Deconstructing Cravings

This week’s blog focuses on deconstructing cravings and in order to do this we must first look into the top causes of cravings as researched by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  Our bodies have an internal clock which for the most part knows when to go to sleep (unless you have terrible insomnia like yours truly), when to wake up, how to maintain your body at a healthy 98.6 degrees and adjust your sight to bright or dim light.  Your body (if you are able to have children) naturally adjusts to pregnancy and childbirth.  Your heart never misses a beat and your lungs are always breathing.  The body requires a state of homeostasis and if it is out of homeostasis it will try to bring itself back.  This is what causes cravings in our body.

When we look at cravings we need to not only look at food, but also behaviors in your life that are the underlying causes of your cravings which are important messages our bodies send us to maintain balance.  Check out the primary causes of cravings below excerpt from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Relationships – Whether it be your relationship with a significant other, friendships or family, if you are dissatisfied, bored or stressed by your relationships you might be replacing these relationships with food, sweets, salty things, and over eating.  Take a look at the relationships in your life and make changes that are positive and healthy.

Exercise – Your body might not be craving a chocolate bar, but might be craving physical activity.  Check your exercise routine, sometimes if you are having too much, too little or the wrong type of movement your body again codes this lack of activity as a need for something else.  Bring it back to balance by assessing your current work out routine.

Career – Career dissatisfaction, boredom and stress at work are major causes of cravings.  A lot of us feel uninspired by our jobs and go through each day dissatisfied.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities that appeal to you when it comes to your current job or a future career.  I’m so glad I found the Institute for Integrative Nutrition because it has given me an outlet to start an exciting new career, while keeping my “day” job.  Explore and experiment with what works for you.  Sometimes volunteering can help a creative outlet break free and bring itself to your full-time job.

Emotional eating is caused by the three areas listed above, relationships, exercise and career.  Eating is used to fill the void of insufficient satisfaction in these areas.

Water – Most Americans spend their days dehydrated.  Your body signals a need for water but sometimes that need is misinterpreted as hunger.  When you are having a craving drink 8 oz of water before giving into that craving.

Yin/Yang Imbalance – “Certain foods have more yin qualities (expansive) while other foods have more yang qualities (contractive).  Eating foods that are either extremely yin or extremely yang causes cravings in order to maintain balance.  For example, eating a diet too rich in sugar (yin) may cause cravings for meat (yang).  Eating too many raw foods (yin) may cause cravings for extremely cooked (dehydrated) foods or vise versa.”, per Eight Causes of Cravings by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  Yin foods include raw vegetables, fruits, sweeteners, and alcohol, while Yang foods include cooked foods, chicken, eggs, salt, and meat.  Yin foods make you light and happy while yang foods make you grounded and focused.

Seasons – Your body craves balance with the season and thus craves seasonally fresh foods.  In the spring leafy greens and citrus food cravings are high, while in summer we crave the cooling foods of fruit, raw vegetables and ice cream.  Now, where we are in fall turning into winter seasons we crave grounding foods of squash, onions, and nuts.  Butternut squash soup, pumpkin pie and anything made with apples are always a hit in this season!

Lack of Nutrients – When your body has inadequate nutrients in a specific area you’ll get odd cravings.  Inadequate mineral levels cause salty cravings and overall inadequate nutrition which causes lack of energy will cause your body to crave caffeinated beverages including coffee and energy drinks.

Hormones – Hello, anyone experiencing peri-menapause, like me, will have experience with unique cravings like chocolate and salty foods.  Fluctuating testosterone and estrogen levels cause these monthly cravings, how fun for us!

Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar – Quick cravings for nut butter, bagels and cream cheese, peanut butter and chocolate and others can be caused by low blood sugar.  That fainting, sweaty feeling that can happen from time to time if we forget to eat.

Next time you get a craving for something sweet, sour or salty, drink a glass of water, take a deep breath and walk around the block.  If  your craving continues, check out the below information on healthy snacks  which defines snacks by cravings.  If your cravings stop, then great!

Crunchy Foods:

  • apple slices (keep the skin on for additional fiber)
  • frozen grapes
  • rice cakes (there are many varieties and flavors – opt for organic brown rice)
  • popcorn (tip: add 1/3 cup of kernels to a brown paper lunch bag, fold the top over twice, and pop on your microwave popcorn setting without using oils or butter – or pop on the stove with a trace of coconut oil)
  • a couple hard, Bavarian pretzels (opt for unsalted)
  • baby carrots or other raw veggies (go easy on the dip)
  • celery and natural, unsalted peanut or almond butter
  • a handful of nuts (choose raw, unsalted)

Sweet Foods:

  • fresh, whole organic fruits
  • plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
  • apple slices with unsalted almond or cashew butter
  • 2 or 3 dates
  • homemade frozen yogurt
  • dried fruit (pay attention to serving sizes and sugar content)
  • quinoa with cinnamon, silvered almonds, drizzle of maple syrup and unsweetened dried cherries or raisins
  • fruit smoothies
  • banana ice cream (freeze a whole banana in slices, add to blender with a tablespoon of peanut butter or drizzle of maple syrup and a few tablespoons of skim or almond milk – blend until creamy)
  • freshly squeezed fruit juice
  • roasted root veggies to draw out the natural sugars (yams, carrots, sweet potatoes, squashes)
  • small square of dark chocolate or few tablespoons of dark chocolate or carob chips

Salty Foods:

  • olives
  • pickles
  • pickled veggies (carrot, daikon, beets, lotus root)
  • tabouli or humus
  • oysters or sardines
  • steamed veggies with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or tamari
  • whole grain tortilla or rice chips with homemade salsa or guacamole
  • sauerkraut or other fermented slaws (good for sweet cravings too!)
  • edamame with a scant sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt
  • small serving (size of your thumb or smaller) of organic cheese

Creamy Foods:

  • fruit & yogurt smoothie
  • plain Greek yogurt (tip: add herbs & spices and use as a dip)
  • avocado
  • rice pudding
  • spreads such as humus, guacamole or tahini
  • pudding (try blending avocado, banana and cocoa powder with a drizzle of maple syrup)
  • pureed soups (roast butternut squash & onion with herbs, puree with no-salt chicken or veggie broth)
  • mashed sweet potato (add cinnamon for sweetness)
  • coconut milk

As always, feel free to stop by the Lisa’s Lentils website at www.lisas-lentils.com for delicious recipe ideas, the latest newsletter and Institute for Integrative Nutrition Blog updates.

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