A common complaint I hear, and something I struggle with myself, is “I try to eat well, but my cravings are out of control”. Cravings can be a problem for many people, but they can also help you understand what your body needs. Joshua Rosenthal, the Founder and Director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, offers his perspective on the main causes of cravings.
The body doesn’t send the message that you are thirsty until you are on the verge of dehydration. Dehydration occurs as mild hunger, so the first thing to do when you get a strange craving is to drink a full glass of water.
Being dissatisfied with a relationship, having an inappropriate exercise routine (too much, too little, or the wrong type), being bored, stressed, uninspired by a job or lacking a spiritual practice can all contribute to emotional eating. Eating can be used as a substitute for entertainment or to fill the void.
3. Yin/Yang Imbalance
Certain foods have more yin qualities (expanding) while others foods have more yang qualities (contractive). Eating foods that are either extremely yin or extremely yang causes cravings in order to reestablish balance. For example, eating a diet too rich in sugar (yin) may cause a craving for meat (yang).
4. Inside Coming Out
Oftentimes, cravings come from foods that we have recently eaten, foods eaten by our ancestors or foods from our childhood. A clever way to satisfy these cravings is to eat a healthier version of one’s ancestral or childhood foods.
Often the body craves foods that balance out the elements of the season. In the spring, people crave detoxifying foods like leafy greens or citrus foods. In the summer, people crave cooling foods like fruit, raw foods and ice cream, and in the fall people crave grounding foods like squash, onions and nuts. In winter many crave hot and heat-producing foods like meat, oil and fat. Other cravings, such as turkey, eggnog or sweets, can also be associated with the holiday season.
6. Lack of Nutrients
If the body is getting an inadequate amount of nutrients, it will produce odd cravings. For example, inadequate mineral levels produce salt cravings, and overall inadequate nutrition produces cravings for non-nutritional forms of energy like caffeine.
When women experience menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, fluctuating testosterone and estrogen levels may cause unusual cravings.
When things are going extremely well, sometimes a self-sabotage syndrome happens, where we suddenly crave foods that throw us off balance. We then have more cravings to balance ourselves. This often happens from low blood sugar and may result in strong mood swings.