high-GI foods after 6 pm, opting instead for proteins, high-fibre grains and low-sugar fruits (such as raspberries, grapefruit or melon), which stabilise your blood sugar while also keeping cravings at bay.
• Avoid alcohol, as it contributes to lowered levels of serotonin.
• Get your shut-eye, either by going to bed earlier or taking a power nap during the day.
You want cheese, pizza and greasy takeaways
What it means Your body is probably lacking in some essential fatty acids. ‘Omega 3 and 6 are essential, as they ensure the proper functioning of every cell, tissue and organ in the body,’ says Megan.
• Include more walnuts, linseed oil and oily fish (such as anchovies or salmon) in your diet.
• Get a reputable omega 3 and 6 supplement.
You want everything covered in chocolate
What it means Your body may be deficient in magnesium or lacking in B vitamins. Chocolate cravings in women are also associated with the hormonal changes before and during your period.
• ‘Because stress burns B vitamins, supplementing your diet with a good B complex isn’t a bad idea,’ says Megan.
• Reach for some dark chocolate instead (75% cacao or higher). It’s lower in sugar but much higher in antioxidants than either white or milk chocolate, and will provide your body with the magnesium it needs, plus iron.
• Snack on other magnesium-rich food, such as nuts, seeds, spinach and bananas.
You want a packet of chips or salted popcorn
What it means A lack of calcium, potassium or iron can lead to a strong urge for sodium. However, snacking on that salty food merely masks the underlying problem. This craving could also be a sign that your adrenal glands, which help your body cope under stress, are overworked, or that you could be somewhat dehydrated.
• Low-fat dairy, green leafy veggies, beans, lentils and sweet potatoes are your best options for a calcium, potassium and iron boost.
• Set aside time for meditation and deep breathing to calm your body and mind.
• Drink more water. A common cause of a supposed salt craving is dehydration.
DOWN IN THE DUMPS?
Ever noticed how, when you’re unhappy or stressed, you’re more drawn to unhealthy, high-energy snacks? There may be some psychological factors behind your cravings. The next time you tuck into something you’re craving, ask yourself why you’re eating it. If it’s to take the edge off your stress, look for a relaxing outlet to help you unwind. Are you simply bored? Find an activity to occupy your time. If you notice that the craving is linked to a certain activity (such as wanting a massive bowl of popcorn every time you sit down to watch Suits), try changing your routine. Jotting down your feelings and the cravings that follow in a food journal will help you to identify patterns.
WHEN YOU HAVE A CRAVING…
• Wait it out for 15 minutes. If you still want it after that, the action is at least conscious instead of impulsive.
• Ask yourself how important satisfying the craving is when compared to the impact it will have on your body.
• Drink a glass of cold water before giving in.
KEEP CRAVINGS AT BAY…
• Don’t skip meals, starve yourself or cut out an entire food group.
• Don’t keep temptations in your house. If you can’t live without the occasional treat, buy individual-sized portions so you don’t overdo it.
• Be kind to yourself. If you overindulge, dust yourself off and keep trying.