Crav·ing (krāviNG) noun: a powerful desire for something.
The most important word in that definition is “desire.” Desire, as in “want” and not “need.” People often use cravings as an excuse to feed the body something it doesn’t need but instead wants. Beth Ritter, nutritionist and owner of Blueprint Cooking Club, which offers healthy cooking classes for the whole family, told Skinny Mom that, for the most part, the body doesn’t crave food to ensure that it's being properly fueled. If that were the case, you would crave kale and blueberries. Instead, most cravings are psychologically rooted. The “craving” feelings you are physically experiencing are really more about addiction or withdrawal than anything else.
“You aren’t addicted to foods, you're addicted to the way the foods make you feel," Ritter said. "Many of my clients come to me with weight, energy and fuzzy brain issues. The first thing I do is take them off sugar, dairy, and wheat. The first few days they go through withdrawals, just like an addict from drugs. However, after a few days on “clean" foods, the body begins to regenerate and the weight falls off, the energy skyrockets and the fuzziness clears away. Food is fuel and medicine, not comfort and a means to fight boredom.”
Whether they are all in our heads or not, cravings can be huge road blocks to health. Understanding why we “crave” certain foods might be the answer to gaining control over them. Ritter believes there are eight primary causes of cravings.
Lack of Primary Food: Being dissatisfied with a relationship or having an inappropriate exercise routine (too much, too little or the wrong kind), being bored, stressed, uninspired by a job, or lacking a spiritual practice may all cause emotional eating. Eating can be used as a substitute for entertainment or to fill the void of primary food.
Water: Lack of water can send the message that you are thirsty and on the verge of dehydration. Dehydration can manifest as a mild hunger, so the first thing to do when you get a craving is drink a full glass of water. Excess water can also cause cravings, so be sure that your water intake is well balanced.
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 a craving for meat (yang). Eating too many raw foods (yin) may cause cravings for extremely cooked (dehydrated) foods or vise versa.
Tradition: Often times, 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.
Seasonal: Often the body craves foods that balance 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. During winter, many crave hot and heat-producing foods like meat, oil and fat. Cravings can also be associated with the holidays, for foods like turkey, eggnog or sweets, etc.
Lack of Nutrients: If the body has inadequate 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.
Hormonal: When women experience menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, fluctuating testosterone and estrogen levels may cause unique cravings.
De-evolution: When things are going extremely well, sometimes a self-sabotage syndrome happens. We crave foods that throw us off, thus creating more cravings to balance ourselves. This often happens from low blood sugar and may result in strong mood swings.
The last cause is the most interesting, least understood, and possibly the most depressing. Are we so used to having imbalance that we actually “crave” it? Sad but probably true. What do you think about cravings? Do you agree with Beth Ritter and think most cravings are psychologically rooted?
Beth Ritter Nydick, HHC AADP is a Health and Wellness Coach and owner of Blueprint for Health and Wellness and Blueprint Cooking Club. Beth, the former head of nutrition at Lifetime fitness is currently teaching cooking classes and nutritional services. Her focus is helping men, women, and families on their journey to health and wellness. When she isn’t working, you can find her exploring new recipes, playing with her family and dog, Spike.